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  5. Tropics under glass — the most beautiful greenhouses in the world

Tropics under glass — the most beautiful greenhouses in the world

29.11.2021
Rainforest with various types of plants and green trees at Atocha train station
© David Evora Marquez / Shutterstock

You don't have to travel to visit a tropical forest, savannah, or mountain meadow. A few centuries ago, people learned to recreate natural oases in special rooms — flower greenhouses. At first, they were built to enjoy summer fruits and berries in winter, and later, they were used to collect and preserve rare plants brought from other countries.

No matter what the weather is outside, there is always eternal summer under the glass dome. Green oases in the middle of bustling megacities allow you to get away from the urban bustle and breathe in the cleanest air, filled with the scent of leaves and flowers. We have selected the most beautiful and impressive greenhouses in the world, which are definitely worth seeing, even for those who are not into botany.

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is the world's largest complex of botanical gardens, greenhouses, and orangeries. Covering 132 hectares, it has the largest collection of living plants — more than 30,000 species — and a herbarium of nearly seven million specimens. The unique greenhouses of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have long been world-famous.

The famous Palm House was created in 1844-1848 by architect Decimus Burton and ironworker Richard Turner. For its time, the building was a true engineering marvel and the first large structure built using wrought iron. The panes of glass, fixed to a framework of metal arches, are tinted with copper oxide. Their greenish color protects the plants from overheating. The greenhouse has palm trees from all over the world — rubber trees, pineapples, cocoa, durian, mango, papaya, and even sugarcane grow here.

Temperate House was built for 40 years, from 1859 to 1899. It is the world's largest Victorian greenhouse. It contains 1,500 plant species (about 10,000 specimens) from five continents and 16 temperate islands.

The small Waterlily House greenhouse was designed in 1852 specifically to display a unique plant, Victoria amazonica. The giant water lily, discovered in Bolivia in 1801 and named after Queen Victoria, was very popular in the XIX century. It and other aquatic plants are grown in a circular pond 10 meters in diameter. Fish live in it to keep algae from growing, and the water is dyed black with food coloring.

Davies Alpine House is a greenhouse built for alpine plants. The special construction of the building and the air recirculation system make it possible to create the necessary conditions without using windpumps and energy-intensive air conditioners. And the right level of humidity, light, and temperature is maintained here thanks to the automatic shutter control system.

The Princess of Wales Conservatory features flora from ten climate zones. The greenhouse is equipped with an energy-efficient computerized temperature control system. There is a large aquarium in the building, as well as an area with insectivorous plants.

In 1985, a capsule containing seeds of major crops and rare plants was buried in the foundation of the Princess of Wales greenhouse. It is scheduled to be dug up in 2085, by which point many species may be extinct.

Palm Garden at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew © elRoce / Shutterstock
Kew Gardens interior
Royal Botanic Gardens © Willy Barton / Shutterstock
Panoramic view of Kew Gardens
Royal Botanic Gardens © Guy William / Shutterstock

Royal Greenhouses at Laeken, Brussels

Every year in mid-April, the greenhouses of the Royal Palace of Laeken open to the public for just three weeks. This enormous greenhouse complex is not only one of the main attractions of Brussels but also the pride of Belgium.

The first greenhouses in the palace gardens were built by King William I of the Netherlands in 1818. His work was continued after the end of the War of Independence by the Belgian ruler Leopold II, a passionate lover of exotic plants. In 1873, he began construction of the Winter Garden, which opened in December 1891. At that time already, electricity was installed in all the greenhouses.

The huge complex of steel and glass, designed by architect Alphonse Balat in the Art Nouveau style, covers more than 14 hectares. There are about 60,000 rare plants inside. The height of the greenhouse's vault (42 meters under the central dome) allows palm trees and other tropical trees to grow in it. There are many species of flowers from the Americas, Asia, and Africa, including rhododendrons, azaleas, and wisteria, while the collection of camellias is considered the largest in the world. And some specimens of citrus trees are more than 200 years old. Here you can observe a phenomenon unusual for Europe — the blooming of cherry blossoms.

