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Climatron tropical house, origami sculpture, and more: Missouri Botanical Garden, part 1

June 22, 2021

A week ago today I road-tripped with my mom through Arkansas up to St. Louis to visit Missouri Botanical Garden, which I’d long wanted to see. I’d always thought of St. Louis as being not that far away from Austin. After all, Missouri is part of the South, like eastern Texas, right?

Nope. Well, maybe at one time, due to its antebellum affiliation. But Missouri today is more properly claimed by the Midwest. Mom and I stopped along the way in scenic northwestern Arkansas, where we saw family and visited Crystal Bridges Museum, and reached St. Louis after two days of driving. These pics are from our visit to the garden exactly one week ago.

Main axis with lily pools, looking toward the Climatron, a tropical plant greenhouse

One of the oldest botanical gardens in the country, Missouri Botanical Garden (MOBOT) was founded in 1859 by Henry Shaw, a St. Louis philanthropist (and, prior to the Civil War, an enslaver). Having made his fortune selling hardware, tools, and cutlery to settlers heading west, he retired at age 40 to pursue an interest in botany. Eventually he funded and built what would become the public garden.

MOBOT consists of 79 acres of cultivated gardens. It also has an excellent website I regularly consult for plant info. In Part 1 of my coverage of MOBOT, I’ll share pics of the gardens between the entrance and the Climatron, a geodesic-dome greenhouse with a spectacular, multi-level, jungly garden of tropical plants.

Pegasus sculpture by Kevin Box Studio

Throughout the gardens, Kevin and Jennifer Box‘s wonderful sculptures are currently on display as part of the Origami in the Garden exhibition. I saw the exhibition at San Antonio Botanical Garden last winter, but MOBOT has some different pieces. The sculptures look like oversized folded-paper animals, but rendered in steel.

This one is particularly striking: a tower of stacked origami cranes in a long reflecting pool.

It reminds me of a stacked-man sculpture I saw in a private garden in Austin years ago.


Let’s go see the Climatron first.

Stepping inside, you discover you’ve somehow wormholed yourself into a tropical rainforest. Waterfalls cascade from rocky ledges above you, and palms and other trees soar toward the dome’s rounded peak.

I’m not generally a conservatory enthusiast, preferring to be outdoors in a garden. But I’m developing an appreciation of tropical plants and the artistry involved in showcasing them. And the Climatron’s world-building is impressive.

Origami cranes seem to be angling down to a foamy pool.

Fantastical flowers dangle overhead.

Cycads like sago palm are a familiar sight in Austin, but I’d never seen this viciously spiny one (lower-left): Eastern Cape blue cycad (Encephalartos horridus). Isn’t it beautiful? Kind of like a big sea urchin.

Bromeliad-looking plants cling to a cliff above the path…

…dangling streamers of glowing orange leaves.

Living kite tails

The questing snouts of orange Chihuly-glass creatures rise from a pool of floating water lettuce, which look so much like dry-loving echeverias.

Do they import their lizards as well as their plants in the Climatron? I spotted this chunky lad scampering down a stout green trunk.

Even tree branches make lush garden beds in the Climatron’s rainforest.

A burnt-orange orchid

A bamboo lattice stretches over the path between two lushly planted rock walls, allowing a vine to scramble across.

I’ve no idea what this is, but what a cool flower.

Check this out: jaboticaba fruits grow directly on the tree’s trunk (Plinia cauliflora). The black, fleshy fruit of this Brazilian native is edible when picked right off the tree.

Amusingly named lobster claw (Heliconia caribaea ‘ Purpurea’)

One last look

Sensory Garden

And now for something completely different! Strolling through the Sensory Garden, I stopped to admire sweet peas scrambling up a trellis.

A pair of facing benches takes advantage of the sound of trickling water from a green-tiled wall fountain.

I’d love to have something like this on my own patio. Hmmm, filing that idea away for the future.

Ottoman Garden

I’d never seen an Ottoman garden before, but MOBOT has one. Closely related to the Islamic paradise garden, it’s built around a central water feature, with a shade pavilion, fruit trees, and flowering perennials.

A pair of red doors under a massive gateway, complete with red-tiled roof, invites you in.

Shade lovers like bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis) grow beneath a tree.

The central fountain and pool were dry during our visit, but the garden was still lovely.

Gladney Rose Garden

A nearby rose garden might not have captured my attention but for an arbor festooned with Chihuly glass and glowing like the sun. Two of these face each other across a circular pool, in the center of which stands another origami crane sculpture.

Bulb Garden

When we entered the garden at opening time, a small crush of photographers headed straight to the Bulb Garden, where a rainbow of lilies were in full bloom. I love this apricot-colored hybrid called ‘Menorca’.

Ivory touched with celery-green is pretty too.

And sunny yellow

Standing in the midst of all this lily loveliness is a sculpture of a woman whose uplifted gaze suggests she’s thinking of loftier things.

I’ll end Part 1 with this charming bench and an enormous oakleaf hydrangea in full bloom. A bed of ferns in the foreground echoes the wrought-iron detailing of the bench’s back — a perfect pairing!

Up next: The Victorian Garden and Stumpery at Missouri Botanical Garden. For a look back at St. Louis sightseeing at Gateway Arch and the Old Courthouse, click here.

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