Posts Tagged ‘Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’

Avoid the Parking Challenges, Take the FREE Como Shuttle! Running Daily!

Sunday, July 14th, 2019


Visitors can avoid parking hassles with our free shuttle service!  Weekend shuttle service begins April 27, while daily service begins June 8– August 4.  There will be no shuttle during the State Fair. The shuttle bus allows passengers to board at the staffed off-site parking lot at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds, located on the south side of Como Avenue across from the State Fair’s Warner Coliseum (unless other location is noted below) and within minutes of the front doors of the Visitor Center. The shuttle runs continuously 9:30am – 6:30pm. The buses are wheelchair and stroller accessible. Please check below for shuttle dates!

Beginning May 1st residential permit parking restrictions will be in effect.  There will be no parking allowed on many streets west of Como Park from 10am-4pm, May 1-September 30 without a City issued permit. Do not park on streets with signs indicating “Permit Parking Only”.

Many institutions & destinations in St. Paul, such as colleges and heavily visited shopping areas, have permit parking in & around the surrounding neighborhoods.  Permit parking was sought after by the surrounding residents and implemented by Saint Paul City Council in 2011. Como Park Zoo & Conservatory recognizes & respects that the parking outside of the park should be easily accessible and obtainable for residents. If you do choose to drive to Como, we strongly encourage you to use the free shuttle service.

Click on the map above for an enlarged view.


2019 Shuttle Schedule



Breakfast Under Glass – SOLD OUT

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019

Breakfast Under Glass & Behind The Scenes Tour
Wake up and smell the flowers at this truly unique opportunity

North Garden

On Thursday, May 9, 2019 at 7am and 8:30am   the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory invites the public to enjoy a hearty breakfast experience in the warm, lush, tropical North Garden followed by a behind-the-scenes tour of the expansive production greenhouse space and Sunken Garden’s Summer Flower Show.

Reservations are now being accepted for this truly unique breakfast and behind the scenes opportunity. The cost for this all-inclusive event is $40 per person.

Enjoy a hearty, plated breakfast in the beautiful, lush, warm North Garden inside the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Breakfast Seating at 7am and 8:30am

$40 per person (tables are set for two – ask about our options for larger parties)

Your scrumptious breakfast will include Brioche French Toast, Scrambled Eggs, Sausage, Mini Croissant, and Fresh Fruit Melon. Comes with Coffee or Tea

Seating is limited and advance reservations are required!

Complete the morning with an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the Conservatory.
Following the breakfast service guests will be treated to a rare behind-the-scenes tour of the Conservatory. This tour, led by a member of the Conservatory’s horticulture staff, includes an inside look at the building’s expansive production greenhouse space and the Sunken Garden featuring the Summer Flower Show. See thousands of plants being cultivated for the upcoming flower shows, as well as several off-exhibit botanical collections of orchids, bromeliads, bonsai, and ferns. Learn what goes into creating the five spectacular annual flower shows in the Sunken Garden and how the Conservatory production greenhouses nurture plants for Como Education programs and select gardens for the City of Saint Paul.

Call 651-487-8250 for information on group tables.

While tips are always appreciated, this is a full service dining experience and they are not expected.



A Conversation with Our Campus Manager

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Como Park Zoo is located on 14.5 acres in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Despite its small size, its free admission and quality have led to it receiving over two million visitors annually. Some of its highlights include Polar Bear Odyssey (a world class facility for the lords of the Arctic), Gorilla Forest (the largest mesh covered facility for the apes in the nation) and the conservatory next door. The zoo is run by Michelle Furrer, who has been responsible for much of the zoo’s growth and success over the last decade. Here is her story.

Before coming to the Como Park Zoo, Furrer’s background was in marketing and public relations. She had worked as director of marketing at the Underwater Adventures aquarium at the Mall of America in Minneapolis for many years. This made her the ideal choice for the zoo’s first ever public relations position. “I was the first person in Como Park Zoo history to do that work,” Furrer explained. “Before the curator or another member of the staff would just write things for the local paper. Zoos haven’t always done a horribly great job of telling their story. So much of the work is behind the scenes but you need someone to tell their stories. You need to help the public understand all the facets that go on at a zoo.  The Como Park Zoo had decided they need someone to do that and when I started it was tackling getting the staff to start talking about what they’re doing.”