Beautiful female statue in a colorful blooming greenhouse
Royal conservatory in Laeken © Tania__Wild / Shutterstock
Narrow path in the royal conservatory in Laeken
Sculpture among rare plants © Marti.Morini / Shutterstock

Greenhouses of Moscow State University, Apothecary Garden, Moscow

The Apothecary Garden of Moscow University is the oldest in Russia. It was founded in 1706 by Peter I. By order of the tsar, seedbeds were moved to the northern outskirts of Moscow to grow medicinal plants for the Gostiny Dvor pharmacy. Nowadays, the collection of the garden counts about 5000 species of flora. The Apothecary Garden complex includes park expositions and several greenhouses. Two of them, the Palm and Succulent, are open to visitors.

The collection of the Palm Greenhouse, constructed in 1891, has been built for over 200 years. Trees and herbaceous plants from equatorial, tropical, and subtropical latitudes are collected here. Particular emphasis is placed on useful crops: medicinal, food, spicy, aromatic, and rubber-bearing plants. In 2014, an exhibit of insectivorous plants was opened, featuring Venus flytrap, sundews, nepenthes, and other interesting exhibits. During tours, the story of them is always supplemented by feeding the predators.

The Succulent Greenhouse is home to plants that have adapted to accumulate and retain moisture. There are numerous species of opuntias, agaves, cacti, thistles, and aloes. The succulent exhibit is open to visitors from November to March, and many specimens are planted in the garden in the summer.

Green thickets in the Greenhouse of the Botanical Garden of Moscow State University
Botanical Garden of Moscow State University © Sergey Gordienko / Shutterstock
Greenhouse promenade
Greenhouses of the Botanical Garden of Moscow State University "Apothecary Garden" © KatyaB / Shutterstock

Muttart Conservatory, Edmonton

One of the outstanding attractions of the Canadian city of Edmonton is the Muttart Conservatory Botanical Gardens. There are four large glass pyramids around its main building, which showcase plants from different climatic latitudes. The Muttart greenhouses were designed by the famous Canadian architect Peter Hemingway.

The Temperate Pyramid exhibit is dedicated to the flora of the temperate zone. Plants from Australia, some of the mountainous regions of Asia, and the Great Lakes region are collected here. Among the cedars, sequoias, and eucalypts, there is an artificial swamp with white water lilies.

The Arid Pyramid showcases plants from the hot and arid zones of all five continents. The American agave, planted the year the botanical garden opened, grows here. It has reached a record height of 30 feet (more than 9 meters) for this species.

The Tropical Pyramid has many species of orchids and hibiscus and a variety of palms and bananas. Here you can see the giant flower Amorphophallus titanicus, which grows only on the island of Sumatra. Its aroma resembles a mixture of smells of rotten meat and rotten eggs. Amorphophallus blooms once every few years and only for 48 hours.

The fourth pyramid of the complex hosts thematic and festive exhibitions. Its exposition changes several times a year.

Cactus with growing buds
Muttart Conservatory © Tanya Greene / Shutterstock
Summer view of the modern Mattarta Conservatory building
Mattart's greenhouses © Jeff Whyte / Shutterstock

Greenhouses in the Botanical Gardens of Peter the Great, St. Petersburg

The Botanical Gardens of Peter the Great is only slightly inferior to the famous Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in its scale and unique collection. The complex, located on Aptekarsky Island in St. Petersburg, traces its history back to a vegetable garden, where medicinal plants for pharmacies were grown. It was first mentioned in 1713. Now its collection numbers about 80,000 specimens.

The total area of the greenhouses of the Botanical Garden of Peter the Great is about one hectare, and their length is one kilometer. It has the world's fifth-largest collection of plants. The stock greenhouse of the complex, where particularly rare species are grown, is closed for visitors, while the rest offer regular excursions. Guests can take several routes, the themes of which vary depending on the time of year.

In the tropical, fern, and subtropical greenhouses, plants from all continents are grown. About 1500 species are rare and endangered here. You can see representatives of the flora of arid regions of America and Africa, monsoon and rain forests, and savannahs in the greenhouses. The botanical garden's water greenhouses are home to mangrove plants and giant Victoria amazonica lilies.

