Palm House and Rose Garden

The curvaceous exterior and steamy interior of Kew’s Palm House have long made it an icon of the Gardens. Designed by Decimus Burton and expertly engineered by Richard Turner, it was constructed between 1844 and 1848.

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Photo of the Palm House from the Rose Garden, showing the Incredibles Tea Party

The Palm House from the Rose Garden, showing the Incredibles Tea Party.

Did you know?

  • The Palm House has 16,000 panes of glass.
  • The double coconut palm (Lodoicea maldivica) bears the largest seed in the world.
  • The specimen of the cycad Encephalartos altensteinii was brought to Kew from South Africa in 1775 by Francis Masson.

History and design

Experts consider Kew’s Palm House as the most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structure in the world. It was designed to accommodate the exotic palms being collected and introduced to Europe in early Victorian times. The project was pioneering, as it was the first time engineers had used wrought iron to span such large widths without supporting columns. This technique was borrowed from the shipbuilding industry; from a distance the glasshouse resembles an upturned hull. The result was a vast, light, lofty space that could easily accommodate the crowns of large palms.

Heating was an important element of the glasshouse’s design, as tropical palms need a warm, moist environment to thrive. Originally, basement boilers sent heat into the glasshouse via water pipes running beneath iron gratings in the floor. A tunnel ran between the Palm House and the Italianate Campanile smoke stack that stands beside Victoria Gate. This 150-metres-long (490 ft) passage served the dual purpose of carrying away sooty fumes to be released from the chimney and enabling coal to be brought to the boilers by underground railway. Today, the glasshouse is heated using gas and the tunnel houses Palm House Keeper Wesley Shaw’s office.

Originally, palms, cycads and climbers were planted in large teak tubs or clay pots that sat atop benches above the iron gratings. However, in 1860, two large central beds were dug and the tallest palms planted in them. Subsequently, most of the glasshouse’s plants were dug into beds to form a miniature indoor tropical rainforest. Today, the tallest palms that need the most room are located beneath the central dome. These include the peach palm (Bactris gasipaes), babassu (Attalea speciosa), queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) and the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera).

Conservation and restoration

The Palm House was first restored between 1955 and 1957 when its glazing bars were cleaned and the entire house re-glazed. At this time the boilers were converted to oil and moved close to the Italianate Campanile. Between 1984 and 1988 a more comprehensive overhaul was undertaken. The Palm House was emptied for the first time in its history, with most plants moved to other glasshouses. Those that were too large were cut down and used to make specimens for the Herbarium and Museum. Under direction of the Property Services Agency, the Grade I Listed building was completely dismantled, restored and rebuilt. Ten miles of replica glazing bars made of stainless steel were put in place to hold new panes of toughened safety glass. The restoration took as long to finish as the glasshouse took to build. You can help Kew to maintain and restore its historic buildings by providing a donation.


Things to look out for

Highlights in the South Wing, which contains plants from Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands, include the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) the most important oil-producing plantation palm in the Tropics and the rare triangle palm (Dypsis decaryi) from Madagascar. The main central section houses plants from the Americas, including many economically important species. You’ll find cocoa, rubber, banana and papaya plants growing here alongside the Mexican yam (Dioscorea macrostachya) which was used to develop the contraceptive pill. The North Wing showcases plants from Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, the region that contains the world’s greatest diversity of palms. Here you’ll find climbing palms called rattans from which cane furniture is made. Also, there are several Asian fruit trees including mango, starfruit, breadfruit and jackfruit.

Rose Garden

To celebrate the 250th Anniversary, Kew replanted the historic Rose Garden that sits behind the Palm House. Inspired by original designs by William Nesfield the replanted Garden has been laid out as planned in 1848, when the Palm House was built.

Marine Display

Housed, in the basement of the Palm House, the marine display recreates four major marine habitats, emphasising the importance of marine plants. 

