Subtropical House

Subtropical House

The Subtropical House (formerly the Palm House) is our largest glasshouse and was erected in 1871 at a cost of £1,634.

Special features are four collections of plants:

Occupying the north side is a collection of ferns. Too numerous to name them all, ferns that draw one’s immediate attention are the epiphytic stagshorn fern, Platycerium bifurcatum, with leaves resembling antlers; the Japanese climbing fern, Lygodium japonicum, scrambling up to the roof and Dicksonia x lathamii – a tree fern raised by a our curator in the 1870’s and is the only plant of its kind in the world!

Higher up the evolutionary scale from ferns are the cycads, of which there is a representative collection. These ancient conifers, robustly fern-like in appearance, dominated the vegetation of the earth in the era of the dinosaurs, 100 million years ago, but are now greatly diminished in numbers and limited in distribution.

Further on, is a display of fascinating carnivorous plants from temperate climates; sundews, butterworts, pitcher plants, Venus flytraps and bladderworts, all of which, by various devices, trap and digest small insects.

The remaining special collection is that of the orchids, the largest family of plants, with more than 17,000 natural species. Orchids are highly specialised plants – some live epiphytically on trees in tropical woodlands for support, whilst others grow more normally in soil in most climatic regions of the world. Both types are represented in the collection. Orchid species readily produce fertile hybrids, and such is the beauty of their blooms that over 100,000 horticultural varieties have already been produced and several thousand new ones are added every year.

Educational plants include pineapple, tea, cinnamon, rice, peanut and sugar cane. Many more plants of interest are to be seen here, but it is also a pleasant place to stroll, to paint and sketch or merely to linger in the warm, moist atmosphere listening to the play of water in the fountain.

Asclepias curassavica


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