Belle Isle Conservatory
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, or commonly and locally known as the Belle Isle Conservatory, is a greenhouse and a botanical garden built in 1904. It is located on Belle Isle, a 982-acre island park nestled in the Detroit River between Downtown Detroit and the Canadian border. The park itself consists of 13 acres of preserved land for the conservatory and its botanical garden. It is opened to the public free of charge, and operates from Wednesday through Sunday between 10am and 5pm. The conservatory, and the neighboring Belle Isle Aquarium, was designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn, and was remodeled and renovated several times years after. In 1953 the structure was named in honor of Anna Scripps Whitcomb, who left her grand collection of 600 orchids to Detroit, and made several generous donations afterwards. But due to a lack of funding and maintenance in recent years, a majority of the donated orchids have died. The building of the Belle Isle Conservatory itself possesses a strikingly impressive domed center reaching 85 feet in height, which houses the exotic palm trees and plant life from South America to the jungles of Southeast Asia. The Conservatory is divided into six sections, the Vestibule in the front that serves as the welcome area, the Palm room that is inside the domed center, the Tropical Room in the South Wing, the Fernery and Cactus Rooms within the North Wing, and the Show Room positioned in the East Wing.
History and Architecture
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is a botanical garden on Belle Isle in Detroit, Michigan. The conservatory opened in the center of the island on August 18, 1904. It covers 13 acres, has a lily pond on its north side and has perennial gardens on the west. The gardens home the Levi L. Barbour Memorial Fountain. For almost 49 years it was known as the conservatory until 1953, when it was renamed the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservancy. In April 1953, Anna Scripps Whitcomb, who was daughter of Detroit News founder James E. Scripps, gave her 600 orchids collection to the conservatory. Many of these exotic orchids had been saved from Britain throughout World War II. The conservatory became one of the largest governments owned orchid collections in the United States because of her contribution. Unfortunately in recent years, as a result of a shortage of maintenance and budget cuts, most of orchids have died. When it was first built the 85 feet tall dome was wooden, until the early 1950’s when the wooden frame was replaced by one made of iron and aluminum. It is currently the oldest continually running conservatory in the United States. 
The Conservatory building is divided into six specific sections, with an outdoor lily pond, formal perennial gardens and greenhouses adjacent to the Conservatory building. The Palm house, maintained at 70°F, is housed under an 85 foot dome. This house contains a variety of tropical trees and palms, including the Chinese fan palm, the fish tail palm, the umbrella tree[disambiguation needed] and the canary island date palm. When a tree reaches the top of the dome it was must be cut down, as they cannot be pruned to height. The Tropical house, 70°F, contains fruiting plants and trees such as the common fig, calamondin orange and bloodleaf banana. Also, tropical flowering plants such as the pink powderpuff and peace lily. The Cactus house, 62°F, is lined in in tufa rock and holds a variety of cacti and succulents, inclduing the jellybean, silver dollar cactus, the "old man" cactus and jade plant. The Fernery is sunken to provide cooler conditions and more humidity. Ferns such as the alsophila can be found here, as well as a small waterfall located in the center. The Showroom changes its display many times throughout the year and is also used for the conservatory's many flower shows and special events. The perennial gardens are located outside to the north of the vestibule.
The lily pond is located between the conservatory building and the Belle Isle Aquarium. Not part of the original design, the lily pond was constructed in 1936. The rocky walls were created with 200 tons of moss-covered limestone boulders that were brought from the construction of the Livingstone Channel in the Detroit River near Amherstburg, Ontario. The pond is home to Japanese koi that are maintained by volunteers and are held in the aquarium basement during winter.
Located to the west of the conservatory building are 20 greenhouse structures. 15 of the structures are used to care for the orchid, bromeliad, cactus, amaryllis and tropical plant collections. Five of the greenhouses are used by the Golightly Career and Technical Center's Agriscience Program for high school students in the metro Detroit area. These greenhouses help train for post-graduation jobs as green's keepers, florists, arborists, nursery owners and related fields. The first greenhouse was built on Belle Isle in 1903.
Non Profit Involvement & Volunteerism
The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is free to visit and operates mostly on the budget designated by local and state Governments. However, Belle Isle has long history of support through private organizations and donors. Volunteerism plays an important role for all of Belle Isle. Specifically, four major volunteer organizations have been vital to the livelihood of Belle Isle. Friends of Belle Isle, a non-profit grassroots environmental organization, was founded in 1972 and is dedicated to the upkeep and preservation of Belle Isle through cleaning and the ridding of invasive species on the Island. In 1988, the Belle Isle Botanical Society began raising money for projects to improve the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory. The Belle Isle Botanical society offered many services to the conservatory including volunteer tour guides and gardeners, and was also involved in raising funds to maintain and support the conservatory operation through repairs, equipment, purchase of plant material, etc. In 2004, the Belle Isle Women’s Committee was created and its first project was to upgrade Sunset Point. The non-profit Friends of the Belle Isle Aquarium was formed in 2005 with the goal of restoring Belle Isles historic 100-year-old aquarium. In 2009, the four organizations put a plan in action to form a single organization that could pool all their efforts and ideas into a larger and more effective non-profit dedicated to improvement projects. Together, receiving assistance from the Cultural Alliance for Southeastern Michigan and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, they have joined forces to form a single all-volunteer organization named the Belle Isle Conservancy. The Kresge Foundation, based in suburban Detroit, has played a key role in the merger. Kresge gave the four organizations $100,000, in 2009, and in 2010 another $100,000. Currently, there are three employees and a supervisor from the City of Detroit General Services Department that make up the Floriculture Unit at the Belle Isle Conservatory. The staff members are responsible for caring for all the plants in the Conservatory and greenhouses. The Conservatory relies on volunteers for all it's additional needs and workers.
- Belle Isle Visitors Guide. White House of Belle Isle. p. 6.
- Belle Isle Visitors Guide. White House of Belle Isle. p. 11.
- "Fun Facts". Belle Isle Conservancy. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
- "Who We Are". Retrieved 20 January 2013.
- Austin, Dan. "Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory". Retrieved 22 January 2013.
- "Belle Isle Conservatory/ Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory". Local Stew: Detroit. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
- "Activities and Attractions". Belle Isle Conservancy. Retrieved 20 January 2013.
- Cohen, Rick. "A Four-Group Merger Creates New Conservancy in Metro Detroit". Non Profit Quarterly. Retrieved 20 January 2013.