27 comments on 'Palm House and Rose Garden'

Kew feedback team says

24/07/2013 4:09:16 PM | Report abuse

Kew's glass house team says: 'We do grow specimens of Annona Muricata and some species of Manilkara at Kew, but we don’t currently cultivate any of the other species you mention in your comment. However, our records show that we have had Litchee and Rambutan growing for a few years in the past. We do grow many other tropical and Equatorial fruits and ediblse such as Bread Fruit, Cocoa, Nutmeg, Black pepper, Coconut, as well as literally 1000s of other Tropical species that require similar conditions. Tropical Glasshouses at Kew are heated with powerful boilers that are quite efficient at keeping the temperatures in at a minimum of 17 to 20C. Keeping the Glasshouse heated is not the only challenge: keeping the desired and necessary humidity levels is often more challenging than keeping the temperatures. We do have a number of ways to regulate humidity and we use several ultrasonic fogging units to increase the ambient humidity. I must add that the Palm house does not remain ‘closed’ during the winter. Doors are kept closed as much as possible and on a cold day many vents of the glasshouse will be shut, but the glasshouse remains open to the public all winter through. The Waterlilly House is the only Glasshouse that closes during winter, but this is down to the fact that the Victoria cruziana on display reaches the end of its life cycle and dies; mostly due to lack of light. Meanwhile another seedling would be raised under supplementary light to be used in the public displays the following spring. Victoria is an example of a plant that cannot cope with the very low winter levels of light. While in the wild they are short lived plants anyway; in the UK they struggle further and die during winter. The days are much shorter, the plant is by then very pot bound, the sun does not goes at high as in summer meaning that very few minutes of sunlight hit the water surface of the pond and the plant gives up. In the case of Victoria, a young plant is then ‘baby sat’ under artificial light in the Nursery until March brings back the sun to acceptable levels. However, Victoria is one of the very few plants that need this treatment. For most tropical plants, by the time that they start to struggle with the light, the days are already growing. Furthermore, the very long day hours of the British summer and its high intensity can also be as damaging as the dark winter days. We use very effective and automated shading and in other Glasshouses, such as the Palm house we tend to prune back overgrown things in late Autumn (which allow for greater light penetration ) while in summer allow many climbers and fast growing trees to provide a shading layer.'

Gary says

22/07/2013 8:41:27 PM | Report abuse

Does Kew have examples of Litchi chinensis (lychee), Nephelium lappaceum (rambutan), Garcinia mangostana (mangosteen), Anona Muricata (soursop, Manilkara zapota (sapodilla/chikoo))and Anacardium occidentale (cashew) in its living botanical collections? I've heard that the mangosteen especially is very difficult to please in the UK- even if it is grown under conducive conditions in a tropical hothouse, such as Kew's Palm House. How do you manage to keep your tender tropical plants happy in the depths of our unforgiving winters? I mean, there must be considerable temperature disparity between the interior of your heated glass houses and the external environment during wintertime. Has the reason why the Palm House is closed during the colder months got anything to do with minimising heat loss or preventing cold air from entering? I was wondering how the tropical plants cope with the lower light levels during winter.

Kew feedback team says

22/07/2013 11:54:51 AM | Report abuse

I am afraid that Kew does not provide a horticultural advice service. If you are a member of the Royal Horticultural Society, I recommend that you contact their advice line 0845 260 8000. Otherwise you might wish to try their website which contains useful cultivation advice or contact your local garden centre.


20/07/2013 12:07:16 AM | Report abuse

Does Kew have specimens of Litchi chinensis, Nephelium lappaceum, Garcinia mangostana and Anacardium occidentale in its collections? Could you offer any tips on growing these as exotic houseplants in the UK? I am having great success growing carambola (starfruit), Hylocereus undatus, Passiflora ligularis, Persea americana and Citrus as houseplants; I keep them in a clear polythene 'growhouse' to provide a humid microclimate. Throughout the year they get supplementary lighting provided by a T5 fluorescent growlight. The leaves of my 'Parvin' mango and lychee house plants (grown from store-bought fruit) are turning progressively brown at the tips and margins; would anyone like to speculate as to what could be causing this? All of my other plants are not affected by this leaf browning phenomenon. Relative humidity inside the clear plastic growhouse rarely falls below 80%; it often reaches 99%- especially at night (growlights switched off). Temperature inside the growhouse ranges from highs of 30-43 degrees Celcius when the strong summer sun shines through my West-facing window, to lows of 16-18 degrees Celcius in the depths of winter. The leaf browning of my lychee and mango plants is not due to sun scorch, as I had this problem even during the winter. I would be very grateful for any tips or advice!

