Published: May 18, 2018

Bringing the Great (Cretaceous) Outdoors Inside

In the foreground, an eye-level view of a black plastic structure holding plants. The background includes the museum's Stanley Field Hall, with two totem poles to the left and three cloud-like black plastic structures suspended from the ceiling.

We like houseplants for some of the same reasons you do: they add color and beauty to our space, we can enjoy nature indoors, and SUE the T. rex asked for a puppy but we can’t trust them to take care of one.

But there are a few other reasons we’re suspending four state-of-the-art hanging gardens from the ceiling of our main Stanley Field Hall. As we welcome Máximo the Titanosaur and a flock of pterosaurs (flying reptiles) to the same space, the hanging gardens add to the Cretaceous Period atmosphere.

Looking from above on an abstract black plastic structure holding numerous plants and suspended from wires.

One of the four hanging garden "clouds" in progress. As the plants continue to grow, they'll fill in empty spaces and cascade over the edge of the suspended clouds.

While these plants are modern varieties similar to ones you might have at home (a few different species of Philodendron, a Ficus, and some ferns), they’re inspired by plants that lived during the time of the dinosaurs. Máximo might’ve dwelled alongside ferns, cycads, and arum plants about a 100 million years ago.

With over 1,000 individual plants spread across four suspended structures—the biggest is 35 feet across, making it the world’s largest 3D printed garden—we needed a smart way to contain and care for the plants. The cloud-shaped structures are a feat of engineering that bring together technology and nature. They’re entirely 3D printed by a company called Branch Technology using freeform 3D printing robots. And they’re constructed from a bioplastic material that comes from renewable resources—allowing us to both be environmentally conscious and create lightweight structures that won’t strain our historic ceiling and building.

A close-up look at two different green plants inside a mesh plastic container.

A close-up look inside one of the 3D printed hanging garden clouds. 

The gardens are hydroponic, growing in inert volcanic rock to avoid pests from soil, and they’re watered through a contained system housed in the ceiling. Though natural light filters through the skylights above, the 3D-printed structures also have attached grow lights for supplementary sunshine.

The plants are just getting started—these living, breathing additions to the museum will continue to grow over time, filling in gaps with new foliage and adding a whole new dimension to Stanley Field Hall (we promise to keep these houseplants alive).