ANNA SCRIPPS WHITCOMB CONSERVATORY
Photo: John Vavrek
ABOUT THE CONSERVATORY
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is an exotic and rare collection of plants from around the world.
It is the oldest continually-running conservatory in the United States and is divided into five distinct sections: the Palm House, the Tropical House, the Cactus House, a sunken Fernery, and the Show House. The Conservatory occupies a 13-acre parcel of land shared by the formal gardens and the Lily Pond. On the grounds is the Levi Barbour Memorial Fountain designed by Marshall Fredericks, a Japanese Tohro donated to Detroit in 1985 by the city of Toyota, Japan, and the Peacock Sundial erected in 1927.
The Conservatory is divided into various ‘houses’. The Palm House includes tropical trees and palms, the Cactus House is home to succulents and cactus, the Fernery is sunken to provide cooler conditions and more humidity, the Tropical House is where many plants that provide food are housed including bananas, oranges, figs, and the Show House has changing displays of flowering plants.
BOOKINGS & PROGRAMS
For further information about the Conservatory please contact the facility at 313-821-5428.
To book a wedding, other private event, or for professional photography, please contact the DNR at 313-821-9851. Please note that permits are required for all professional photo shoots.
For tours, please visit the Tours & Field Trips Page.
FACILITY & HISTORY
Construction began in 1902 on the Aquarium and Horticultural Building, as it was called then. The two buildings, designed by Albert Kahn, opened on August 18, 1904, and were originally joined where one could walk through between the two structures without leaving the building.The Lily Pond was constructed in 1936 between the Aquarium and the Conservatory buildings. 200 tons of moss-covered limestone boulders were brought from the construction of the Livingstone Channel in the Detroit River near Amherstburg, Ontario, to create the rockery walls.
The Conservatory originally had a wooden frame. The wings and dome were rebuilt with a skeleton of steel and aluminum in 1949. The Palm House dome is 85 feet high. When the palms reach the full height, they have to be cut down as they cannot be pruned to height. One palm tree has already been removed.On April, 6, 1955, the Conservatory was dedicated to Anna Scripps Whitcomb who donated her 600 plant orchid collection to the City of Detroit. The Show House was remodeled in 1981 and housed seasonal changing displays, including crowd favorites such as the orchid and pointsettia shows.
The Lily Pond Garden was brought back to life in 1988 with the founding of the Belle Isle Botanical Society. For 25 years this group supplied volunteers in the gardens, greenhouses and Conservatory and raised funds to keep the facility alive. With the merger into the Belle Isle Conservancy in 2012 and the expertise of the DNR coming to the island in 2014, the Conservatory has undergone fantastic horticultural changes.
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory during construction in 1902
Photo: Library of Congress
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory being enjoyed by Detroiters in 1905