The Muttart Conservatory features more than 700 species of plants in 3 climate-regulated biomes - arid, temperate and tropical - and a feature biome, located within our pyramids.
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The Arid Pyramid is 4200 square feet in size, standing 59 feet high. Specimens in this pyramid represent cacti and succulents, generally from locations that receive less than 25cm of precipitation per year.
The plants here come to us from hot and cold dry areas of the world, spanning five continents. They share an ability to thrive in environments with dry air, irregular moisture and wide day/night temperature fluctuations.
To survive these harsh environments, plants are slow-growing with long life spans that have evolved into unusual shapes and forms. Often, these plants are of economic importance in otherwise non-arable lands.
The only arid zone in Canada is the Kamloops region in Southern British Columbia. Southeastern Alberta is semi-arid.
Biomes represented in this pyramid include:
Originally native to the tropical regions of West Africa, the many related species and cultivated varieties all share common names like snake plant and mother-in-law’s tongue. They are very drought-tolerant, can thrive in indirect light, and rarely face insect attacks — making them easy-going plants. Highly recommended for anyone who thinks they can’t grow plants!
Although related to the edible date palm, Phoenix dactylifera, the miniature date palm produces small, hard, inedible fruit. Although it isn’t eaten, it is a popular ornamental palm around the world wherever the temperature stays above -3°C. Luckily for this palm, it never gets below 0°C in the Arid Pyramid!
Also known as the old lady pincushion cactus or the birthday cake cactus. So many fabulous names for a fabulous cactus! This species is native to Mexico, but is relatively rare. It grows on steep slopes and has a limited range, occurring in clusters over a combined area of only about 1,000 km2. Because it isn’t common in nature, it is vulnerable to habitat loss and being over-harvested and sold as an ornamental plant.
While another name for this plant is the ponytail palm, it isn’t classified as a palm and is actually more closely related to the Agaves. And while these plants may appear to be part elephant, their “elephant foot” is really a specially adapted trunk used to store water!
This Mexican native cactus is admired for its unusually shaped stems and nocturnal flowers. With such a peculiar appearance, it’s inspired common names like zig-zag cactus and rick rack cactus. It isn’t collected from its natural habitat often, so it is believed that most specimens in greenhouses and for sale are all descended from a plant gathered from the wild in 1946!
This graceful, feathery-leaved plant is a popular ornamental in the arid regions of the world. It naturally occurs from Arizona continuing south into Mexico, growing along riverbanks. As a member of the pea family, Fabaceae, its roots are home to nitrogen-fixing bacteria, meaning they take nitrogen from the air and add it to the soil. Nitrogen is essential for plant growth and can be in short supply in arid soils, so this is a brilliant adaptation!
Look high and low for “beaver tails”! The Arid Pyramid is home to several species of prickly pear cactus and they all grow flat, oval stem segments that look like a beaver’s tail. Some of our specimens are so old they look like big cactus trees while others are small and grow closer to the ground. These plants grow a fruit that is eaten by people and various animals in the wild. As their name suggests, the fruit is prickly so care must be taken when peeling them.
Ceniza means “ash” in Spanish — a fitting name for a plant with such ashy-looking leaves! You may have noticed that many plants in the Arid Pyramid have very light-coloured leaves. Some, like the ceniza, have shiny hairs on their leaves, too. These are adaptations that help plants thrive in arid regions like deserts, because the one thing plants have in abundance is sunlight! Light-coloured leaves and shiny fuzzy hairs reflect sunlight away to help plants cool down.
Native to southern Mexico, but grown in arid places around the world. This tall-growing species of Agave makes for an interesting ornamental plant, but it is widely grown for the strong fibres in its leaves (comparable to hemp). The leaves are processed and the fibres are made into everything from rope and twine to hats, cloth, and paper!
This Madagascar native is loved for its interesting felt-like leaves. It’s a succulent shrub, meaning it stores water in its stems and leaves. The feltbush’s fuzzy leaves help it save water by reflecting sunlight away, similar to how wearing light-coloured clothes helps people stay cool in the sun.
Native to Madagascar, flowering kalanchoe is a common houseplant with flowers available in a variety of colours. The name “kalanchoe” is said to come from the Cantonese 伽藍菜 (gā lán choi), meaning “temple plant.” These plants are also known as “florist kalanchoe” because they are often sold by florists.
The Temperate Pyramid is 7100 square feet in size, standing 79 feet high which is tall enough for some trees to reach maturity. Seasonal climate temperatures are carefully controlled to simulate the seasons.
Plants growing in this pyramid are closest to those native to our climate here in Edmonton. Plants are adapted to seasonal growth patterns, with summer and winter seasons.
Changing with the seasons, colourful floral displays enhance the rich foliage. Plants go dormant in winter and burst into spring growth of green leaves and blooms. A variety of plants including many herbs, grasses and shrubs accompany larger trees.
