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In the tropical glasshouses many shades of green and a variety of leaves form the backdrop for a diversity in flowers; orchids, exotic arums and the Victoria amazonica.

Tropical Glasshouses

Since 1700, The Hortus botanicus Leiden has a collection of tropical plants relevant to scientific research, education and the general public. Many of the species that came to botanical gardens in the Netherlands during the period of the Dutch East India Company came from Asia, Japan and South Africa. These were often collected by doctors stationed on trading posts, and have grown to become well known species. The doctors were looking for edible and medicinal species, but were also amazed by the unknown, exotic flora of these tropical regions. As a result, cinnamon, peppers, aloë and many other plants were transported.

History of the Glasshouses

The first glasshouse was probably built somewhere around 1680, because many foreign plants were brought to the Hortus that couldn’t survive in our colder climate. The map by Cruquius (1719) shows several small glasshouses, the first of these were heated using peat. After 1777 several smaller glasshouses were built in the garden, the cast-iron Victoria glasshouse being the most striking. Up to 1930, all these glasshouses were heated with coal, and the Hortus had several employees to keep the fires burning day and night. Important collections were the tropical orchids and ferns, housed in separate glasshouses. Additionally, the Hortus had glasshouses for cactuses, palms and bromelia.

In 1937, Under the supervision of prefect Baas Becking and hortulanus Veendorp, the construction of the current glasshouse complex was started, containing several glasshouses and different climate zones. These glasshouses were heated with coal. Underneath one of the glasshouses was a special room to keep the coal, which was delivered by boats. Even during the second World War, all the plants were kept in one of the glasshouses which could still be heated, showing the care and love for these plants.

In 1965, coal was replaced by oil and a big tank was placed underground for this purpose. In harsh winters, up to 200.000 liters of oil were spent on heating, which proved to be quite costly during the oil crisis. The most recent renovation to the glasshouse was in 1983, when the roofs were replaced by synthetic material, the heating transitioned to gas, and all the fuel and water lines were placed above ground for easier access and maintenance. Sadly, there was not enough budget for double glazing.

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