In general, the Conservatory is an overwhelmingly green place. That's because plants use chlorophyll to photosynthesize. The thing that gives plants their characteristic green color is also what lets them turn sunlight and carbon dioxide into sugar! While all over the Conservatory you'll find different shades of green, the Fern Room is perhaps where you'll see the most green.
The plants in this room are modern relatives of some of the very first plants to colonize land more than 500 million years ago. None of the plants in this room actually reproduce through flowers, so you won't find the flashes of colors that you might in other rooms with fruits and flowers. While Illinois doesn't have many large dinosaur fossils, just outside of Joliet, you'll find one of the best-known fossil beds in the world at Mazon Creek. The fossils in this area are from the Carboniferous, around 300 million years ago, and help scientists understand the ecology of the Carboniferous forests.
The Fern Room at the Garfield Park Conservatory is a historic site because of its unique design and focus. When Jens Jensen built the Conservatory he wanted to dedicate one room to showcasing the earliest colonizers of land on earth: mosses, ferns, and cycads. These early plants are well represented in the Illinois fossil record and their modern ancestors provide important insights to scientists and ecologists today.
If you gently turn over the leaves of the ferns in this room you may notice a pattern of dark brown, orange, or yellow dots. These are where the spores of the plant come from, but not all fern fronds will be reproductive on the plant at the same time. Usually, older leaves are the ones with mature spores, while younger leaves might not have them yet.
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.