Biomes represented in this pyramid include:
As you explore the Temperate Pyramid, admire the variety of ferns on display. Originating from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, these ferns love the cool moisture of the forest floor. Something interesting ferns have in common is that they don’t produce flowers. Instead, they produce spores from structures under their leaves called “sori.” The spores act much like seeds, allowing ferns to reproduce and spread to new areas. If you spot any strange looking bumps on the undersides of some leaves — those are the sori!
There are several different hybrid hellebores growing throughout the Temperate Pyramid. Look for their nodding flowers along the forest floor from mid winter and through the spring. The flowers were used in the Middle Ages as charms to ward off evil and bless animals. The plant was also used as a medicine in the past, but it contains potent toxic chemicals so it fell out of use due to less than desirable results. Don’t mess with this beauty!
Native to eastern Asia, the arrival of this plant to England in 1864 sparked a craze for gold dust plants that climaxed in 1891. Sounds like a wild time to be alive! The gold dust craze seems to have lived on because this plant is still loved for its magical looking leaves. They can’t survive Edmonton’s winters outdoors, but we are lucky to have a few specimens at home here in the Temperate Pyramid.
This majestic cedar species is native to the western Himalayas, eastern Afghanistan, northern Pakistan, and India. The species name deodara comes from the Sanskrit word devadāru which means “wood of the gods.” Incense and inspect repellent are made from the inner bark of the tree. Its wood is also used in the construction of rooms used for food storage because it is naturally rot-resistant.
Also known as tangerine sage, this fruity smelling shrubby sage is native to Mexico and Guatemala. The leaves and flowers are edible and are used in traditional Mexican medicine to treat anxiety and lower blood pressure. This species has become a widely available annual for gardeners in temperate zones like Edmonton, admired for its neon pink flowers and fun pineapple scent.
The Wollemi pines in the Temperate Pyramid have grown so much over the years! It’s still amazing to think that this plant species was thought to be extinct, having only been known to exist in the past from studying fossils. Remarkably, in 1994, about 100 trees were found growing in a remote area in Wollemi National Park, Australia. The Muttart Conservatory is fortunate to have a species with such an amazing story!
Native to Japan, where it is the national tree, it is known as sugi. It has also been cultivated in China and India. This cedar is prized for its pleasantly-scented, reddish-pink wood which is used in all kinds of construction. It’s lightweight and naturally resists decay.
Also known as Australian laurel, mock orange, and Japanese cheesewood, this shrub is native to Japan, China, and Korea. The flowers produce a strong scent that reminds some of citrus flowers. The genus name, Pittosporum, means “resinous seed,” referring to the plant’s sticky seeds. The species name, tobira, is the Japanese name for the plant.
In collaboration with the Orchid Species Preservation Foundation, the Muttart Conservatory is home to a wonderful orchid collection that includes species from the temperate regions of the world. Enjoy this display and visit throughout the year to see how it changes with the seasons in the Temperate Pyramid!
The Tropical Pyramid is 7100 square feet in size, standing 79 feet high, allowing room for many large tropical plants and trees to grow. Tropical climates are home to several plants that are often used to make medicines.
The jungle-like environment is lush, green and fragrant. Air is humid and warm, allowing plants such as palm trees, banana trees, vines and the rare Putrella (a corpse plant) to survive.
A waterfall cascades into the centre of the pyramid where small fish and water lilies make their home. An orchid hut houses many orchid varieties, some of which perfume the air.
Biomes represented in this pyramid include:
This bold and beautiful plant is originally home to Madagascar and is loved for its impressive display of large leaves. Although it is referred to as a palm, it is actually more closely related to bird-of-paradise plant species from southern Africa. Some say it’s called a traveller’s palm because if left to their own devices the length of the plant tends to face the east and west, allowing them to be used as a compass. Others say the leaf stems hold water that can be used in emergencies by travellers. How do you think it got its name?
Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants or surfaces like large rocks. You could say they like to “hang out”! They are sometimes called “air plants” because they don’t grow in soil and seem to get everything they need from the humid tropical air. This is mostly true, but many species often get more than air in nature. Some epiphytes have aerial roots (“air roots”) that can absorb nutrients from debris and sediment than gets washed down trees and rocks when it rains. Other epiphytes have specialized cup-like leaves that can hold and absorb water and nutrients (like bromeliads). As you explore the Tropical Pyramid, keep a look out for other plants growing on each other!
Arabian coffee is the most cultivated species of coffee in the world, with Coffea robusta being the second most-grown. Arabian coffee is considered superior and less bitter, but robusta is higher in caffeine. Coffea arabica is native to Ethiopia, but is thought to have been cultivated for over 1,000 years and is now grown in tropical regions around the world. In many countries, coffee has become naturalized, meaning that it has “escaped” cultivation and grows among native plants.
