Gardens of the World Glass Flower Garden of Harvard

About the Ware Glass Flower collection and garden at Harvard University, history and description of the flowers.


A Garden of Glass Flowers

Harvard University is the only place in the world where tropical orchids bloom alongside Canadian red maples and where Arizona cacti grow next to alpine gentians. Furthermore, the flowers here never wither or go out of season. They're made of glass. The Ware Glass Flower Collection features unbelievably lifelike models of 847 different species of flowering plants, representing 164 plant families. Exploded or magnified details complement hundreds of the flowers; dozens of plants have "cryptogams" showing the complete life cycle from seed to flower. A third model group shows how plants are fertilized by insects, with giant 3-in. bees; a fourth illustrates the effects of fungal diseases on apples, pears, and strawberries.

The collection represents the life work of a German father/son team of glassworkers. Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka produced the more than 3,000 glass models between 1887 and 1936. Each stem, each petal, each individual stamen had to be formed by hand, not blown. Some of the flowers have hundreds of individual parts. Accurate down to the minutest detail, the flowers shine in brilliant natural hues, stained right into the glass.

Harvard botany professor G. L. Goodale initiated the project; Elizabeth and Mary Ware financed it in memory of a Harvard alumnus. Since the collection opened in 1893, some 200,000 visitors have flocked annually to see it. An invaluable teaching tool, it is the only place in the world where students can survey representatives of the entire plant kingdom, modeled to scale, in natural color and three dimensions, in a single day.

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