During World War II, the botanical garden was badly damaged by bombing. Only 250 specimens from the huge collection could be saved. Their employees took them to their apartments and placed them in a small greenhouse, heated by stoves. The horticultural scientist Nikolai Kurnakov rescued the cacti in his home. Plants that survived the war are decorated with ribbons every year on Leningrad Blockade End Day.
People walk in the Botanical Garden of Peter the Great
Sunny day in the Botanical Garden of Peter the Great © Telia / Shutterstock
Unusual plants in the Greenhouse of the Peter the Great Botanical Garden
Greenhouse in the Botanical Garden of Peter the Great © facebook.com

Eden Project, Great Britain

In March 2001, Eden Project, a unique greenhouse complex, was opened in the British county of Cornwall, near the town of St. Blazey, on the territory of an abandoned clay quarry. The idea for the Garden of Eden belonged to music producer Tim Smith, and architect Nicholas Grimshaw realized the project.

Eden Project includes two greenhouse complexes (biomes), each consisting of four interconnected domes with a honeycomb structure. No glass was used in their construction. The transparent panels are made of ETFE thermoplastic. They are 99% lighter than glass ones and let in more daylight and ultraviolet light. They create optimal conditions for plants from different continents inside; the microclimate is regulated automatically.

The Tower of London could fit under the dome of one of the biomes, which is the largest in the world. There are 12,000 plant species inside, brought in from regions ranging from the islands of Oceania to the Amazon basin. A rubber plantation, a mangrove swamp, a teak forest, and a palm grove have been recreated here.

In the second biome, crops characteristic of the Mediterranean region, California, and South Africa are planted. Visitors can walk through an olive grove, vineyard, citrus, and cork tree plantings. Outdoors, temperate plants are cultivated.

Spherical greenhouses in the UK
Project "Eden" © Kev Williams / Shutterstock
Mediterranean Biome Eden Project
Project "Eden" in the UK © D. Pimborough / Shutterstock

Enid A Haupt Conservatory, New York

After visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, Columbia University botanist Nathaniel Lord Britton and his wife Elizabeth decided to create a similar park in New York City. The centerpiece of the complex was the Enid A. Haupt greenhouse. It is the largest in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The building was constructed in the Italian Renaissance style and is divided into eight biomes. Inside, visitors are greeted by flora from every continent of the planet: tropical rainforest palms, North American desert cacti, alpine flowers, ferns, orchids, and aquatic plants.

The greenhouse, now equipped with state-of-the-art climate control systems, is one of New York City's most famous landmarks. But in 1978, due to a lack of funding, it was in poor condition. It was saved from destruction by philanthropist Enid Annenberg Haupt, who gave $5 million for the restoration. Since then, the greenhouse has borne her name. It is carved on the entablature of the main entrance.

New York Botanical Gardens Water Lily Pond
Enid A Haupt Conservatory © littlenySTOCK / Shutterstock
Whimsical figure of flowers in a greenhouse
Enid A Haupt Conservatory © squarespace-cdn.com

Botanical Garden of Curitiba

In 1991, the Brazilian city of Curitiba opened a beautifully landscaped park on the site of a former dump. With its elegance and luxury, Jardim Botânico de Curitiba resembles French royal gardens. All buildings and plantings have clear geometric shapes.

The central element of the botanical garden is the greenhouse. It was designed on the model of the famous Crystal Palace, constructed in Hyde Park in London for the World Exhibition in 1851 and destroyed by a fire. The graceful glass and metal structure blended in perfectly with the natural landscape and became Curitiba's trademark.

The greenhouse has a surface area of just 458 m². It attracts attention not by its size but by its stunning design. It brings together rare and endangered plant species from all over Brazil. Unlike other botanical gardens that concentrate on the exotic, the focus here is on local flora.

View through a large window of the Botanical Garden of Curitiba
Conservatory of the Botanical Garden of Curitiba © Vitor Lando / Shutterstock
Botanical Garden of Curitiba on a sunny day
Botanical Garden of Curitiba © Vitor Lando / Shutterstock

Flower Dome in Gardens by the Bay Park, Singapore

In the center of Singapore, next to Marina Bay, are the unique artificial gardens of Gardens By The Bay. This natural park is famous for its Supertrees, vertical landscape structures that use solar energy for lighting and collecting rainwater.