The Como Park Zoo also manages the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory next door. When Furrer came to the zoo, the zoo and conservatory collaborated for the first time on a project: Tropical Encounters. “Tropical Encounters is a neotropical rainforest with both animals and plants,” she remarked. “The conservatory is a full sized botanical garden. This was the first time our zoo keepers and the conservatory’s horticulturalists worked directly on one habitat. In Tropical Encounters, we have 62 free flying birds from South America, a sloth, poison dart frogs, pacus, an anaconda and leaf cutting ants. We have an indigenous farmers area with a lot of different plants. The theme is a researcher working in the rainforest coming to understand the connection between the animals and plants that live there.”

Less than two years after coming to the Zoo, Michelle Furrer ended up becoming the Zoo’s director. “Saint Paul’s parks director retired and the zoo director was offered to take his position,” she remembered. “Now that the director position was opened they decided I was the one who would take the role. Nowhere along the way did I think I’d be in this seat.” From the very beginning, Furrer was determined to take the zoo to the next level and she has been responsible for greatly increasing the quality, reputation and experience of the zoo. “We’ve really elevated the experience for the guest,” she reflected. “There are state of the art habitats which are great for animals and people.”

At this time, the zoo had just begun its capital campaign for its biggest project ever: Polar Bear Odyssey. Regarded as one of the best polar bear habitats in America, it recreates their natural habitat and is seven times larger than their old space. “The land where Polar Bear Odyssey is now had been concrete grottos for polar bears and a number of other bear species who had been decommissioned over the years,” Furrer elaborated. “We transformed them into the new habitat. The new space has the flexibility to be broken into two yards- one that recreates the Arctic tundra with a dig pit and a small pool and another with a deep pool and a mesh wall for behavioral training.”

While Polar Bear Odyssey opened in 2010, planning started years before. “The project was funded partially through the state of Minnesota while the rest came from our capital campaign,” Furrer explained. While it was an expensive project, the results were marvelous. “There are a number of opportunities for the bears here,” stated Furrer. “We do operant conditioning training with the polar bears as we do with all our animals. We have a lot of opportunities for natural and keeper-made enrichment. We also have a maternal den and can control the heights of the shallow pool if we have cubs.”

Due to its immense space, the polar bear habitat has had its share of guests since its opening. “We took in grizzly and polar bears from the zoos in Minot and Duluth before they went to other places,” Furrer added. “As the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison was building their habitat, we took their two cubs so we’ve had our fair share of bear guests.”  At the moment, the Como Park Zoo has twin brothers enjoying the space.

Polar Bear Odyssey was carefully designed to be the best polar bear habitat it could be. “We engaged with conservation folks from Manitoba for the exhibit to give the best we could for the bears and the public,” Furrer commented. “A big focus when we were building it was on putting the animal care in the public eye. We do a daily program (twice during weekends) where we not only do polar bear behavioral training and enrichment but we also have someone give a talk about polar bears, their care and conservation. The whole idea is to bring behind the scenes husbandry out in front of the public so they can see the care we give it and interpret it.”

Additionally, the zoo is active in polar bear conservation. “One of the programs we work with is Polar Bear International,” Furrer said. “Some of our staff go up to Churchill and study polar bears in the Tundra. We have keepers who led programs about polar bears to the visitors of Churchill. It’s beneficial for the people there to hear from someone who works with polar bears every single day.”

Furrer stressed the zoo focuses on quality over quantity and wants to provide the best situations for the animals they already have than focus on expanding the zoo’s variety. “We’re really landlocked and we decided to focus on certain species and doing them very well,” she explained. “It’s about doing what we do better and creating a multifunctional habitat with the best, most modern animal practices.” Despite being small, the zoo houses a number of popular animals including giraffes, zebras, lions, tigers, polar bears, gorillas, orangutans, bison, seals, sea lions, snow leopards and wolves.

The next project after Polar Bear Odyssey was Gorilla Forest, the nation’s largest mesh-covered habitat for gorillas and a major upgrade of the zoo’s facilities for the apes. “Gorilla Forest was the second priority project,” Furrer elaborated. “Our community seeing the progress with our zoo created momentum. Gorilla Forest was fully funded through the state. We engaged members of the zoo community about the best features and practices for gorillas. We have had these apes for over fifty years. Many male gorillas used to be kept in isolation so decades ago we became one of the first zoos to put them in a bachelor social environment, which worked really well. As we looked at Gorilla Forest we wanted to bring in a family group of gorillas as well. We had hand raises babies in the past but we wanted to be able to breed them for the first time.”

The Como Park Zoo began carefully putting together groups of gorillas for the new exhibit. “One of our bachelor males was identified to be genetically viable so we brought in three females for him to be the silverback of,” Furrer recalled. “We got a bachelor group as well. We had to do all the introductions of the gorillas and we have had a successful birth of a gorilla. We have another birth coming this fall.”

