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If you’ve explored a nature exhibition in Chicago, you’ve probably wandered over to the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest plant conservatories in the United States. Though it’s spectacular due to its vastness, another public attraction in Lincoln Park is just as exciting.
The northside neighborhood, Lincoln Park, holds a breathtaking conservatory adjacent to its eponymous zoo. This conservatory is home to hundreds of plant species and has been a cornerstone of the community for over 100 years. If you’re planning to visit the neighborhood, here’s some historical and essential knowledge about Chicago’s lesser-known nature preserve.
The Lincoln Park Conservatory started construction in the late 19th century. Between 1890 and 1894, the conservatory was under different construction phases, finally being completed by the end of 1895.
Joseph Lyman Silsbee is responsible for designing the structure. Silsbee was a famous architect who worked closely with Frank Lloyd Wright and operated throughout the midwest and east coast states. He collaborated with local architect M.E. Bell, who was most known for building United States government buildings like post offices and courthouses.
The two architects were commissioned to transform an old Lincoln Park greenhouse into a new, luxurious conservatory with an “exotic” aesthetic and presence. The original design included three main plant sections: palm, fernery, and orchid. The water lilies and other aquatic plants that were once indoors were replanted in the pond out front, creating an upgraded outdoor display for the improved greenhouse.
The Lincoln Park Conservatory’s indoor layout is almost identical to when the establishment first opened its doors. The windowed front doors open into a vestibule connected to four separate display halls. Each hall represents a different plant and ecosystem, revealing the diverse tropical foliage unfamiliar to most midwestern residents.
Some rooms have over 100 years old plants, like the palm display’s 50-foot rubber leaf tree, which lives in the conservatory’s Palm House. The Palm House is one of the biggest attractions of the Lincoln Park Conservatory and houses some of the most visually unusual plants in the city. The Dwarf Sugar, Bottle, Fiji Fan, and Everglade palms are all located here, presenting luscious green hues which instantly transport you to the farthest tropical islands.
The Fernery is another popular destination in the Lincoln Park Conservatory, showcasing ferns of various forest floors worldwide. Though most of the plants located here are ferns, one of the most ancient plants resides here, too: the cycad.
Cycads are stubby, ancient plants with wooded trunks and feather-like leaves that bloom out from their center. Though they look similar to both ferns and palms, they are not closely related to either species. They are one of the most ancient plant species that humans are aware of, with fossils indicating that they existed over 300 million years ago.
Getting to and exploring the Lincoln Park Conservatory is relatively easy and accessible to all residents and visitors. Though the garden is closed on Monday and Tuesday, it is open throughout the rest of the week from 10 AM to 3 PM.
The Lincoln Park Conservatory operates like any other Chicago Park District area, meaning the attraction is free to the public. The greenhouse is at 2391 Stockton Drive, with a main bus route connecting the downtown area to Lincoln Park and other northside neighborhoods. The Clark bus also brings passengers close to the conservatory if the Stockton Bus is too inaccessible.
Lincoln Park’s premier greenhouse is a tranquil and lush destination that will easily transport any visitor to an otherworldly landscape. If you have a weekday off or want to show your kids something new and educational on the weekends, this local conservatory is the ideal spot to explore.