Three beehive-shaped glass domes, each 140 feet in diameter at the base and 85 feet high, catch the eye of anyone in the Mitchell Park area. These futuristic-looking, shiny domes are known as the Mitchell Park Conservatory but are also called the Milwaukee Domes or simple “the Domes” and they make for an ideal family-friendly activity as the cost is extremely affordable. As of summer 2013 rates are only $6.50 for adults and $5 for kids ages 6-17.
While the curiosity may start on the outside, it’s the inside of the domes that’s especially interesting. Each greenhouse-like dome is designed to mimic a unique region and matching climate.
Desert Dome. Walking into the Desert Dome felt like we were home, or rather back in Arizona, where the air is dry and hot. Truly, it felt just like the desert and it looked like it, too. We relished in the succulents and cacti that once surrounded our former home. Besides North America, Africa, Madagascar and South America are all represented in the Desert Dome via the extensive collection of drought resistant plants.
Tropical Dome. Warm and humid, the Tropical Dome is the obvious opposite extreme from the Desert Dome. Over 1,200 tropical plant species fill this microcosm of a rainforest and you will be sure to spy some tropical birds. Look for cocoa, banana, coffee, star fruit, and Macadamia nut trees as you meander though the dome. My favorite: the Traveler’s Tree (that’s the fanned palm-looking tree in the photo below). The tree has edible nuts and leafstalks that produce a drinkable liquid, making it an ideal emergency hydrating source for wanderers.
Floral Show Dome. Fun, whimsical, magical. That’s what describes the Floral Show Dome, at least when we visited this past June. This dome’s temperature isn’t as nearly as extreme as the other two domes but what makes it special is that it is constantly morphing. Numerous shows are displayed every year with various themes which are categorized as historical, cultural or fantasy. The shows are planned out at least a year ahead and last between six to fourteen weeks. Planners choose plants specifically for a particular floral exhibit and grow them at the Horticulture Division’s Greenhouse Center. Each show calls on a bevy of experts including a landscape architect, horticulturists, arborists, artists, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and welders, all of whom pull together to produce a spectacular themed show. We toured during the Milwaukee Yards exhibit. Think lawn chairs, garden gnomes, white picket fences, a sand box and so much more.
Scavenger hunt. Being that my children get a kick out of interactive activities, visiting the Domes was especially entertaining for them since upon entry the kids received scavenger hunt papers. The goal: to find all of the plants on the papers in the various domes. My daughter especially had fun and she found every item!
Photo ops. As for our son, he ditched the scavenger hunt in exchange for his iTouch’s camera. He took dozens and dozens of photos and later turned the images into art work. He said taking photos would help him remember all of the cool things he saw that day.
Thank you Mitchell Park Conservatory for welcoming us into your regional spaces. We certainly enjoyed our day in the Domes!