Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory 524 S Layton Blvd

Milwaukee Parks and Gardens/Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory
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Digital Storytelling and Visitor Analytics for City and Cultural Institutions

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, also known as Mitchell Park Domes or The Domes, is a conservatory located at Mitchell Park in Milwaukee. It is operated by the Milwaukee County Park System, and opened to the public 1955, replacing the existing conservatory. The three domes display a large variety of plant life and actually represent three different climate zones.

History & Layout

Designed by Donald L. Grieb Associates, the Conservatory is composed of three beehive-shaped glass domes that span 140 ft in diameter and are 85 ft high. The domes were built in stages from 1959 to 1967 and are the world's first conoidal domes! If you were just about to look that up, conoidal just means cone-shaped.

Connecting the three domes is a central lobby area. A smaller service dome behind the Conservatory holds replacement plants and an orchid collection. This section is not open to the public.

Deterioration of the Domes

The Conservatory has been closed temporarily over the past few years to conduct some much-needed repairs to the structure and exterior of the building. For example, the conservatory was closed during the summer of 2008 to facilitate the replacement of 800 cracked glass panels. Several other improvements conducted during this time include a reconfigured parking lot, outside landscaping and a new educational center.

Beginning February 8, 2016, the Mitchell Park Domes were closed because of structural concerns. By the end of 2016, temporary repairs allowed all three domes to be reopened to the public.

In 2019, after years of temporary repairs and structural concerns, Gallagher Museum Services was hired to do a study of the three domes. The firm recommended demolition of the domes, at an estimated cost of 300 million dollars.


Each of the three domes maintains a distinct climate and setting for the exposition of the plants from that type of environment:

Show Dome

The Show Dome hosts four seasonal shows and one-holiday exhibit held annually in December. Each show has a theme chosen based on cultural (such as Japanese, German and French), literary (Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol"), or historical interest (Colonial Williamsburg and the History of Herb Gardening, for example). In most recent years, the Winter Show has featured an extensive garden railway display put on with the help of many Wisconsin Model Railroad club members. The garden railway has become one of the most popular displays during the year and is one of the largest indoor displays of model trains in the Midwest.

Tropical Dome

he Tropical Dome features nearly 1,000 species of plants, including many nutritionally important fruit-bearing plants such as banana, papaya, ackee, guava, avocado, and cacao. One of the cacao trees is over 60 years old and still produces each year. Hardwoods include big-leaf, little-leaf, and African mahoganies, ebony and lignum vitae. A rare curare vine can also be found growing in this tropical jungle!

In addition to fruit-bearing trees, the dome also features a wide variety of blooming plants, including award-winning orchids. At the center of the dome is a kapok tree, which is one of the tallest trees (60 ft!) to be kept in a glass conservatory. In addition to the plants, the Tropical Dome is home to a number of colorful birds as well.

Arid Dome

The Arid Dome displays a wide variety of plants from the Americas and Africa. The American section contains a large number of plants native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona: including shrubs, trees, annuals, and bulbs, as well as the familiar cacti. The African section has aloes, crassulas, euphorbias, along with the unusual Welwitschia plant, which may live for over a thousand years!

Another section hosts the flora of Madagascar and includes plants such as Euphorbia, Pachypodium, Adenia, Didierea, Alluaudia, and Operculicarya. Many of them were grown from seeds obtained in Madagascar.

Mitchell Park

Mitchell Park is one of the six original Milwaukee parks created by the first park commission. It is in the south side of Milwaukee and began from land that was donated by John L. Mitchell, who the park is named after.

Also found on park grounds, at a bluff overlooking the Menomonee Valley, is a monument marking the site of an early trading post built by Jacques Vieau. Vieau was a settler and fur trader who related to the co-founder of Milwaukee, Solomon Juneau. South of the Conservatory, there was a site that had extensive formal gardens and a sunken water feature. This was removed in the 1980s due to budget cuts.

Information sourced from Wikipedia. Cover Image by sulfur and sourced from Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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