Experts consider Kew’s Palm House to be the most important surviving Victorian iron and glass structure in the world. It was designed by Decimus Burton and engineered by Richard Turner to accommodate the exotic palms being collected and introduced to Europe in early Victorian times.
Heating was an important element of the glasshouse’s design, as tropical palms need a warm, moist environment to thrive. Originally, basement boilers sent heat into the glasshouse via water pipes running beneath iron gratings in the floor. Today, the glasshouse is heated using gas, and the tunnel houses the Palm House Keeper’s office. The tallest palms that need the most room are located beneath the central dome. These include the peach palm (Bactris gasipaes), babassu (Attalea speciosa), queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) and the coconut palm.
Highlights in the South Wing, which contains plants from Africa and the Indian Ocean islands, include the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) — the most important oil-producing plantation palm in the Tropics — and the rare triangle palm (Dypsis decaryi) from Madagascar.
The main central section houses plants from the Americas, including many economically-important species. You’ll find cocoa, rubber, banana and papaya plants growing here alongside the Mexican yam (Dioscorea composita), which was used to develop the contraceptive pill.
The North Wing showcases plants from Asia, Australasia and the Pacific, the region that contains the world’s greatest diversity of palms. Here you’ll find climbing palms called rattans, from which cane furniture is made. Also, there are several Asian fruit trees including mango, starfruit, breadfruit and jackfruit.