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The Campus Sketcher

Experience the outdoors while staying indoors

A trip to the Volunteer Park Conservatory

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Ever since its opening in 1912, the Volunteer Park Conservatory has been a spot for tourists, plant enthusiasts, and locals to enjoy the wonders of the plant kingdom. With the weather so cloudy and rainy, I couldn’t think of a better place to feel like I was outside without having to worry about getting drenched. 

The conservatory is a large Victorian-style greenhouse with five connected houses, each one with plants from different biomes. The palm house serves as the main entrance, greeting visitors with large palms reaching up to the ceiling and a rather humid environment. From here, visitors can go to either the fern house or the seasonal house. 

The fern house is unsurprisingly home to a wide variety of ferns as well as a few prehistoric plants. This section is warm, humid, and alive with color. The vibrancy of the greens, reds, pinks, and yellows are a wonderful sight in the middle of a Seattle winter. 

At one end of the fern house, an Amorphophallus titanumis growing. Also known as the Corpse Flower, this plant is native to Sumatra and grows from a large tuber that can weigh 150 pounds or more. It is said to be the largest flower (or cluster of flowers) in the world, reaching heights of over six feet tall. 

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The specimen at the conservatory is currently in its leaf-growing stage. The conservatory hopes that with proper care, it will be mature enough to flower in a few years. 

Adjacent to the fern house is the bromeliad house. My favorite plants in this section are the air plants. These plants grow in mid-air attaching themselves to other plants for support. They don’t need any soil to grow and absorb moisture from the air around them because of microscopic scales, called trichomes, that grow on their surface. 

The seasonal house is a space that rotates plants depending on the season. Currently, the walls and planters are filled with flowers that fill the air with a warm and sweet aroma. 

At the opposite end of the conservatory, adjacent to the seasonal house, is the cactus house. The least humid of the houses, this section of the conservatory houses cactuses as well as a variety of succulents. A Jade tree Crassula argentea that is at least 100 years old is housed in this section and is one of the oldest specimens in the collection.

As someone who sketches architecture and people on a regular basis, it is fun to challenge myself to draw and paint various plants. It also allows me to use colors like bright yellows and reds that I rarely get to use when I sketch around campus. 

The Volunteer Park Conservatory is the perfect spot to escape the rain and cold and be amazed by the diversity of plants. 

The conservatory is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $4 and free on the first Thursdays and Saturdays of the month.

Reach The Campus Sketcher Elijah Pasco at arts@dailyuw.com. Instagram: @the_campus_sketcher

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