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The Green Ark: A sanctuary for endangered plants

Evoking the imagery of Noah’s Ark, the Green Ark is a colossal 7,600 m² complex of greenhouses at the heart of Meise Botanic Garden. Home to over ten thousand plant species from around the globe, this modern sanctuary nurtures and safeguards plant life for posterity. It was unveiled on International Biodiversity Day 2024 (May 22).

State-of-the-art greenhouses

The Green Ark comprises 22 high-tech greenhouses, each designed to cater to specific climatic needs. Ranging in height from four to ten meters, these greenhouses offer four different temperature regimes, accommodating plants from both humid and dry zones.

The Green Ark in Belgium

Equipped with advanced water and climate control technology, the greenhouses also feature a technical room, a spacious warehouse for equipment, and a wide corridor that doubles as a workspace for gardeners. Two quarantine greenhouses ensure new plants are thoroughly vetted before joining the main collection.

Energy efficiency is a key feature, with rainwater harvesting systems and thermal screens helping to maintain optimal conditions while minimizing environmental impact.

Preserving plant biodiversity

The inauguration of the Green Ark highlights the critical role plants play in our ecosystems and their indispensable services to humanity. Recognized by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) as an Advanced Conservation Practitioner since 2019, Meise Botanic Garden is at the forefront of global plant conservation efforts.

BGCI aims to conserve 75% of endangered plant species in collections worldwide. Meise Botanic Garden contributes significantly to this goal, particularly with its extensive collections of succulents and Euphorbia spp., which include more than a thousand specimens and over 50% of the world’s endangered species. The garden also houses 1,079 species not found in any other botanical garden and 3,227 species rare in cultivation.

A glimpse into the Green Ark’s treasures

Among the endangered plants protected within the Green Ark are:

The miniature water lily Nymphaea thermarum
The miniature water lily Nymphaea thermarum, from Rwanda
Franklinia alatamaha
Franklinia alatamaha, extinct in the wild since 1803
The Green Ark in Belgium
Thousands of endangered Cacti

Life insurance for future generations

The Green Ark and its accompanying seed bank serve as invaluable genetic repositories, crucial for developing disease and climate-resistant cultivated plants. Collaborations with international organizations such as the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) bolster efforts to preserve crop wild relatives, essential for food security.

By safeguarding wild relatives of economically significant crops like coffee and bananas, researchers aim to develop sustainable solutions to the challenges posed by climate change and disease.

Preserving heritage and diversity

The Green Ark also focuses on the conservation of plants important to cultural heritage. Meise Botanic Garden is dedicated to maintaining the genetic diversity of traditional Belgian horticultural species, including Begonia, Fuchsia, Codiaeum, and potted azalea cultivars.

An architectural marvel

The Green Ark is not just a plant sanctuary but also a hub for research and education. Its visitors’ pavilion offers a panoramic view of the greenhouse collections, providing an educational experience about the garden’s conservation projects and the global threats to plant biodiversity.

The pavilion’s distinctive hyperbolic paraboloid architecture makes it an attractive venue for meetings, conferences, and events, inviting both public and private engagement in the mission of biodiversity conservation.

The Green Ark in Belgium

Examples of the seed bank’s treasures

  • Belgian endangered flora: Meise Botanical Garden houses the only seed bank in Belgium. Among other things, it aims to preserve endangered and rare wild species of Belgian flora. Seeds from more than 1000 populations of about 600 species are kept (today already samples of 70% of the Belgian red list species)
  • Wild beans: The genera Phaseolus and Vigna are particularly well represented. Legumes are important worldwide as protein suppliers in the diet. The collection aims to preserve the long-term genetic variation of this group and is therefore kept frozen.
  • Wild bananas: The collection contains seeds of some 20 different species and about 150 samples, mainly from Papua New Guinea and Australia.
  • Copper plants of Katanga: The copper belt of Katanga in the Democratic Republic of Congo consists of hills with extremely high concentrations of copper in the soil. For most plants, this metal is toxic, but some 600 species have adapted to the copper-rich soil. Thirty-two of these species are unique to this location and occur nowhere else – but are now endangered by mining activities. The seed bank is preserving 65 species of Katangese copper flora so that this unique flora remains available for future generations. 
Inside the Seed Bank

The Green Ark in figures

  • Cost is 18.6 million euros
  • Construction began in 2019 and was completed in 2024.
  • Extends over approximately 7600 square meters (visitor pavilion included)
  • Includes 10,000 plant taxa; of each taxon three specimens
  • 22 greenhouses make up the Green Ark
  • 8740 square meters of glass are incorporated in the roofs; another 2631 square meters in the side walls
  • The visitor pavilion is 12 meters high and is divided over two levels 

The Seed Bank

  • 2.5 million seeds of 700 species of wild indigenous plants
  • 4.5 million seeds of 230 species of beans and their wild relatives
  • 113 samples of wild banana species
  • 911 samples of copper plants from Katanga

How to visit the Green Ark

You can see the Green Ark by visiting Meise Botanic Garden. It’s open every day. You are recommended to book your ticket in advance, online.

Where to stay in Meise

If you are travelling to Meise from a distance away, here are three accommodation suggestions:

  • B&B Sterckxhof: relax in the beautiful grounds of this old farm in the countryside just outside Meise.
  • Hof ter Dreef: a more modern building offering a B&B plus a fully equipped kitchen for self-caterers.
  • Mina’s Bed and Breakfast: a brand new building offering friendly service from Mina.

8 thoughts on “The Green Ark: A sanctuary for endangered plants”

  1. Essential work. Apparently all bananas are from one strain, a virus could take them all out. Kew Gardens also keep a huge seed bank at Wakehurst Place

  2. Hooray! Praise and thanks for this plant-preserving sanctuary! May Belgium’s Green Ark survive whatever climatic turbulence may threaten its survival in the years ahead. Thanks for sharing this, Denzil 🙂

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