Admission tickets are not available online; tickets are available at the door. If you are interested in becoming a member, which provides free access year-round, click here.
What are the hours?
Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri, 9 A.M.-5 P.M. (last entrance 4 P.M.)
Sat-Sun, 9 A.M.-4 P.M. (last entrance 3 P.M.)
Closed on Tuesdays
Map of Facility
Other Frequently Asked Questions
The admission fee ranges from $6-$9, depending on your age and if you are a Milwaukee County resident. Children two and under are free. As always, Friends of the Domes members get in free. Memberships start at only $30. Learn more.
The Tropical Dome and Desert Dome have paved pathways. However, the grade can be challenging for persons using manual wheelchairs and walkers. The Show Dome is bricks with a challenging grade as well for persons using manual wheelchairs and walkers.
Yes! In addition to the beautiful gardens, we have an Education Center that is open to the public every weekend and some week days. The public hours are limited. Click here for more information.
Pets are not allowed in the conservatory. Service animals that assist individuals with disabilities and comply with the Milwaukee County ADA Service Animal Procedure are welcome.
Individuals needing a sign language interpreter should contact The Domes staff at (414) 257-5600 in order to request an interpreter for a future visit date. Sign language interpreter requests will be directed to the Office for Persons with Disabilities.
A Few of Our Favorite Plants
Be sure to visit these plants during your upcoming trip.
The Spiny Thickets of Madagascar
The Spiny Thickets of Madagascar
In the dry southern end of Madagascar are thickets of spiny plants adapted to a desert
environment. The Desert Dome has a number of interesting plants from this fourth largest island in the world. Many of them are found wild nowhere else on Earth except Madagascar.
The Alluaudia species are tall strange-looking trees with whitish gray bark and few branches. They grow upward like a telephone pole as high as 30-50 feet. The trunks are covered with spirals of small, round, succulent leaves. To discourage native animals, such as lemurs, from eating the leaves, the trunk is covered with parallel spirals of very sharp, tapering
Of the several different species, the one located in the Desert Dome is Alluaudia ascendens. This spiny tree might remind you of the ocotillo plant (Fouquieria splendens) that has bright red
flowers and is commonplace in Mexico and the southwestern United States. In fact, it is
sometimes called the Madagascar ocotillo. These trees are unrelated biologically, but they are a
wonderful example of the parallel evolution of plants trying to survive in a similarly harsh, dry
The bird-of-paradise bush or yellow bird of paradise originates in tropical South America, especially in Argentina, but it is now widely grown and naturalized throughout dry areas of Central and South America and the southwestern states.
It is unrelated to the other bird of paradise (Strelitzia) with the large orange flowers, sometimes used in flower arrangements, that originated in South Africa. This is another example of the confusion that common plant names can cause.
The Domes plant, Caesalpinia gilliesii, has beautiful flowers with 5 yellow petals and 10 long red stamens that extend several inches beyond the petals. It blooms throughout the spring and summer months until fall.
The flowers open over a 4-hour period and are fragrant. This plant is a member of the legume
(Fabaceae) family, so it produces pods just like pea and bean plants. However, these pods and
seeds are poisonous. When they dry out and turn tan-colored, they explosively open to distribute
their seeds. Even when not blooming, the leaves are attractive. They are bipinnately (doubly)
compound with small bluish-green leaflets that give the foliage a fernlike look. Like many
members of the legume family, the bird-of-paradise bush can fix its own nitrogen from the soil
because of specialized bacteria living in root nodules.
The tree that produces chocolate originated in South America. Today, chocolate is produced in
tropical countries around the world, especially in South America and Africa. Although grown in
tropical countries, consumption of chocolate — more than a million tons annually — is primarily in western European countries, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., partially because chocolate
melts too easily in hotter areas of the world. Some people cannot imagine life without chocolate.
The scientific name of the tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.” People have enjoyed chocolate for at least 4,000 years beginning with the Aztecs and other native Americans who made a bitter tasting drink from the seeds. The name “chocolate” is from the Aztec word, xocolatl, meaning “bitter water.” Chocolate is also used for mole, a tasty, dark sauce for meat that is now a part of Mexican cuisine.
Chocolate trees are native to shady tropical rainforests and do not grow well when exposed to
wind, sun, or cool conditions. Unlike many trees, Theobroma cacao produces its flowers directly
out of the woody branches and trunk. Large pods (about one foot in length) are produced from
the flowers and mature from green to yellow to reddish purple. The flowers and pods are
produced year round in the Tropics. Each pod contains 20-40 seeds. The seeds are removed from
the pods and fermented, a process than develops the familiar brown color. The seeds are roasted, ground, and processed into cooking or baking chocolate, which is quite bitter, or mixed with milk, sugar, and other ingredients for candy.
