The U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington is one of the oldest botanic gardens in North America. It has a wide variety of plants and trees and lots of explanations of how plants are used in everyday life. Its enclosed space also makes it a Washington attraction that can be visited throughout the year. Cold weather months are particularly enjoyable because of the warm temperature that the U.S. Botanic Garden is kept.
WHAT YOU SEE: The U.S. Botanic Garden has several sections, including “Jungle,” “Children’s Garden,” “West Gallery,” “Medicinal Plants,” and “Orchid House.” You’ll see tropical plants from all over the world, such as the African Tulip Tree and the beautiful Chinese fan palm. The jungle section also has a canopy walkway so visitors can look down at the jungle area and see some of the taller plants and trees. Don’t be surprised if you feel a mist spritz every few minutes. That’s the plants getting their dose of moisture.
The Garden Court is at the entrance of the U.S. Botanic Garden and it’s where visitors can see small-scale replicas of Washington landmarks, including the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, and the Washington Monument.
The West Gallery is more of a learning center where different stations teach visitors about the uses of plants and flowers. At the fragrance table, visitors learn about how plants like lemon verbena and citronella are turned into sweet smells used in everyday life. The therapy table has displays of how aloe vera is used to make lotion and medicine and how a plant called white willow is used in aspirin. A ceremony station shows how native American tribes burned sweetgrass as an offering to their creator.
The Medicinal Plants exhibit has some great examples of how plants are used to cure various ailments. For example, there’s a Happy Tree on display, which is a Chinese tree that prevents the growth of tumor-forming cells that cause some forms of cancer.
The Orchid House has a large display of these rare and delicate plants from all over the world, including ones from Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, and the Philippines. There’s also a beautiful giant Bird of Paradise from South Africa.
The Children’s Garden is outdoors so it’s only accessible on nice weather days. They’ll be able to dig around in the dirt, push a small wheelbarrow around, go inside a house made with a grass roof, and run around in a bamboo garden.
GOOD FOR KIDS: Great for kids. They’ll love the Children’s Garden, but also get a kick out of being in an indoor garden. The educational displays are also hands-on. Give them a camera so they can take up close pictures of the beautiful flowers. Strollers are a little hard to push through since there are steps throughout the garden. It might be best to park the stroller in a corner and let the child walk. Be sure to hold hands though as some children might be tempted to walk through the displays.
GIFT SHOP: There’s a small kiosk in the Garden Court where visitors can buy plant and flower books.
WHERE: 100 Maryland Ave., SW, Washington, D.C.
HOURS OF OPERATION: Open daily 10 AM to 5 PM, including weekends and holidays.
PARKING: There’s metered parking around the U.S. Botanic Garden.
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: The U.S. Botanic Garden is a few blocks from Federal Center Metro stop and Capital South Metro stop.
WEBSITE/TELEPHONE NUMBER: www.usbg.gov/; 202-225-8333
SPECIAL EVENTS: The U.S. Botanic Garden has several special events, including a Season’s Greetings exhibit. It runs from late November to the end of the year and features one of the largest indoor decorated trees in Washington and a “living history” of poinsettias in reds and pinks.
WHAT’S CLOSE BY: The U.S. Capitol building; the National Museum of the American Indian; and grassy picnic spots