Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory - Detroit, Michigan - 13-acre garden with greenhouse on Belle Isle


The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is a 13-acre botanical garden with greenhouse located on Belle Isle in downtown Detroit, Michigan. Built in 1904, it is the oldest conservatory in the country. Designed by Albert Kahn, a well-known architect, the original conservatory was rebuilt between 1952 to 1954. At that point the building, which had been made of wood, was given a new skeleton of steel and other metal. In 1953, the Conservatory was renamed for Anna Scripps Whitcomb, a Detroit native who bequeathed her collection of 600 orchid plants to the city.

With Whitcomb's gift and other generous donations, the Anna Cripps Whitcomb Conservatory now houses one of the largest and most varied collections of orchids in the United States. In fact, the reputation of the Whitcomb Conservatory was so well-known that during World War II, rare orchid specimens that were rescued from the bombing in Great Britain were taken to the conservatory for preservation.

The greenhouse that houses the orchid collection, which is owned by the city of Detroit, is set in a 13-acre botanical garden. The conservatory takes up more than an acre of the gardens, and includes two wings and a separate house. One wing houses tropical plants like bananas, coffee, orchids, and oranges. The opposite wing houses an extensive collection of desert plants, including cacti, succulents and ferns. The central dome, which is 85 feet high, contains a show house which features a display of flowering plants.

In addition to the conservatory itself, the grounds include formal gardens of perennials, a lily pond garden and a formal rose garden. The gardens and grounds are a popular venue for weddings and events, and attracts professional and amateur photographers from around the area.

While the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is owned and operated by the city of Detroit, the Belle Isle Botanical Society is one of its strongest supporters. Founded in 1988, the BIBS is dedicated to preserving and providing ongoing maintenance and renovation at the Conservatory. It works with the city to raise funds and make necessary renovations and repairs. Since 2005, BIBS has managed to raise the money needed to replace or repair all the glass in the conservatory and the greenhouse.

Belle Isle Park, home to the Conservatory, is the largest island park in the country, and is larger than Central Park. It is located in the middle of the Detroit River, and connected to the city by MacArthur Bridge. In addition to the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, Belle Isle is also home to the Detroit Yacht Club, a Nature Center, the Detroit Boat Club, a swimming beach, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum and a municipal golf course. The park was designed and landscaped in the 1880s by renowned park architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who also designed the Arnold Arboretum, Central Park and the grounds of the United States Capital.

The Conservatory is open 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, including holidays, and admission is free. For information on hours, admission or to book events at the Conservatory, contact the Conservatory directly at (313) 628-2081, or via TTY at (313) 224-4636.

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