“Gorilla Forest has two outdoor yards and a dayroom so the family can stay together when they can’t go outside,” Furrer said. “What we wanted is to have an area where they could have a nice space for the winters. We have technical skylights which bring in as much light as we can. We have a training area and a number of opportunities for enrichment. One of our challenges was we have limited space so we needed to make the most of it. We found using mesh would take away the space of having a moat. It’s a very hilly space so the gorillas have the opportunity to look at us from above. We like to give the animals plenty of opportunities to stay stimulated and encourage mental and physical stimulation.”

The Como Park Zoo’s next major project will be a new area for seals and sea lions. One of the biggest icons at the zoo is Sparky the sea lion, a name handed down for generations. “Sparky the sea lion has been a tradition at the zoo for over 60 years and we just received funding for our new seal/sea lion habitat,” Furrer said. “We will be opening it in 2019. Sparky for us is our ambassador for conservation. Not only is there a daily presentation but the message is all about conservation.”

“We will have seating capacity of over 1200 in the new sea lion arena,” elaborated Furrer. “We’re going to demolish the current WPA exhibit space and the new habitat will have more natural substrate and a lot more rocks and shade. It will have a deck for amenities so guests can eat while watching the sea lions. There will also be underwater viewing and more indoor space for the pinnipeds.” The zoo is also planning in developing breeding programs for the sea lions.

After the pinniped area is built, the zoo is looking into building new spaces for orangutans and flamingos. The zoo is an active participant in conservation for the red apes. “One of our staff members is the international studbook keeper for orangutans,” remarked Furrer. “She goes to Indonesia to help scientists working on records. We will build them a more modern space at the zoo and are looking into getting a separate group of them.” The zoo also wants to get another cold hardy species that can be outdoors year round. “Most visitors want to come when it’s nice out so we think ‘How can we encourage them to come during colder season?’” Furrer said.

The Como Park Zoo has a strong focus on animal welfare. “We have a connection with the vet staff at the University of Minnesota,” Furrer explained. “Our vet on staff will frequently bring colleagues from the university with her. On our husbandry side we do daily enrichment and operant conditioning with our animals. Both of those provide mental stimulation and encourage natural behaviors. Those are key when building new facilities.”

Much has changed in the years Michelle Furrer has been in charge of the zoo. “What has changed over the last decade is the interpretation program,” she elaborated. “Our staff used to just do the practical side and say don’t go on this path but now they’re trained to talk about the animals and how Como takes care of them. We have a whole new visitor and interpretive department whose message is all about conservation. We do a number of daily programs we did not do a decade ago. We do giraffe feeding and a number of keeper and garden talks. Our interpretive program began about five years ago.”

“We just finished an update on our education and conservation strategic plan,” Furrer explained. “Since we’ve been in a growth period for several years, we need to look at everything we’re doing. What we came up with is everyone owns a part in conservation. We came up with Conservation Champions, which gives our staff opportunities to do field research. Some will be working with African penguins, another will be helping gorillas with the AZA SAFE program, someone else will be doing giraffes and another will be doing rhinos, which we don’t even have at our zoo. we’ve participate in amphibian programs and have a turtle conservation program that tracks local turtles and their movements. We’re also looking at our youth engagement program where we’re trying to steward our next generation of conservationists.”

Initiatives like Conservation Champions and the youth engagement program are funded by Como Friends, which raises funds for the zoo and gives them resources to start programs. Furrer has greatly helped the zoo’s financial situation as she has “been able to expand our program by about $3 million.” She takes pride in giving the zoo’s visitors, many of them from out of the local area, a great experience. “If they love nature, they can come into the zoo, stay for two hours and check out the conservatory,” Furrer said. “Since we don’t charge admission, they can come back later.”

By Grayson Ponti

New In The North Garden – An Imperial Bromeliad!

Sunday, April 16th, 2017

We have a new plant in the North Garden! It is a BIG bromeliad and it has been set in the ground by the baobab tree near the pool. It has been growing it in the greenhouses since it was purchased in June 2010. It has been repotted a few times and is now about 7-8 years old. It has been showing signs of starting to bloom for the last few months. Since mid-December, the center leaves of the plant have been looking more compact and looking like they were getting more of a red coloring.

This type of bromeliad, Alcanterea imperialis, blooms at about 3- 10 years of age. The inflorescence could be 5’ tall! It should have fragrant white flowers very soon. The Imperial Bromeliad can be found on rocky hills in parts of Brazil.