With a total area of 101 hectares, the park is divided into several zones and includes a complex consisting of two greenhouses. One of them, the Flower Dome, is designed for plants of the Mediterranean and other regions with a mild dry climate.

There are seven thematic gardens: South American, South African, Californian, Australian, Mediterranean, baobab and succulent collections, and an olive grove. There's a café for visitors, and multimedia screens display video clips.

The Flower Dome is the largest frameless greenhouse in the world. A special arched construction holds its glass envelope. A particular type of glass reduces thermal radiation from the sun, and when the temperature rises, the panels automatically extend to create shade.

No electricity from the city grid is used to keep the greenhouse alive. It is obtained by recycling garden waste. Rainwater that collects from the surface of the dome is circulated to the cooling system of the supertrees and used to lower the air temperature.
Bright tulips and rare plants in the Flower Dome
Flower dome © siraphat / Shutterstock
Flower dome and forest by the bay
Flower dome © Adwo / Shutterstock
Interesting figures among flowers
Visitors to the Flower Dome © Kritsaroot Udkwae / Shutterstock

Cloud Forest at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The Cloud Forest greenhouse is smaller than the Flower Dome (only 0.8 hectares) but is arranged more originally. Inside, there is a recreated 42-meter high mountain, from which a real waterfall falls. Visitors take an elevator to the top of the hill and then descend a spiral trail, admiring the exotic plants.

The Cloud Forest is home to flora from the high tropical regions of Central and South America and Southeast Asia. The artificial mountain is a complex structure, completely covered with epiphytes — plants that grow on other plantings but do not receive nutrients from them. These include orchids, ferns, anthuriums, and selaginellas. The mountain is divided into several levels, each devoted to a specific theme.

Bright flower arrangements
Cloud forest © Hit1912 / Shutterstock
Futuristic greenhouse
Cloud forest and flower dome © kikujungboy CC / Shutterstock
Tourists walking in the cloudy forest
Cloud forest © i viewfinder / Shutterstock

Conservatory of Flowers, San Francisco

The Conservatory of Flowers is a large Victorian-style greenhouse constructed in 1878 in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Wood, rather than steel as in other similar structures, was used to erect the frame of the building. The Conservatory of Flowers is the oldest surviving wooden conservatory in America.

The Flower Conservatory is known for its unique collection of rare and exotic plants. The complex includes five galleries, each highlighting a different ecosystem, from the tropics of Sumatra to the cloud forests of Ecuador. Aquatic Plants Gallery features aquatic plants, including insectivorous lilies and lotuses. The Highland Tropics Gallery mimics cloud forests on top of tropical mountains. This collection includes mosses, rhododendrons, tree ferns, and orchids, including a rare variety, Dracula.

Palm trees, coffee and chocolate trees, cycads, and the sweet scent of jasmine dominate the air in the Lowland Tropics Gallery. Exotic potted plants can be admired in the Potted Plants Gallery. The West Gallery is dedicated to different kinds of ferns.

View of the Conservatory of Flowers
Entrance to the Conservatory of Flowers © Apostolis Giontzis / Shutterstock
The interior of the greenhouse Conservatory of flowers in the Golden Gate Park
Color conservatory © Willowtreehouse / Shutterstock
San Francisco Flower Conservatory Interior
Color conservatory © Anna Levan / Shutterstock

Orangery of the Palmengarten Botanical Garden, Frankfurt am Main

The Palmengarten in Frankfurt am Main is considered one of the best botanical gardens not only in Germany but also in the whole of Europe. A walk here reminds you of a round-the-world trip. The plant world is so varied here! The park was started with the collection of Duke Adolf Nassau, who later had to sell it because of bankruptcy. Palmengarten was created in 1871, and in 1960, it became the property of the city.

There are several greenhouses on the territory of the garden. The main one, Palmenhaus, was opened in 1869 and is one of the largest in Europe. Its ceiling height is 18 meters, so palms, vines, tree ferns, and other tropical species feel very comfortable inside the building. A part of the exposition is devoted to aquatic plants.

