Plethodon emerges at Convergence Station

Denver Botanic Gardens, Meow Wolf partner for sculpture and xeriscape attraction


When Meow Wolf and the Denver Botanic Gardens united to adopt last March, they might have named their new baby Plantasia.

Instead, the newly-partnered parents welcomed the Plethodon, a cosmic, collaborative sculpture that burst from the ground and decided to perch at the entrance of the Meow Wolf Convergence Station parking lot, 1338 First St. in Denver.

At first, it looked a lot like an animated, oversized, extinct amphibian. But thanks to the Gardens, it’s now alive and teeming with life.

“This project is part of our Horticulture Outreach Program, which works with municipal and commercial properties to create beautiful, sustainable landscapes, while increasing water conservation, pollinator habitat and healthy ecosystems,” said Kevin Williams, the Denver Botanic Gardens’ assistant curator and horticulturist, who created the garden design.

When Meow Wolf commissioned the Gardens to make Plethodon’s new curbside crib a little more appealing with native plants, the Gardens couldn’t have picked a better man for the gig and dig. After all, it wasn’t Williams’ first foray into the wonderfully wacky worlds known as Meow Wolf. Now three locations strong — Santa Fe, Las Vegas and Denver — Williams stumbled across the original location in Santa Fe while on honeymoon.

“I was blown away,” Williams said. “The three hours I spent touring the attraction were among the most exciting times of my life. And when I was assigned this project, it felt like a full-circle moment for me. To create a complex, provocative project for its fans would be a total labor of love.”

Once the seed was planted in his head, Williams had to do his homework on the mythical muse in the bare bed. According to science — fiction or fact, you be the judge — Plethodon is a genus of salamanders that existed 100 million years ago. Evidently, it didn’t like the Cryogenian age, or any glaciation for that matter, nor did it like change. So it hid and eventually fossilized. Once Meow Wolf opened its doors in downtown Denver nine months ago, it erupted from its slumber and emerged on the steps of Meow Wolf Convergence Station.

Which begs the question: How do you accessorize what Williams calls an “alien dream garden?” Well, of course, with extra-terrestrial-looking plants that mimic the scale, shape and color of the Plethodon.

“Our goal in creating Plethodon’s xeriscape, or dry landscape which requires little to no rainfall, we selected complex, exotic and some common plants that thrive in the Colorado and New Mexico landscapes. And a lot of those plants we selected may look and feel alien because they’re originally from central Asia, Patagonia and southern Africa. They actually drifted here hundreds of thousands of years ago when the continents were much closer together,” said Williams.

Like artemisia, the small silver plants one might spot by Plethodon’s tall tail. Or horbia rigida (rigid spurge), echium amoenum (red feathers), purple bearberry — and a recognizable one, verbena, which is a popular ground covering. To add to the razzle dazzle, Williams used chunky, broken pieces of concrete to mimic the mulch Plethodon destroyed when it finally rose from hibernation.

And while the plants are very much in their infancy — like children, they need time to grow — Williams says the goal in three-to-five years is to create a wildly manicured garden that partially cloaks the statue.

“We are currently in phase one of a three-phase planting process,” he said. “So far, there are 600 different plants in the Plethodon garden. Another 400 will be planted in the fall, along with hundreds of bulbs. And more complex plants to come next spring.”

According to Meow Wolf officials, Plethodon is a gift to the city of Denver. A treasure. A living fossil reminding us that our home is a place with a vibrant and beautiful story that is ever changing. It is a reminder that change is unavoidable and can, if embraced, create luminous and wonderful things, like the Plethodon, that are as beautiful as they are unrecognizable.

No word yet if there are plans to replicate the Plethodon Sculpture Garden when Meow Wolf eventually invades Texas. That said, this bloom with a view will continue sowing the seeds of love and creativity and mystery in Denver, absolutely free to the public.

Meow Wolf, Denver Botanic Gardens, Plethodon Sculpture Garden


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