The medicinal uses of Aloe species have been known since the days of the ancient Egyptians. It is said that Cleopatra used “aloe” in her quest for beauty. Aloe comes from plants in the genus Aloe, especially the species Aloe vera. It is common in sunscreens, aftershave lotions, and ointments for burns, insect bites, and poison ivy.
Aloe vera leaves exude compounds that help protect skin from ultraviolet rays, so they are useful
in sunscreens. The leaves also exude a soothing, anti-inflammatory mucilage or gel when cut.
There are more than 350 species of Aloe plants. They flourish in hot, dry regions of the world
and originated in sub-Saharan Africa. Aloe species are succulents, mostly with leathery or fleshy
sword-like leaves, each lined with teeth or spines. Although often mistaken for cactus species,
they belong to the lily family. Some are only a few inches in size; others produce leaves that
creep across the ground as they grow; others grow into trees with single, sturdy trunks.
A prominent example of this group can be found in the Desert Dome. One of those, Aloe marlothii, is a tree aloe that may grow 30 feet tall. The blue-gray leaves are fleshy and can be three feet long with black, thick, tooth-like spines. It is a perennial succulent with leaves that grow in a rosette (spiral) with a single trunk. When it flowers, the spectacular flower stalk produces horizontal branches covered with red to yellow flowers. In its native home in southern Africa, this plant flowers in the winter, and the nectar of the flowers attracts small birds for pollination.
On a small “island” along the walk of the Desert Dome is a Dragon Tree, Dracaena draco. Two
characteristics of this tree may have led to its name. After pruning or flowering, it branches,
resulting in a “multi-headed” look.
In Greek mythology, a multi-headed dragon guarded the golden apples that Hercules had been assigned to obtain as the eleventh of his 12 labors. According to legend, these trees sprouted up from the blood when the dragon was killed. The connection to the idea of a dragon is enhanced by the dark red resin produced in the bark of the trees. It was marketed as “dragon’s blood” during medieval times and was considered to have magical and medicinal qualities. Today, the resin is still used for incense, as a dye, and as a wood varnish for items such as violins.
The dragon tree produces clusters of greenish-white flowers at the end of the branches, followed
by orange berries. It is very slow growing and can require a decade to reach 2-3 ft. Dragon trees
often grow to immense size and can live more than 1,000 years. They are native to the Canary Islands and adapted to the arid, rocky mountain climate where they are a popular tree in landscapes, but an endangered species in the wild.
Dracaena, which means female dragon, is a genus of about 40 species of trees and succulent
shrubs the monocot group of plants. The majority of the species are native to Africa and nearby
islands, with a few in southern Asia and one in tropical Central America. Some Dracena species
are trees with stout trunks and stiff, sword-shaped leaves, grow in arid semi-desert areas, and are
known as Dragon Trees. Another group includes smaller, shrubby species that grow as under
story trees in rainforests. They are very popular as foliage houseplants with a variety of leaf
colors and patterns.
The Chewing Gum Tree
The Chewing Gum Tree
People have enjoyed chewing gum since the days of the ancient Greeks. Many plants produce
latex or resin, probably as a protective mechanism. People have chosen the ones that have a
pleasant flavor or hold added flavors, such as spearmint, to clean their teeth and freshen their
breath. The first commercial chewing gum in this country was made from spruce gum in the
early 1800s. Modern chewing gum began in the late 1860s when chicle was imported to the U.S.
from Central America. The commercial chewing gum product “Chicklets” was named for this
source. Chicle comes from the latex of the sapodilla tree (Manilkara zapota) that grows in the
tropical rain forests of Central America. This tree is found mainly in the Yucatan Peninsula
which includes parts of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.
Most of today’s chewing gum is made from synthetic vinyl gum base, but chicle is still
harvested from sapodilla trees. When zig-zag slashes are made in the bark of the tree with a
machete, the latex drips into the grooves and can be collected in a container. After heating, the
latex becomes soft and chewy. The special workers, who climb as high as 50 feet in the chicle
trees to make these cuts, are called chicleros. It is still possible to buy chicle-based chewing
The sapodilla tree is a bat-pollinated, tropical rainforest tree that cannot withstand cold
temperatures. It is a very common tree in the rainforests of the Yucatan Peninsula. This
attractive, slow-growing, long-lived evergreen tree can grow to 100 feet. It is strong, wind-resistant, and rich in the white, gummy latex. The tree flowers several times a year and produces
an egg-shaped, sweet, edible fruit. Some producers are trying to develop the sapodilla tree as a
sustainable crop (for both the fruit and the chicle) that can help support the preservation of
rainforests and still provide income for the native people.
