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Alabama Adventures: Longleaf Pine Treasure Forest

After hearing about Pinus palustris from several southern botanist friends, I had to see the trees for myself! I had the great pleasure of ...

18 January 2017

Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes): Milwaukee's Horticultural Treasure

The Desert Dome

I was going through my plant nerd bucket list when I realised I never made a post about my visits to The Domes in Milwaukee! My first time at the conservatory was an adventure I made solo in March 2015. I made the hour drive to Milwaukee and used my CBG membership to gain free entry. Parking was also free.

There are three domes: The Show Dome, Tropical Dome, and Desert Dome. I made a beeline for the Tropical Dome to see what neat plants I'd find in there. I was not disappointed! Upon entering the room, it was as if I walked through a portal. I stepped out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, into a tropical paradise. The first plant that really wowed me was an Amorphophallus sp. (voodoo lily)! It looks similar to its relative A. titanum, the titan arum.

I made my way down the path, surrounded by lush foliage and stunning flowers. There were many gorgeous orchids, and a lovely waterfall with a pond. I spent some time staring out at the water, contemplating the diversity of tropical plants in that dome, before returning to the hall.

 I took a moment to adjust to reality; I was back in Milwaukee. I continued on to the Desert Dome, and again I was transported to a different world: an arid landscape with an oasis, and succulents all around me.

In contrast to the Tropical Dome with its canopy providing shaded areas, this dome had the sun shining bright overhead, mostly unobstructed. As I wandered down the path, I recognised a few familiar species, but so many more that I never saw before. There were interesting cacti, agave with variegation so beautiful it was like a painting, and showy aloe flowers rising above the rocky terrain.

I returned back to the cold halls of Wisconsin, and made a quick run through the Show Dome. There was a spring theme, with cyclamen and hydrangea beautifully arranged. (Unfortunately my camera died after only a few photos so I don't have much to post about that dome. I don't remember as much from that one, especially without any photos to jog my memory.)


I loved The Domes so much that I brought Steve and the kids along on another visit a week later. It was during a free admission day, so it was quite crowded.

It was great to see so many people excited to see plants, so I didn't mind. We went through the domes in the same order that I did during my first trip. The kids were impressed by the massive banana trees, dangling sausage tree fruit, and a cute little palm seedling.

To my slight disappointment (and Steve's relief), the voodoo lily was finished blooming, and nobody got to smell the stench. Still, it reminded me how lucky I was to see it the week before!


The thing I love most about visiting a garden more than once is the fact that I will always find something new to see, even if my visit is only one week apart. I had the great pleasure of noticing Ceiba pentandra, called kapok in English and bulak in Tagalog. Like the hibiscus throughout the Tropical Dome, kapok is in the Malvaceae. I swooned at the sight of buttressed roots and large thorns scattered about the trunk.


At the Desert Dome, Ari and Sandy loved the burning orange-yellow flowers of Bulbine frutescens.

We all got a giggle out of a silly sign:

After another peek into the Show Dome (with another dead camera battery), we checked out the gift shop. Steve said no to more plants, but I did get to add a nifty patch to my public garden souvenir collection (I have several patches and pins from various places).

We had a great family visit to The Domes.


Unfortunately due to some safety issues The Domes had to close for some time, but recently opened up again. It has been such a long time since I've visited, so I will make sure to make my way up to Milwaukee and wander the conservatory soon!

If you're in the Milwaukee area you definitely should check this conservatory out for yourself!