Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis
Tucked away in a residential neighborhood about five miles west of St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, the Missouri Botanical Garden offers a serene nature retreat amid Midwestern sprawl. Predating the Civil War, it’s the oldest continuously operating botanical garden in the United States, offering guests a glimpse at foliage from across the globe throughout its nearly 80 acres.
The MoBot pays homage to its founder, Henry Shaw, with a parcel of land known as the Victorian District, where a pincushion garden plush with annual plants and a sunken labyrinthine hedge maze imitate Shaw’s bygone era. A handful of restored 19th-century buildings, including the stately Tower Grove House that once served as Shaw’s country residence, will delight history buffs.
Known for its expansive display of orchids, the garden has a love affair with the delicate buds that dates backs to the 1870s. Shaw received his first specimens from the wife of a U.S. ambassador, a gift that kicked off the cultivation of one of the largest orchid collections in the world. While the industrial smoke and smog of 1920s St. Louis forced the plants from the premises for more than 30 years, conditions have improved to the point that more than 8,000 orchid plants cover the grounds today and an annual orchid show is held every February and March.
And though the orchid show just ended, you can still catch glimpses of the flowers inside the Climatron, a massive domed greenhouse that serves as the garden’s top attraction. The Climatron’s Transformers-meets-Epcot exterior belies the 24,000-square-foot tropical rain forest housed inside, with more than 2,800 plants growing beneath the dome’s heat-strengthened glass. Flora ranges from familiar staples like bananas and coffee to rare exotics like the double coconut, which produces the largest seed in the plant kingdom.