This extraordinary botanical garden in the port city of Brest in Brittany, France, is not just your average botanical garden. The institution has a strong conservation ethos, and roughly 95 percent of the plants kept in its greenhouses are endangered species.
Some of these plants are perilously close to extinction or even already extinct in their wild state due to combined pressures from habitat loss, overexploitation, and climate change. And so the visitor here has a rare opportunity to see up close an array of precious plants that are unlikely to be found anywhere on Earth outside of their ever-decreasing native habitats.
In the conservatory greenhouses you’ll find bizarre cacti from the sun-baked deserts of Bolivia, Chile, and Mexico; spellbinding orchids from the cloud forests of Panama and Colombia or the humid lowland jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia; plump bromeliads from the Atlantic and Amazonian rainforests of Brazil; prehistoric-looking fern trees from remote Pacific islands; and extraordinarily tough succulents such as aloe plants from Madagascar or the Kalahari desert of Namibia and South Africa.
But it’s not just the tropical and arid greenhouses (aka glasshouses) that are worth seeing. The gardens outside are beautifully planted and designed, making for an enchanting place to explore. Paths snake whimsically around small lakes, streams, and waterfalls. They lead to bamboo groves, rock and alpine gardens, an arboretum with majestic trees from all over the world, and a vegetable and herb garden. A number of rare species can be seen in the conservatory garden that are either native to Europe or endemic to the biodiverse montane regions of France, from the Mediterranean to the Alps to the Pyrenees.
Know Before You Go
The National Botanical Conservatory of Brest (Jardin du Conservatoire Botanique National de Brest) is open daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. from April to September. Entry is free for visitors but tours of the tropical greenhouses where the endangered plant collections are located must be booked in advance and cost 5 euro per person.