Princess of Wales Conservatory

The Princess of Wales Conservatory recreates ten climatic zones. See Madagascan baobab trees, orchids from Central America and carnivorous plants from Asia.

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Princess of Wales Conservatory

Kew's Princess of Wales Conservatory

Did you know?

  • There is a ‘time-capsule’ buried at the southern end of the conservatory. Sir David Attenborough placed it in the foundations there in 1985 as part of the World Wildlife Fund’s Plants Campaign. Containing seeds of basic food crops and endangered species, it is not due to be exhumed until 2085. By this time, many of the plants it contains may have become rare or extinct.
  • There are about nine water dragons that live and breed freely in Zone 1. They provide a natural means of controlling unwanted insects in the Princess of Wales Conservatory but tend to keep out of sight of visitors.
  • Sensors located on the glasshouse walls and secreted about the beds feed environmental information back to the conservatory’s central computer. This switches on heat flows, opens vents to allow in cool air or prompts mist sprays to operate, until the preset conditions required for each climatic zone are met.

Historical information

The Princess of Wales Conservatory was commissioned in 1982 to replace a group of 26 smaller buildings that were falling into disrepair. It was named after Princess Augusta, founder of Kew, and opened in 1987 by Diana, Princess of Wales. It is the most complex conservatory at Kew, containing ten computer-controlled climatic zones under one roof.

The two main climate zones are the ‘dry tropics’, representing the world’s warm, arid areas, and the ‘wet tropics’, housing moisture loving plants from ecosystems such as rainforests and mangrove swamps. The eight remaining microclimates include a seasonally dry zone containing desert and savanna plants, plus sections for carnivorous plants, ferns and orchids.

Whereas the Palm and Temperate Houses make grand statements with their designs, the low-lying, angular ‘glazed hill’ of the Princess of Wales house is less obtrusive. The conservatory was designed by architect Gordon Wilson to be energy-efficient and easy to maintain and was built partly underground.

The southern end is heated more by the sun than the northern end, so this is where visitors find towering spikes of echiums and silver agaves from dry tropical regions such as the arid Canary Islands. The central area contains an elevated aquaria, complete with waterlily pond and the dangling roots of mangroves, plus displays of orchids and carnivorous plants. At the northern end are species from the moist tropics, including banana, pineapple, pepper and ginger.

Things to look out for

The pond within the aquaria section contains the Asian form of the giant waterlily Euryale ferox. This plant has huge leaves that can span two metres and are strong enough to take the weight of baby without sinking. On the lower level, there are viewing windows so visitors can see the pond from a fish’s eye view. Close by are separate tanks containing a rhombeus piranha, poison-dart tree frogs and baby water dragons. These displays demonstrate how plants and animals interact in their natural tropical rainforest habitats.

Towards the northern end of the glasshouse, are some familiar houseplants originating from the wet tropics. These include the African violet (Saintpaulia) and Swiss cheese plant (Monstera deliciosa). Once a year, the Princess of Wales glasshouse hosts a festival celebrating the beauty of tropical orchids. Kew’s orchid collection numbers some 1500 species, and staff working its micropropagation laboratory are becoming adept at bringing rare species back from the brink of extinction.

Behind the scenes

Keeping the Princess of Wales Conservatory’s plants in good shape requires much hard graft behind the scenes. The team clean out the pools in Spring, develop outdoor displays such as the Mediterranean Garden in Summer, top up the glasshouse’s soil and replant beds in Autumn, and prune plants throughout the winter.

Kids' mission

  • Stone plants (Lithops) disguise themselves as pebbles so that animals don’t graze them while wandering across the stony, water-parched landscapes of southern Africa. Can you spot one?
  • Carnivorous plants feed off passing insects. Can you can find three different kinds and describe the different type of trap each uses to catch its unsuspecting prey?
  • One of the orchids in the Princess of Wales conservatory is named after the vampire Dracula. Can you find it and explain why it is so-named?

30 comments on 'Princess of Wales Conservatory'

Kew feedback team says

05/11/2013 12:40:28 PM | Report abuse

Hi Vasileios, thanks for your comment. Across the three zones in which we grow cacti and succulents (Dry Tropics, Seasonally Dry Tropics and Moist Tropics) we currently have 1,150 accessions recorded on the LCD. I hope that answers your question.

Vasileios Monos says

03/11/2013 5:42:41 PM | Report abuse

Hello Kewteam, I had visited the Kew Gardens at September 2012 and I want to write an article "cacti and succulents in Kew" for the magazine of Hellenic Cactus & Succulent Society. Please, I wanted to know how many species of cacti and succulents are in Princess Of Wales Conservatory. Best regards, Vasileios

Kew feedback team says

30/10/2013 12:06:06 PM | Report abuse

Hi KZ, thanks for getting in touch. The oldest orchid accession that has been in continuous cultivation and is still cultivated within the Kew collections is a specimen of Bulbophyllum lasiochilum, which is recorded as being donated from the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin in Dublin in 1903. It’s not on permanent display in the Princess of Wales Conservatory but is growing in the nursery collections. The specimens being cultivated now are from the original plant but the nature of the plant’s growth means that the oldest parts of the plant are perhaps only 10-15 years old because as the older plants die back they are replaced by new growths. We then remove the old growth to prevent rotting and pest infestations - and so the specimen is not, unfortunately, a large plant that is 100 years old in size!

