The humid air, bird calls and earthy aroma let you know you’ve entered a world far from Wisconsin. In our microcosm of the rainforest, you’ll encounter orchids, lush foliage, economic plants and a beautiful waterfall. The tropical dome features over 1,200 species of tropical plants as well as tropical birds in this area of less than 15,000 square feet. This corresponds to the kind of diversity that might be found in many tropical regions.
As you tour the Tropical Dome, take care to look up, as well as from side to side. In addition to the plants, there are several species of tropical finches, koi fish, frogs and toads, and even a world of insects living here.
Video courtesy of Milwaukee County Parks
Fruit Trees, Chocolate, and Spices
In this Dome you’ll find tropical fruit trees including star fruit and guava. You’ll discover the source of chocolate and cocoa as well as flavorings such as vanilla from the vining vanilla orchid. You will also find spices such as cardamom, turmeric, and black pepper.
The neem tree (Azadirachta indica) and Derris plants provide insecticides. This allows the plants to thrive without introducing toxins and chemicals that could potentially damage the natural ecosystem.
Perhaps the most familiar plants of the rainforest are those we have incorporated into our homes and offices for decorating – plants such as philodendrons, peperomias, bromeliads, orchids, ferns, marantas and calatheas.
Unusual tropical life forms are also apparent. A rainforest ecosystem develops vertically as well as horizontally. Our favorite houseplants are often found growing as ground covers in the tropics; their adaptation to low light enables them to survive in our homes.
A wide array of epiphytes (plants that use other plants for physical support) such as orchids and ferns are growing overhead on tree branches. Much of the diversity and plant productivity of the rainforest occurs in the forest canopy. Vining plants that scramble up trees to gain more light include vanilla, passiflora, combretum and aristolochia.
The tallest trees of the rainforest are called “emergents” because their canopies rise above all others. The tallest tree in the Tropical Dome is the Canary Island Date Palm and is one of the original plantings in that Dome dating back to 1966.