The Huntington Museum of Art, located at 2033 McCoy Road, Huntington, is closed to the public on this Monday morning, but there's still a flurry of activity happening in the C. Fred Edwards Conservatory.
"Let me show you a few of my buddies," an excited Dr. Mike Beck says.
Beck, the director of the conservatory, says each plant and animal has a purpose.
Beck excitedly shows off the papyrus and pomegranate.
"We put these in when we had an exhibit on ancient Egypt in the museum," Beck says. "I try to choose plants that will go along with exhibits we have."
The conservatory, which has a floor-to-ceiling sculpture by internationally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly at its center — is open to visitors during regular museum hours, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
Admission to the conservatory, plus all of the museum's rotating and special exhibits and its wooded trails, is $5 per person. Tuesdays are free thanks to a sponsorship from Macy's. Annual memberships are available, which include discounts on classes and other special programming.
According to the museum's website, "In addition to art, this Museum was founded with the mission to be a proponent for, and an interpreter of, nature. This mission is manifested in the conservatory, which contains warm growing non-native plants." Opened in 1996, it remains the only plant conservatory in the state of West Virginia.
In the conservatory, you can find plants chosen from four basic categories — Orchids, Agriculturally Important, Fragrant, and Unusual.
Unique and fascinating to visitors of all ages are the plants in the Unusual category, which include the pitcher plant, designed to trap insects; the turtle plant, which produces a structure to help it survive droughts; the cadaver plant, known for its distinct odor of rotting flesh during its short blooming period; and the sensitive plant, which responds to touch by folding its leaflets.
Beck touches a leaflet of the sensitive plant, which looks like a regular fern to the untrained eye. But as he touches it, the leaves close up.
"I can always tell when a group of fourth-graders have come through because the whole plant is closed up," Beck said. "This plant is very popular with school groups."
There's also a koi pond, saltwater fish aquarium, exotic blue poison dart frogs, turtles and axolotls.
Axolotls are known as a Mexican salamander or a Mexican walking fish; however, they are not fish, but amphibians. They are unique in that they can regrow their limbs.
Beck said scientists are studying the animals in hopes of finding a way to regrow limbs for humans. While endangered in the wild, axolotls have become a popular aquarium pet.
Beck also proudly shows off the saltwater aquarium and the latest additions — baby clown fish.
The movie "Finding Nemo" and its sequel "Finding Dory" have made the clown fish a popular sight among children visiting the conservatory.