Missouri Botanical Garden

Linnean House

Linnean House

The Linnean House is the oldest continually operated greenhouse west of the Mississippi River. It was named after Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), the botanist who created our standard scientific system of naming plants and animals.


The house was built in 1882 by Henry Shaw to overwinter citrus trees, tree ferns, palms and other tender plants that were moved out into the garden during the summer.

Originally, the plants were all in pots; there were no permanent plantings.

After World War I, the house was renovated: the roof was converted to all glass, and many loads of soil were brought in to create landscape beds. Rare conifers, rhododendrons, azaleas and heaths were planted, along with a handful of camellias. The central water feature was added, created out of native limestone and fashioned to look like a natural spring along the Meramec River. A severe hailstorm in 1927 caused major damage to the all-glass roof, and it was decided to make the roof 1/3 slate and 2/3 glass.

The house was converted largely to camellias in the late 1930's; the largest of the trees in the house today most likely date to this time. The majority of the camellias, however, were planted in the early 1960's and 70's.

Camellia Claudia LeeThe camellia trees provide a show each winter to delight winter-weary visitors. Some camellias bloom as early as October and November, but the main show begins around mid-December. The camellias reach their height of glorious bloom in mid to late February, making the house a perfect place to visit for Valentineís Day. The show continues through March until mid-April.

Camellias are natives of Southeast Asia, primarily southern China and Japan. They have been cultivated for at least two thousand years for their economic value: the seeds of some camellia species are crushed for their high quality oil, which is used for culinary purposes, cosmetics and hairdressing.

One species, Camellia sinensis, is the source of commercial tea. Young leaves are crushed, partially fermented, and then dried. Tea was first introduced to Europe in the early part of the 17th century. In 1666, it was strictly a wealthy personís drink: a pound of tea cost the equivalent of a working manís yearly salary.

Camellias first traveled to Europe on spice ships from Asia in the mid eighteenth century, in the hopes of establishing tea farms locally. The flowers of the tea plant are not particularly showy, but seeds of other species, such as Camellia japonica, were brought over also, and soon these plants became popular as ornamental plants.

Camellia chrysanthaLook for the extremely rare yellow-flowering camellia, Camellia chrysantha. It is one of the last camellias to flower, generally in bloom in early March to early April.

Camellias were brought to the United States from England in 1798 and were widely grown in greenhouses in Philadelphia, Boston and New York during the middle of the nineteenth century. Today they are popularly grown outdoors in the Southeastern states, and along the west coast.

Most camellias are not winter-hardy outdoors here in St. Louis. They can be overwintered indoors in pots, but they must be kept in a location that is no warmer than 55 degrees at night during the winter. An unheated guest room or a cool enclosed sun porch works well. In recent years, there have been a number of cold-hardy camellia introductions. The Garden is currently testing a few of these outside.

Colorful annuals fill the flower beds beneath the camellias in the Linnean House year-round. The house is often intensely fragrant, filled from fall through spring with the scent of Fragrant Olive (Osmanthus fragrans), followed by several types of Jasmines blooming from early to late spring.

Contrary to popular belief, most of the Camellias have no scent, though the fall-blooming species do have a subtle sweet fragrance.