Is it a palm tree? Is it a fern? Cycads can be confused for both because their evergreen leaves are
large and compound (many long leaflets along a central leaf stem). In fact, the Sago palm is actually a cycad. As cycads grow, a vertical trunk is formed with a crown of leaves. If a dinosaur were to time-travel to The Domes, it would be happy to find cycads, which were abundant in the Jurassic Era.
Fossil cycads from millions of years ago look almost identical to cycads today. Humans also use cycads for food. Cycad seeds may be eaten raw or roasted. The starchy pith of the cycad trunks can be processed into “sago starch” and used as flour. Because cycads cannot tolerate cold weather, today they are found only in tropical and subtropical areas of the world. Cycads are gymnosperms, which puts them in the same group as conifers and ginkgos.
Cycad roots contain cyanobacteria (formerly called blue-green algae) that fix atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plant can use in exchange for food from the cycad. Cycads have cones instead of flowers. They are dioecious, a word derived from the Greek for “two houses.” The large cones produced in the center of a cycad plant either produce pollen or ovules. The pollen from a cone on a male plant must reach a cone on a female plant for seeds to form.
Cycad seeds do not go dormant. In soil, they begin to grow immediately. If not planted right
away, cycad seeds must be kept moist, or they will die. Cycads also produce “offsets,”
sometimes called “pups.” Offsets are small plants identical to the mother plant, so they will be
either male or female depending on the sex of the parent.
Brats and other sausages are very popular in Milwaukee, but you probably don’t think of tropical
Africa when eating them. The fruit of the “sausage tree” are not edible anyway. Kigelia pinnata
(also known as K. africana) is hard to miss in the Tropical Dome. The tree can grow to 60 feet in
height and has gray bark. The wood is not used commercially. Its scientific name comes from the
leaflets of the compound leaves that form oppositely along the leaf stems. The leaves fall off
each spring, but regrow almost immediately in The Domes because the tree is continuously
Some plants have really eye-catching ways of reproducing, and the sausage tree certainly
qualifies in this area. It produces very long stems that hang down from the upper branches.
Large, fragrant, maroon flowers form at the ends. They open only at night because they are
pollinated by bats looking for pollen and nectar.
An unusual feature of this plant is the sausage-shaped fruit that form after pollination. They can
be up to 2 feet long and weigh up to 10 pounds. Don’t plant one of these where they could fall on someone’s head or car! The fruit from the sausage tree is poisonous to people, but are eaten by baboons, elephants, giraffes, hippos, and other animals. The fruit are woody berries with pulp and many seeds inside. The seeds are dispersed in the dung of the animals that eat them.
Look for the long stems hanging from the sausage tree in the Tropical Dome.
The Moringa Tree
The Moringa Tree
A rare Hildebrandt moringa tree (Moringa hildebrandtii) lives in the Desert Dome. It was named by a botanist named Hildebrandt in 1880.
The seeds for this specimen came from Madagascar where the moringa originated. Since the Disney movie, most people now know that Madagascar is the large island country on the southeast coast of Africa. Until recently, the moringa was thought to be extinct in the wild. The only known living specimens were in villages in Madagascar, in horticultural collections, and in plantings in warm climates such as Florida. In 2007, a report in a British journal described finding a few trees in the wild in Madagascar.
Our moringa tree has a massive, water-storing trunk which is covered by a smooth, light gray
bark. Different moringa species have different kinds of trunks, but the Hildebrandt’s moringa
belongs to the group called the “bottle trees” because of their bloated shape. A general term for a plant like this is “caudiciform,” which describes plants that have leaves during part of the year
and live on food and water stored in the trunk during long, dry spells. Another example of a
caudiciform tree in the Desert Dome is the ponytail plant (Beaucarnea recurvata).
The moringa tree is adapted to living in arid (dry) climates where it may grow as high as 60 feet.
The leaves are double compound and composed of leaflets which are small, oval, and smooth-edged. In a compound leaf, such as walnut leaves, there are leaflets along the leaf stem. In
double compound leaves, there are leaf stems that branch off the main leaf stem, such as the
Kentucky coffee tree. An entire moringa leaf can be nearly three feet long with a leaf stem that is
often dark red in color. Each whitish flower produces a capsule fruit that looks like a large bean
pod and can be up to a foot long. Each fruit contains six to twelve, large nutlike seeds. There are thirteen moringa species, two of which are native to Madagascar.