Kylie says

23/06/2013 2:14:40 PM | Report abuse

The rose garden is beautiful

Lilia says

17/02/2011 9:37:34 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for the post! I love the garden. I use it to get some more plant information, as well as relax me after a long day.

Digital Media Team says

08/11/2010 10:26:09 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for blogging about Kew tillandsias, great photos too. We'll add you to our list of friendly bloggers and tip you off with upcoming garden news.

tillandsias aereas says

06/11/2010 11:39:57 PM | Report abuse

Very beautiful glasshouse, really impressive and unique. Check out the blog post I dedicated to it.

Digital Media Team says

29/10/2010 5:02:55 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your comment monkeydiary1998. Because the Palm House is so iconic, we've tried to strike a balance between different types of information including historical, architecture and plant information. If you're particularly interested in the plants you can find there, take a look at this page

monkeydiary1998 says

28/10/2010 3:41:47 PM | Report abuse

I thought that there should have been more reference to the plants there, why is this?

Kew Feedback team says

13/07/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for your comment. The main reason that Henry Moore's 'Large Reclining Figure' is not mentioned on this page is because it was part of a temporary exhibition at Kew Gardens in 2007. Moore's sculptures are no longer situated in the Gardens. The associated website for the exhibition can be found here We hope this website gives some longevity to the exhibition.

Art Fan says

13/07/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

Why is there no reference to Henry Moore's "Large Reclining Figure" here? It is a beautiful sculpture and should be recognised!

beatrice says

03/07/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse


Feedback Team says

02/06/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for your comment. We have now added links to find out more about the Marine Display and plants in the Palm House to this page.

Amr says

30/05/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

fantastic place i loved it so much; why is there no link here like in temperate house to the plants in the house and why is there no mentioning of the marine life?

Nicky says

25/05/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse


Cherry says

12/04/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

Fascinating to read about the history. It really added some depth to my visit. Loved it.


05/03/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

hi i love the trip the garden was so nice i loved it

Gribbo says

12/01/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

I am also welsh.

Gribbo says

23/12/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

Last time I was in Kew was in 1968. Those tropical plants and the steamy atmosphere made an impression on me. I have since spend more-or-less the last 25 years living in the tropics in Southeast Asia and many of those exotic plants I saw in the hothouse are now just the indigenous plants growing all around me. The local fruit market has all of those fruits mentioned and many more and after all these years they are just my apples and pears. I have never forgotten my visit to Kew. I had just left school and was about to go to University. Maybe one of these days I will come back and say hello and bring greetings from the tropics to those plants I first saw so many years ago. It is strange to think some of those very same plants are still there. Constancy in a changing world of ever reducing biodiversity- it's a rare commodity. Well done Kew.

jess says

08/12/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse


phil bainbridge says

24/11/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

Out of this world a must to see at least once in a lifetime the magnificence beauty and colour give a lasting impression

Marilene says

20/10/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

I will never forget the beauty and the magnificence of the kew gardens. I hope one day to come back. Unfortunately it is not easy to collect all the seeds of the planet. From Brazil

Paul says

05/10/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

The Cycad, Encephalartos altensteinii. Britains oldest pot plant. These are the type of thing people come to see and know about.

Sophie says

03/10/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

one of the best places and my 5 favirouit i hope other people love it as much as did for my School trip. It was very hot and steamy like the Tropical rainforest.

John says

02/10/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

"curvaceous exterior and steamy interior" - sounds perfect to me!

Stewart Henchie says

01/10/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

The Palm House has more than 700 panes of glass!

Your Kew

We invite photographers to capture the sights at Kew and Wakehurst. These images are a selection of images submitted by photographers from around the world. We hope you enjoy them. You can see more on Flickr.