On Friday afternoon, with the flip of a switch or two, Manito Park’s Gaiser Conservatory will turn into a winter wonderland. More than 30,000 lights will light up the cactus displays and trees, shrubs and the big poinsettia display – and the huge, 105-year-old Christmas cactus will be blooming in festive pink.
“The cactus was propagated in 1906, when they probably took a cutting from another cactus,” said Steve Nittolo, Spokane Parks and Recreation Department’s horticulture supervisor. “That means genetically the cactus could be much more than 105 years old.”
The annual holiday light show isn’t quite as old. The first time the lights were put up inside Gaiser Conservatory was in 1994. They’ve been up every year since, except for 1996 when the ice storm made it impossible.
“The light show was established as a thank you to the public for their support of the Friends of Manito,” said Nittolo.
Park staff begins putting up the lights on Nov. 1 and it takes two people a little more than five weeks to get every light bulb in the right spot. The Friends of Manito fund the show and purchase all the lights. The display is gradually being switched to LED lights which are more energy efficient.
“Our staff has been getting some funding every year, the last couple of years, to do the switch,” said Nittolo. “We are at 20 percent this year. That’s 6,000 lights.”
The Christmas cactus is not the only senior plant at the Conservatory. The big jade tree in the cactus area is 75 years old and still going strong.
“I really don’t know what its lifespan is, but it’s doing great,” said Nittolo.
At the open house on Saturday and Sunday, Friends of Manito will be selling poinsettias as a fundraiser for the park. Nittolo said the park grows extra poinsettias to make sure the poinsettia display can be filled even if some of the poinsettias don’t turn out or get damaged.
“We always have a surplus of poinsettias, and we have been giving them to Friends of Manito for some time,” said Nittolo. “They will be selling them and for this year only, the funds will be going to the Mirror Pond Project.”