The modern greenhouse complex Tropicarium consists of 13 pavilions 15 meters high. Tropical plants are presented here, divided into sections according to climate zones. The central part of the complex occupies the exhibition of bromeliads.

The flower house is 200 m² in size and is divided into two zones: a hot zone and a cold zone. You can admire blooming plants from different continents all year round.

Flora from New Zealand, Patagonia, the Falkland Islands, and Tierra del Fuego is in the Subantarctic. The Alpine House is home to plants brought back from expeditions to the mountainous regions.

Unusual trees in the greenhouse
Palmengarten Botanical Garden © Sina Ettmer Photography / Shutterstock

Atocha Station Tropical Garden, Madrid

Atocha station is the largest in Madrid and one of the largest in the world. It was built in 1851 and partially destroyed in a fire in 1892. The last reconstruction of the building was carried out in 1992. The work was led by the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. He decided to turn the remaining part of the station since the construction into an indoor tropical garden.

More than 7,000 plants brought from Australia and Asia were planted in the hall where there used to be train tracks and platforms. The greenhouse occupies about 4000 m² and reminds of a real park. There are paths and comfortable benches between the trees, and lanterns are lit in the evening. The temperature inside the structure is maintained year-round at +24 °C. It is very pleasant to relax here in the summer heat when the temperature outside can be up to +42 °C in the shade.

There is a small pond in the center of the facility. It has 22 species of fish and many turtles. Animals, brought here by the inhabitants of Madrid, assimilated in comfortable conditions and began to multiply rapidly. Watching them is a favorite pastime for those who spend their time waiting for a train.

Rainforest with various types of plants and green trees at Atocha train station
Atocha station greenhouse © Atocha / Shutterstock
Botanical garden at Atocha train station in Madrid
Atocha train station © Sun_Shine / Shutterstock

Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago

The phrase "landscape art under glass" is often used in descriptions of the Garfield Park Greenhouse. It was built in 1906-1907, and famous architects, sculptors, engineers, and designers were involved in the design. A simple yet refined form was chosen for it. It resembles a haystack, thanks to which the building blends in well with the park's landscape.

The interior structure of the greenhouse was designed by Jens Jensen, superintendent of the Chicago West Parks Commission. He envisioned it as a series of natural landscapes, a revolutionary idea for the time. The eight rooms of the grand glass pavilion contain some 600 plant species from around the world. One of the most popular displays is the Sala de las Palmas, with 84 varieties of palm trees out of the 2,700 that exist.

Until 2012, the Garfield Park Conservatory was home to the Lodoicea maldivica palm, which lives only in Seychelles. Its fruits, the sea coconuts (Coco de Mer), are considered the largest seeds in the world. The weight of the nuts can reach 25 kg. Unfortunately, the palm died, and it will take a long time to grow a new one. The first sprout from a planted nut appears after one year, and the tree reaches a height of 10 meters only at the age of two hundred years.
Century plant in Garfield Park
Garfield park © Nagel Photography / Shutterstock
Fern Hall of the Garfield Park Conservatory
Garfield Park © Nagel Photography / Shutterstock
Walking trail in Grafield Park
Grafield Park © Thomas Barrat / Shutterstock

Barbican Conservatory, London

The size of the Barbican Conservatory is second only to the famous Princess of Wales Conservatory at Kew. Despite this, it is one of the least known green spaces in the city. The indoor two-tiered tropical garden is located in the heart of London's Barbican, a brutalist neighborhood.

The lush greenery of exotic trees, vines, and shrubs contrasts spectacularly with the dull drabness of the Barbican Centre. There are about 1500 kinds of plants living under the glass dome, and there are several small ponds with carps swimming in the secluded corners. There is also a turtle pool. Its inhabitants were rescued from the ponds on Hampstead Heath.

The Barbican Conservatory's plant collection started with a few specimens in pots, but it has grown considerably within a couple of years. A local celebrity is the huge date palm, the top of which is already touching the glass roof. The cactus collection, numbering hundreds of specimens, is also impressive. The greenhouse often hosts weddings and corporate parties, during which spectacular light shows are staged. The winter garden is open to the public on weekends and holidays and is free.

