Belle Isle Orchids

A Visit to the Anna Whitcomb Conservatory, Detroit

If you are a plant lover and you’re near the city of Detroit, you’re missing out if you don’t make the trek to Belle Isle (near downtown Detroit) to visit the Anna Whitcomb Conservatory. We go several times a year, and every time we go, I get so caught up in gawking at the plants that I forget to take photos! This time, I was determined to capture at least some of it. I didn’t get any plant names, mostly because I didn’t take the time to search for the plant labels.

About the Conservatory

The Anna Whitcomb Conservatory was founded in 1904, and contains several unique rooms, including the desert habitat, the jungle habitat, a fern grotto and a display garden that changes seasonally. The exterior of the conservatory boasts a newly-restored water lily pond as well as extensive perennial gardens. The conservatory and its gardens are largely maintained by volunteers–and they do an amazing job. I can honestly say I’ve never gone to the conservatory and thought “wow, this looks a little rough.” It is absolute heaven once the weather turns cold.

Entering the Conservatory

The first (and largest) room of the conservatory is the tropical plant habitat. The palm trees here are magnificent—in fact, they’re a little too magnificent. The conservatory just finished an extensive period of repairs and upgrades, including replacing several broken or cracked panes of glass. These palms are in danger of breaking right through the conservatory roof. This will be their final year, and then they’ll be taken out and replaced with younger, smaller specimens.

There are several large banana trees in this area. Besides the luxurious foliage, we saw several bunches of green bananas as well as a couple of flower buds.

The Fern Grotto

The fern grotto is one of my favorite rooms in the conservatory. It is serene and cool. Everywhere you look, you are rewarded with another play of texture against texture. I could honestly spend hours just sitting on the little cast iron bench in this room.

The fern grotto from another angle. You used to be able to walk down a short flight of steps to meander down among the ferns, but they ended up gating off the stairs due to concerns over lawsuits (the moist air in this room is perfect for growing moss—pretty to look at, not so great when you slip on it!).

The Orchids

If I had to choose one spot to visit in the conservatory, it would be the orchid room. The Whitcomb Conservatory (which is owned by the city of Detroit) has a huge orchid collection. In fact, the orchid collection in the Whitcomb is considered to be the largest municipally-owned collection of orchids in the country. I didn’t check names again (too awed to bother reading…) so I’ll just let you enjoy the orchids. All I did was stand there staring. The kids and husband had to move me along :-)

I hope you enjoyed this tour of the Whitcomb! To learn more, check out their website.