Like a corpse flower, this plant produces an inflorescence—a group of individual flowers that make a flowering structure. This inflorescence could possibly be about 5’ tall when it is in full bloom and consist of many fragrant white flowers on small branches. The Imperial Bromeliad takes about 3-10 years to bloom.

The Imperial Bromeliad will not be in the North Garden long, it will be removed when the inflorescence is finished opening and the plant starts to look tired.

Growth Updates

2/20 49 1/2″ – The inflorescence was flush with the top of the leaves.

2/24 52 1/2″ – 3” taller! The inflorescence has started to push up past the top of the leaves.

2/27 55″ – 3” taller! The inflorescence has started to push up past the top of the leaves.

3/2 58 1/2″ – Another 3 ½ “ to make the inflorescence 9 inches taller than when the pot was put in the North Garden.

3/6 64 1/4″ – The inflorescence is about 14 ¾ “ tall from the top of the leaves.

3/9 68″  – The Inflorescence is 18 1/2″ tall.

3/13 74 1/4″ – The inflorescence grew 6 1/4″ since Thursday! The inflorescence is starting to send out “branches” where the white flowers will eventually appear!

3/16 78 1/2″ – It’s another growing day in the North Garden! The Imperial Bromeliad grew another 4 1/4″ since Monday making the inflorescence 29″ tall. We are hoping that maybe next week the fragrant white flowers start to emerge!

3/20 84.5″ The Imperial Bromeliad has grown another six inches in just four days! The inflorescence is now 36″.

3/23 87.75″ Grew 3.25″ since Monday. Growth has slowed a little as flowers start to open up. The total inflorescence height is 38.25″

3/27 92 1/2″The inflorescence has grown another 4/34″ for a total of 43″ tall. The buds are starting to show show color.

3/30 95″ The inflorescence is 45 1/2. The upward growth is slowing and the inflorescence is starting to expand. There are numerous yellow buds on the lowest parts of the inflorescence but no open flowers yet.

4/1 We have our first flowers on the Imperial Bromeliad! They are a very light yellow and have a slight fragrance.

4/2-4/3 The first flower is collapsing but now there are 3 more open flowers with many more flowers on the way! The inflorescence grew 1 1/2″. The entire plant is 8’1/2″ tall! And the inflorescence is now 47 3/4″ tall. We’re not expecting much upward growth but we can expect to see a continuous opening of a few flowers each day for a few weeks.

4/6 The upward growth continues but slowly. Only 1.5″ vertical growth since Monday. So the entire plant is 8’2″ tall with the inflorescence at 4′ 1.25″ tall.

4/10 After a warm weekend, the Imperial Bromeliad has grown another 2.75″ in height! The total plant height is 8’4.75 and the inflorescence is 4/4″. Flowers are blooming on about 2/3 of the inflorescence. We hope to see flowers open on all parts of the inflorescence!

4/13 The Imperial Bromeliad grew 1.5″ since Monday. The total height is 8 ft. 6.25″ and the height of the inflorescence is 4 ft. 5.5.”

4/16 The inflorescence grew another 1.5″ since Thursday, and we can see a top flower bud starting to form. That usually signals the end of flower production and upright growth. Flowers will be opening for a few more weeks then the plant will close and removed from the room.

Check back for more updates! 

Marjorie McNeely Conservatory’s Winter Flower Show Now Open

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

Big thanks to Belinda Jensen and KARE 11 for covering the Winter Flower Show!

Escape the Cold in the Conservatory!

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016

Dale K. and Fox 9 stopped by to check out the new Winter Flower Show!


The Art of Bonsai at the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory

Monday, January 4th, 2016

Volunteers Ken Ellis and Mike Porcaro have been attending to the Bonsai collection for decades. Hear their story in the video below courtesy of our friends at WCCO.


A Brief History of the Conservatory

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Gardener Margaret stopped by Comcast Newsmakers to tell a little of the history of the Conservatory!


Praise for the Edible Garden!

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

The Incredible Edible Garden opened in June and has been getting rave reviews from both visitors and the press. IgniteChannel recently praised us for incorporating for producing produce for both the community and for our animals all while serving as an educational guide for our visitors. Thank you to everyone who makes the Edible Garden so successful!

Read the full article HERE:

After 3,500 Hours And 22 Years, Como Zoo Greeter Ready To Retire

Wednesday, June 10th, 2015

Fox-9 stopped by Como yesterday to profile one of Como’s most distinguished volunteers! Gretchen Estes has put in more than 3,500 hours over 22 years of volunteering at Como! A big “Thank You” to Gretchen for her years of service! ‪KMSP-TV