The visitor walks through the main atrium of the Barbican Conservatory
Greenhouse Barbican © Tan Zi Han / Shutterstock
Bolivian fuchsia hanging in the gardens of the Barbican Conservatory
Greenhouse Barbican © Gary Reimer / Shutterstock

The Palmenhaus Schönbrunn, Vienna

If you go to the famous summer residence of the emperors of the Austrian Habsburg dynasty, Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, you can find yourself in a real tropic. Four orangeries are built on the territory of the complex. One of them, the Schönbrunner Palmenhaus, is one of the largest in the world along with the glasshouses of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew.

The collection began with a fan palm, bought in 1754 in Holland by Emperor Franz I. The collection expanded considerably after several sea expeditions, and conventional greenhouses for the plants became insufficient. A large Palm Greenhouse was built in 1882 to create suitable conditions for them. The court architect Franz Xaver von Segenschmid designed the pavilion, and the construction was carried out by the engineer Ignaz Gridl.

It took about 600 tons of wrought iron and 120 tons of cast iron to build the Palmenhaus, which was 111 meters long, 29 meters wide, and 25 meters high. It took 45,000 blocks of glass to cover the frame. Inside, the building is divided into three climate zones — cold, temperate, and tropical.

The orangery in the Schoenbrunn Botanical Gardens is home to 4,500 plant species. Its main attraction is the olive tree, which is about 350 years old. There is also Wollemia nobilis, a rare Australian species that was only discovered in 1994. In the collections of azaleas and tree ferns, some specimens are over 100 years old.

Palm greenhouse building in Schönbrunn Park
Hofburg garden © posztos / Shutterstock
Small bench surrounded by flowers
Palm greenhouse © aaron choi / Shutterstock

L'Umbracle Greenhouse, Valencia

L'Umbracle Orangery is part of the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. The unusual and ultramodern design of the conservatory immediately attracts attention. The frame of the roofed gallery consists of 55 fixed and 54 movable arches 17 to 19 meters high. The complex was designed by the famous Spanish architects Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela.

The greenery is located above the two-story underground parking lot. An area of 4,000 m² is planted with about 5,500 specimens of plants from the Mediterranean regions of Spain and tropical countries. In addition to palm trees and orange trees, there are 42 varieties of shrubs, lianas, and aromatic herbs, including lavender and rosemary. There are 320 meters of comfortable benches for visitors along the central avenue.

The L'Umbracle greenhouse is a masterpiece by Valencian landscape designers. They have chosen plants in such a way that they bloom at different times of the year. Therefore, the winter garden always looks bright and colorful. The alley of sculptures is arranged inside, where art exhibitions are constantly held. Entrance to L'Umbracle is free.

Palm trees and beautiful flowers in the greenhouse
Greenhouse L'Umbracle © locationscout.net
Colorful lighting in the L'Umbracle Greenhouse in the evening
Greenhouse L'Umbracle © facebook.com

Tropical Display Dome at Mount Coot-tha Botanical Gardens, Brisbane

In 1976, a 52-hectare botanical garden was opened at the foot of Mount Coot-tha in Brisbane. Unique thematic expositions recreating different ecosystems have been created on its territory. Visitors can stroll through the savannah, rainforest, Japanese garden, and bamboo thickets. For plants that require special climatic conditions, Tropical Display Dome was built in 1977. It is a greenhouse dome with a diameter of 28 meters and a height of 9 meters. City Council architect Jacob de Fries designed it.

The greenhouse provides the right conditions for the flora of the Earth's tropical regions. There is a small pond with water lilies in the center of the pavilion, surrounded by caladiums, epiphytes, palms, calatheas, and heliconias. Fish live in it and eat the algae, keeping them from growing. The Tropical Display Dome is also home to popular spice plants such as vanilla, Indian arrowroot, pepper, cocoa, nutmeg, and others.

Small pond in the Tropical Dome
Tropical dome in the botanical garden © Alex Cimbal / Shutterstock