KZ says

28/10/2013 10:48:22 PM | Report abuse

Hello, Kew: I have heard that there is an orchid plant that's more than 100 years old at Kew. Can you give a bit of history? Thanks, KZ

Muir Johnston says

18/03/2013 11:17:32 AM | Report abuse

Dear Kew Team, I work at De Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam and we are currently carrying out a redesign of our desert house, is there someone i can contact to discuss soil mix specifications, i think you have experience with compaction etc. Regards, Muir

Kew feedback team says

11/03/2013 10:58:15 AM | Report abuse

Dear John, Thank you for your enquiry. The Princess of Wales Conservatory is open throughout the year, including March, and the Waterlily House will reopen on 29 March. We wish you a very enjoyable visit to Kew Gardens.

John says

08/03/2013 8:34:40 PM | Report abuse

Are the Princess of Wales conservatory and the Water Lily house opened during march?I am mainly interested in these two.Thanks.

Rory says

24/02/2013 6:01:52 PM | Report abuse

Dear Kew team, i am in architecture student looking to learn more about the greenhouse and it's environmental control specifically with the orchid displays in mind. Is there anyone i could possibly speak to to learn more? Thank you very much.

Kew feedback team says

08/01/2013 4:58:25 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for your question. Most of the collections are held in the Tropical Nursery, which can be accessed by appointment only. The Nursery has two open days a year where all the collections can be viewed by the public. Please keep an eye on the website for more details.

Katia says

05/01/2013 4:50:22 PM | Report abuse

Dear Kew Gardens Team, Could you please let me know if your cacti collection is accessible to public? Thank you.

Kew Feedback Team says

02/01/2013 5:23:46 PM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, the Welwitchia was damaged this winter by a member of the public who ripped the leaves off. We will plant another in the spring as planting in mid-winter may cause undue stress to the seedling.


02/01/2013 11:37:29 AM | Report abuse

Where is the Welwitchia? Couldn't spot it. Super visit otherwise. W. Meech

Bindu, S. says

10/05/2012 4:54:52 AM | Report abuse

I think, it is a very fantastic achievement among the world.

marcio jose says

09/04/2012 10:13:41 PM | Report abuse

"por que toda a minha vida eu sempre quiz e quero estudar tudo sobre a natureza amo tudo isso, biologia marinha,botanica tudo que se refere a natureza de Deus.


26/11/2011 4:40:35 PM | Report abuse

great! i love the wet tropic exhibit

John Burke says

28/06/2011 12:38:21 PM | Report abuse

The dry tropic area of the Princess of Wales conservatory is one of my favourite areas but I think the display of the Mexican artist although probably worthwhile seems at odds with the desert scene and spoils it a little.

Neil Foster says

05/04/2011 8:12:40 PM | Report abuse

The rope-like red flowers of the vine draping over the entrance to the underwater part of the Glasshouse were fantastic. A great experience carefully and thoughtfully curated. Streptocarpus GAlore!

Esme Greenan says

27/11/2010 1:39:52 PM | Report abuse

The conservatories were beautifully maintained and brimming with exceptional botanical specimens, but there is no additional information about the included plants on the website! Not useful!

JT Paris says

22/11/2010 9:09:36 PM | Report abuse

Lovely pics. I really like the information about why the gardeners do what they do to preserve our planet's bio-diversity.

tillandsias says

14/11/2010 9:04:32 PM | Report abuse

Thank you very much! Here is another post about the bromeliads and tillandsias of Princess of Wales. I'm preparing another about orchids soon.

Digital Media Team says

08/11/2010 10:32:53 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 11:43:21 PM | Report abuse

Check out the beautiful vanda orchids at the conservatory:

André Quevâtre says

12/10/2010 5:05:31 PM | Report abuse

I worked on this project in 1985, (Electrical engineering) but have not yet looked around the conservatory! One day......

Eloise says

02/08/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

im 12, and was very shocked to see that some people were flicking, prodding and poking the butterflies, which even i know could kill them! i would be happy to see a sign to tell visitors not to disturb them. thank you

franki says

02/08/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

lovely display of live butterflys, unfortunately no information leaflets available.

Moragh says

05/07/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

No matter how often I visit there is always something special and exciting to appreciate from plants to the wildlife.


06/05/2010 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

It is quite magnificent i mean i went with my school true and utter beauty.


13/12/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

it is astonishing to view


11/10/2009 12:00:00 AM | Report abuse

Don't miss the carniverous plants in a side bit of the glasshouse near the pond!


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


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