Around the world in 13 greenhouses at Plant Palace


The grand opening of the Botanic Garden’s fully renovated Plant Palace offers a tour along the global plant kingdom and a wealth of special events

10,000 species in 13 climates

The Botanic Garden Meise, just outside Brussels in Flemish Brabant, has opened its majestic new Plant Palace following nearly 20 years of renovations. The greenhouse complex houses 10,000 varieties of tropical and sub-tropical plants, including a unique collection of Central African varieties.

The renovation of the Plant Palace, which links 13 greenhouses, started in 1999, with each greenhouse being renovated in turn. The entire project picked up speed in 2014 when Flanders took on full responsibility for the Botanic Garden.

Previously, the site was co-managed by the federal and Flemish governments, which led to confusion regarding which government would fund which repairs, and much of the infrastructure at the garden fell into disrepair as a result. The latest renovation, which completes works on the Plant Palace, is part of a new Master Plan for the garden.

The original Plant Palace was completed in 1958, nearly 20 after the Botanic Garden moved from the Botanique site in Brussels to Meise. Today, visitors can  stroll through 13 different worlds, including a desert, rainforest and savannah.

Each greenhouse simulates the climate of its region. In the rainforest section, stairs bring visitors to the “adventure path”, which looks down on the jungle canopy. The path also guides visitors along the trunks of nine artificial trees, on which hundreds of organisms – like orchids and bromeliads – are growing.

The key to survival

Because of Belgian’s colonial history in Central Africa, the Plant Palace has a large collection of plant species from the region. This area includes a hut made with ngongo leaves (Megaphrynium macrostachyum), according to the design the Baka tribe use for these temporary shelters. Ngongo leaves are also used for cooking food and to make sleeping mats.

Plants’ ability to adapt to their environment, meanwhile, is illustrated in the Evolution Greenhouse, which summarises 450 million years of evolution –  from the first green algae to the diversity of flowering plants.

“We want to show visitors how ingenious plants are in adapting to their environment,” says garden spokesperson Manon van Hoye. “In these times of global warming, it’s more essential than ever to understand the importance of plants for life on the planet. They were here way before us humans.”

The Plant Palace will help meet the challenges posed by climate change and a decreased biodiversity

- Minister Philippe Muyters

To raise more awareness about the value of plants, the Botanic Garden is part of the Big Picnic project on global food security. A corner of the Plant Palace is dedicated to plants that are common in many African diets and a discussion on why we should all be eating insects.

In his speech at the grand opening of the Plant Palace last weekend, Flemish innovation minister Philippe Muyters emphasised the venue’s scientific value. “It will help in meeting the challenges posed by climate change, deforestation and decreased biodiversity,” he said.

Tourism minister Ben Weyts was also present and highlighted the potential of the Botanic Garden to become an even bigger touristic attraction. Their goal, he said, is to nearly double the number of annual visitors to 250,000 over the next five years.

The Flemish government’s Master Plan for the garden takes in the entire 92 hectares, at a cost of €100 million. The plan includes two new visitor centres, themed gardens, a new research greenhouse complex and a museum dedicated to wood products. It should be fully completed by 2026.

The garden is throwing a party every Sunday until 26 November to celebrate the completed Plant Palace, which will feature a variety of activities, including concerts, workshops and tasting sessions.

Photo top: Cacao pods growing in the Plant Palace
Photo above: The Plant Palace’s famous
Victoria amazonica, a giant species of water lily
©Courtesy Botanic Garden Meise