Centre for World Environmental History

Princes of the Vegetable Kingdom: Palms and the Making of Kew

Kate Teltscher

The nineteenth-century fascination with palms finds its ultimate expression in the Palm House at Kew.  Kate Teltscher explores the Victorian notion that palms were the noblest of all plants, far surpassing European vegetation in beauty, scale, abundance and utility.  Supplying every necessity of life and endless trading opportunities, palms signified a range of non-European locales: the Orient, desert islands and the jungle. The Palm House at Kew offered Londoners the experience of a day trip to the tropics. In tracing the history of the construction of the Palm House and its display, Kate Teltscher explores the function of the Palm House as the centrepiece and enduring emblem of the gardens. The Palm House is at once an imperial symbol, technological triumph, botanical spectacle and space for the imagination.