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300 N Central Park Ave Chicago

Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance
Written By Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance

Questions to ponder...

What would you do if you lived in a desert? Which plant looks the pointiest? What do you notice about the plants in this room--What makes them similar? What makes them different?

What makes these plants special?

It's important that you don't touch any of the plants in this room! While you may just be curious about what their spines feel like, these plants have evolved for thousands of years to protect themselves against any kind of predator using those spines.

Many of the plants in this room look a lot different from the others in our collection. You might notice that many of the plants in this room have spines or thorns about them. These spines are multifunctional wonders! Researchers have learned that while they act as a defense mechanism against predators, they can also help collect dewdrops and can diffuse or even shade the plant from the bright sunlight that beats down in the desert.

Plants can get sunburnt?

Another difference you might notice in the Desert House is how pale and light it looks compared to the other rooms at the Conservatory. Many of the plants here have a pale green, blue, or even purple appearance. Why is this?

Many plants in this room have the opposite problems of the plants at the bottom of the rainforest: they get too much sun! Just like us, plants can be damaged by too much sunlight, so cacti and succulents have evolved ways to protect themselves from the harsh desert sun they live with.

Some of the plants in this room appear a pale blue or purple because they are covered with a thin layer of wax that protects them naturally from sun damage, in addition to protecting against infection and water loss.

While spines and thorns can protect from predators, they can also protect from the sunlight. While it might not seem like one spine can cast a lot of shade for the plant it protects, with thousands of spines, a cactus can actually stay much cooler than it would otherwise. And from far away these light-colored spines can make a cactus look much lighter than it would otherwise.

Desert blooms

While you're in this room keep an eye out for flowers! Some succulents will have big, showy blooms, but others may have tiny petite flowers that are easy to miss if you're not looking closely.

Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance

Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that changes lives through the power of nature. We inspire, educate and provoke exploration through innovative programs and experiences in one of the nation’s largest and finest historic conservatories.

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