The scientific name for this plant used to be Croton variegatum. Despite the name change among botanists, it’s still commonly called a croton. It’s complicated. What isn’t complicated is how gorgeous this croton’s leaves are! The more sun they get, the more colourful they are. The less sun they get, the more green they become — making more chlorophyll to help them photosynthesize better with less light.
Looking across the water from the bridge, you’ll see the large, lush leaves of several taro plants. This species is native to the islands of Southeast Asia and has long been cultivated in the Pacific Islands. Its underground stems, called rhizomes, are edible and used in a variety of cuisines. The leaves also make lovely natural umbrellas!
It is thought that the tamarind is native to the tropical regions of Africa, but it has been cultivated in the Indian subcontinent for so long that it was thought to be from India, hence the species name indica. The plant produces an edible fruit with a sticky pulp that’s used in a variety of ways from candies to savoury dishes in many cuisines. If the leaves seem familiar, it may be because tamarinds are in the pea family and members of this family often have frilly compound leaves.
Staghorn fern or elkhorn fern? The choice is yours as both are common names for this spectacular epiphytic fern! Here, this plant is growing on an Indian laurel tree. It has specially adapted leaves that anchor the plant to the outside of the tree and long, branched leaves used to absorb sunlight. You’ll also notice brown blotches on the leaves, too. These are sections of tiny structures called sori (“sore”-”eye”) that produce spores. The spores are kind of like the seeds of ferns, spread through the air to produce new ferns on other trees if they land in just the right conditions to grow.
This highly unusual plant is native to Sumatra, Indonesia and has become a plant of great intrigue and fascination at greenhouses worldwide. Why? Because this plant is like a puzzle. You think you know what you’re seeing at first, but the more you learn the more you realize your assumptions are wrong! Currently, this corpse flower specimen is in a vegetative growth phase — it isn’t flowering.
Right now, it looks like some sort of small green tree that’s been growing for a couple of years. In fact, what you currently see grew quite rapidly in only a few weeks and then stopped growing altogether. It remains this size for a year so and then everything you see will die and wither away, leaving only what remains underground — a large underground stem called a corm.
When the corm has stored enough energy, the plant will make a huge stinky bloom that attracts insects to pollinate it. From seed, it takes about 7-10 years for the first flower to appear and then it will bloom once every 2-3 years. If pollinated, it can take up to a year for the fruit to develop (eaten by birds) and then the plant dies.
Also known as calamansi or Philippine lime, appropriately named since this citrus variety is primarily cultivated in the Philippines. It is native to neighbouring nations around Southeast Asia and is a common ornamental citrus outdoors where it’s warm enough and can do well as a house plant, too. Calamansi is common in Filipino, Malaysian, and Indonesian cuisines.
Although this plant has “palm” in its name, it’s actually a cycad! Cycads are considered ancient plants due their prevalence in the fossil record, showing that they used to be more abundant on earth. They look a bit like a palm, but do not produce flowers. Instead, they produce cones on separate male and female plants that emerge from the central crown of leaves. Very peculiar!
Native to southern China, this banana species was thought to have been from the islands of southern Japan, hence the name. It is called a “fibre” banana because in Japan the stems are processed into fibres and used to make carpets, tablecloths, and even kimonos. The fruit can be eaten, but they are not widely popular like other bananas, likely because they contain many hard black seeds and not much pulp.
The Feature Pyramid has had a dramatic facelift and we’re delighted to welcome you back to our reopening exhibit! The previously permanent perimeter of plants has been removed, allowing for significant transformations from show to show.
Exhibits change 5-7 times per year. Unique themed displays and fabulous seasonal celebrations highlight the creativity of the Muttart staff. In between the feature pyramid shows, the feature pyramid is closed for show change.
This species was formerly part of the genus Coleus and that continues to be its common name. The colourful leaves contain anthocyanin pigments alongside chlorophyll. The pigments provide protection from UV light damage. If coleus plants aren’t getting enough light, they will become greener and less colourful.
This whimsical variety of jade is also known as finger jade and organ pipe jade. The original species is native to parts of southern Africa. Jade plants are fairly easy-going house plants in part because of their succulent stems and leaves that store water.
Centre Court, aptly named as it is in the centre of all 4 pyramids, is a place to rest, enjoy a snack or beverage and take in the surroundings. New to Centre Court is an ode to nature's elements, such as water, fire and living plants. Don’t forget to look up and spend time viewing Alex Janvier’s mural, which spans the permiter of the room.
My intent with this installation is to instill a feeling of fantasy and wonder from the viewer's perspective. Bold use of colours and the whimsical nature of the forms could suggest something of this world on a microscopic level or simply something out of this world which could only be realized in one’s dreams. - Keith Walker
For more information on Keith Walker and his artwork, please visit his website Keith Walker Glass.
We offer a wide selection of unique gifts and souvenirs, many by local designers and artists, including:
You do not need to pay facility admission to visit the Marigold Gift Shop.