Busch Gardens’ Christmas Town — wild about plants

orchids, bromeliads, crotons and poinsettias, a bed of red purple green and yellow at Busch Gardens - Tampa Bay's new Christmas Town attraction

This isn’t one of the huge displays getting brags at Busch Gardens-Tampa Bay’s Christmas Town, a new nighttime attraction that is to Christmas what Busch’s Howl-O-Scream is to Halloween. But I love it! I found this colorful mix of orchids, crotons, bromeliads and poinsettias outside Sultan’s Sweets in Nature’s Kingdom.

Christmas Town is an extravaganza of lights, snow, special shows and poinsettias — thousands and thousands of poinsettias — live hollies, and even a fresh, evergreen scent that comes from mulched Christmas trees.

I visited before the official opening on Nov. 30 and talked to BG’s fun horticulture director, Joe Parr. (You can read about his plant choices, all selected for their pop and suitability for our climate, in the Tampa Bay Times.

zebra pulling red santa sleigh, red poinsettias, busch gardens tampa bay, christmas town

Joe started selecting the plants for this extravaganza last spring. Of  course, he had to a lot of  red poinsettias — he chose the Freedom series for their eye-popping color. But he also wanted some unusual varieties. He settled on two that have color he loves and a tolerance for our unpredictable winter highs and lows.

One was Ice Princess (available locally at Duncheon’s Nursery in Land O’ Lakes.) A rep for the grower said these are so tough, they can travel in her trunk all day and still look perky and pretty in the evening.

pink and salmon colored poinsettias, ice princess, busch gardens, non-traditional poinsettias

The other is Glitter, a deep red variety with sparkly splashes of white. (Remember, Florida gardeners, when the holidays are over, your potted poinsettias can go right into the landscape. Depending on conditions in your garden, they can become huge shrubs.)

Everything at Christmas Town is decorated in keeping with the themes of the area, for instance, Flamingo Way is wrapped in twinkling pink lights. I liked this Christmas tree on the edge of “Africa,” near the cheetahs. Feathers as ornaments? Great idea!

christmas tree with africa decorations, large brown and white feather

My favorite surprise, however, (sorry, Joe!) was the little plant shop just before the gates as you exit the park. It has great, hard-to-find Florida-friendly and native plants, including blue butterfly clerodendrum and gorgeous pitcher plants.

garden shop at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, sign, display of plants

Busch Gardens-Tampa Bay Christmas Town is open 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays through Sundays at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, 10165 N McKinley Drive, Tampa. Admission is $14.99 for ages 3 to 9; $39.99 for all others (discounts available for online, advance purchases). Forget trying to get the Facebook promotion code for dollars off. Instead, try hitting Chick Fil-A or Fantastic Sam’s for coupons.

Downside: You also have to pay to park. Upside: Some rides will be open, and there’s a big area to play in sort-of-real snow. (Your kids will get wet in there, so mittens and dry socks are a good idea.)