New U of M Conservatory a Horticultural Hot Spot

There is nothing like a plant-filled glass-house to get you through a cold Minnesota winter, and we northern gardeners will soon have a new place to get our fix of humidity and plants.

U of M conservatory plant

Fenestraria in bloom

The University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences is opening a new conservatory this spring, which will house displays and a collection of more than 1,600 plant species, mostly from the Southern Hemisphere. These plants include rare and endangered plants, and represent four biomes very different from our own. While the conservatory will be open for guided tours and self-guided visits, it is a working greenhouse where faculty members and students at the university will conduct research and have classes.

curator at conservatory

Curator Lisa Philander talks about the new conservatory.

The conservatory’s Grand Opening will be held March 21 and a special preview party will be held Thursday, Feb. 20, which will be a fundraiser for the conservatory and include food inspired by the four biomes from noted Twin Cities chefs, Tim McKee (Octo Fishbar & The Fish Guys); Mike DeCamp (Jester Concepts: Borough, Monello, P.S. Steak, Parlour, Constantine); Tyge Nelson (Pajarito) and Jack Riebel (The Lexington).

Curator Lisa Philander led members of the MSHS board and staff on a sneak peek tour in December. The plants in the display area are still small but represent fascinating biomes from around the globe. The four biomes include maritime, desert, sub-tropical and tropical climates—all home to diverse and unusual groups of plants, many from far-flung parts of the globe such as New Caledonia and Socotra.

The collection is the most diverse plant collection in the Upper Midwest and the only one open to the public. Some of the plants are familiar as houseplants (that’s Lisa with a Norfolk Island pine) while others represent endangered or invasive plant groups.

Consider, for instance, the first picture in this article. It’s Fenestraria phopalophylla, a plant that grows under the sand in southern Africa. The flat tops of its succulent stems allow light to nourish the plant. Its blooms look like daisies—completely unexpected. Fenestraria is sold to houseplant lovers as baby toes.

bulbophyllum at conservatory

You can see where Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis gets its name!

Another fascinating plant was this Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis is a type of orchid with long, thick leaves and bulb structures that sit on the top of the soil. They do flower, though the flowers are larger, hairier and very different in shape from the orchids you would buy at the store. They also stink!

There is much more to be said about the new conservatory (and we will have an article in Northern Gardener later this year). Meanwhile, be sure to stop by for the grand opening and see this new horticultural treasure in Minnesota.





  1. Leslie A Walkowiak on February 19, 2020 at 2:53 am

    Where is the Conservatory building located?

    • Mary Lahr Schier on February 19, 2020 at 3:16 am

      It’s on the St. Paul Campus of the U of M in the Plant Growth Facility.
      Address is: 1534 Gortner Avenue, St Paul, MN 55108 The conservatory opens in March.

  2. Sheryl Noeker on March 14, 2020 at 2:28 pm

    Very excited about this new conservatory. Will plan a visit in late April or early May.

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