“Museum swap” with Botanic Garden Meise for #100Masters



The Balat-greenhouse, a masterpiece in the Botanic Garden of Meise. In front: two of our selected masterpieces for 100 Masters: the mosasaur and the thylacine (Photo: Thierry Hubin, RBINS)
“Museum swap” with Botanic Garden Meise for #100Masters
post by
Reinout Verbeke

On June 9th we organised a “museum swap” with the Botanic Garden in Meise. We visited each other to discover the showpieces that are selected for 100 Masters.

The Brussels museum council puts 100 masterpieces from museums in Brussels in the limelight for 100 days. This is done through an inventive website that allows you to find your “match” in the selected pieces in a Tinder-like fashion. The participating museums are organising activities for the visitors, but also go exploring themselves. This way the colleagues of the Botanic Garden in Meise visited us and we went to them, a “museum swap” sharing our impression on social media.

In our museum you will find no living organisms, apart from insects in our Insects Hall (in the Vivarium and in the educational beehive), and apart from the fish in the aquarium of the Shells Hall. Our plants are invariably fossilised. The Botanic Garden in Meise, in the northern edge of Brussels, was breath-taking. Over 18.000 different species, many of which blossoming, spread out across 92 hectares of expansive gardens and greenhouses.

Babies on waterlilies

The giant water lilies (Victoria amazonica) are one of the three showpieces for 100 Masters. The leafs can reach a diameter of two meters long and can carry a weight of up to 40 kg, hence the many photoshoots with babies. The blossoming of the plant is special. The flowers only open at night. When this happens beetles (important pollinators) are attracted to the bright white colour and sweet scent. The moment a beetle looks for nectar in the flower, the flower will close itself causing the beetle to stay trapped inside the flower for 24 hours. The following night the flower opens itself again allowing the beetle, that in the meantime has pollinated the flower and is full of pollen, to travel to the next white flower. The pollinated flower turns pink and disappears underwater, causing the seeds to form.

The Balat-greenhouse

In order to cultivate the giant water lily, that originates from Bolivia, suitable greenhouses had to be built that keep the temperature and humidity high enough. Belgian botanist Louis Vanhoutte built one in 1849 and could, one year later, blossom Victoria amzonica on the European mainland. In 1849 court architect Alphonse Balat designed an octagonal greenhouse with a recognisable crown on the roof. Until 1878 the Brussels zoo cultivated giant water lilies in the beautiful ‘Balatkas’. The zoo was located in what is now a section of our Museum - the Convent - and the adjoining Leopold Park. The Balat greenhouse of the zoo was gifted to the botanic garden in 1878 and was moved from Schaerbeek to Meise in 1941.

Attractive body odour

In March 2016 the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) was blossoming again, the spectacle plant of the Botanic Garden and the third masterpiece for 100 Masters. During its blossom the Bordeaux-tinted bract opens and the yellow-purplish spadix, that can grow up to 3 meters high and secretes a smell that is border line corpse and rotten fish, appears. For the pollinator sweat bees this scent is irresistible. The blossom, that only takes 72 hours, attracted 2.500 visitors this year.

The Botanic Garden in Meise, just like our Institute has enormous collections. We received an exclusive guide in the greenhouses with an important collection of coffee plants, cacti, bromeliad, orchids and cycads. Meise also has a seed bank, where seeds from their plant collection, from threatened indigenous wild plants and wild beans. There is also a (mostly digitalised) herbarium with four million dried plants from every plant group and everywhere in the world.


If anyone is still looking for a day trip this summer, go and find your match on www.100masters.brussels. Or discover the masterpieces of our Museum through special trials for kids.

Categories: Collections, Museum News
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