When you feel weary of cold season weather and yearn for a whiff of summer, you can visit Anchorage’s own tropical greenhouse almost any day. The Mann Leiser Memorial Greenhouse in near-east Anchorage inside Russian Jack Springs Park features birds, fish and a collection of exotic plants from around the world.
Plus it’s a bit like a morning stroll in Hawaii or Florida.
Step inside the lower-level solarium and you’re immediately immersed in tropical smells and sounds — plus fragrant 70-degree air. A stream tumbles through a lush landscaped garden, ending in a small pool containing several Asian carp, called koi.
Sit at the bench and contemplate the melodic tinkle of flowing water. Hear the birds sing. Close your eyes and visualize a Japanese garden. The sensations transport you far from Alaska.
Parakeets at Play
At the top of the stairs around each side of the garden rises the aviary, with a dozen or so chirping and singing parakeets, cockatiels and love birds. Some are curious, if not downright friendly, and will jump to perches just inside the mesh and meet your eyes. Others are more aloof, focused on a snack or grooming.
Look for smaller fish swimming in the upper pool. Look for the banana tree!
Through the doors stretches the much larger tropical greenhouse, with hundreds of plants from across the globe. Among them are cacti, orchids, flowering hibiscus, spears of mother-in-law’s tongue, banyan trees draped in air ferns and bizarre aloes that look like alien creatures with grasping talons.
Take a self-guided tour using notebooks describing the plants and their origins, provided at a kiosk by the exit door. Among the plants you might get to know is the Giant Agave, an aloe-like beast with prickly four-foot-long leaves that each end in a spike. It lives for decades and may only flower once toward the end of its life, producing a stalk that grows 20 to 30 feet tall. A notion that it flowers only once every 100 years inspired its nickname, the Century Plant.
- Anchorage municipal gardeners annually grow from seed more than 76,000 flowers for baskets and beds at 81 sites around town. Most of that work takes place inside the greenhouse complex next door. More than an acre under glass.
- The muni horticulture program also maintains 179 sites containing 21,600 trees, 39,525 shrubs, 1,135 perennials, and 3,007 feet of hedge.
- The greenhouse is named for Mann Leiser, who once oversaw the city’s horticulture program and operated Alaska Greenhouses until his death in 1992. He is considered the “father” of Anchorage’s tradition of beautifying landscapes with flowers and beds.
- There’s lots to do at Russian Jack near the greenhouse. A quarter mile south is the chalet with indoor bathrooms and a outdoor sledding hill. The Russian Jack golf course and trail system is a favorite venue for cross-country skiing, with gentle fairways especially popular with beginners and children.