New greenhouse in Prague - around the world in eighty minutes

Fata Morgana, photo: Jiri Milfait

I'm now standing by a waterfall in South Vietnam. Only five minutes ago I was watching tropical fish in South America and climbing the Andes in Venezuela. While the main character in the famous book by the French author Jules Verne could travel around the world in eighty days, anyone in Prague can now make it in less than eighty minutes.

"This construction is certainly extraordinary. It's a half-tube, about 130 metres long, the height is about 10 metres and the width about 17 metres. This greenhouse was built on the slope on the original natural rock. The plants which are planted in this greenhouse are planted in near natural conditions."

Oldrich Vacek is the head of the Prague Botanical Garden which opened a unique greenhouse this weekend, called the "Fata Morgana". It really looks like a mirage, hovering among the trees above the Prague district of Troja.

The S-shaped large greenhouse houses around 5,000 species of tropical plants from around the world, planted and combined in such a way that is closest to their natural habitat.

If, like me, you think of greenhouses as hot and humid places, the "Fata Morgana" has a couple of surprises for you. There's a dry semi-desert section for one, but that's not all: There's also a 'mountain'.

"This is the cooled part of this greenhouse, because we have one part of the greenhouse which is cooled. The temperatures in this part are about 10 degrees centigrade in the morning and 11 in the afternoon. This part is dedicated to the plants which grow in the tropical part of the world but in mountainous conditions. These biotopes are from the elevation from about 2,000-3,000 metres above sea level."

From the misty mountain tops you can descend to the tropical rain forest and even take a guided tour beneath the surface of a tropical lake - of course, only through a glass tunnel.

"We have a large pond with a volume of 220 cubic metres and there are about 80 species of tropical fish, fresh-water fish. Of course, we are interested in frogs, so we have tropical frogs from South America."

Those are not the only animals you can see in the greenhouse. At the moment an exhibition of tropical butterflies is underway where, if you're lucky, you can see them not just as adults or larvae but as they emerge from their cocoons in full splendour.