If Cornwall—an English county on the southwestern tip of Great Britain—can’t claim to be the biblical site of Eden, it can claim to be the space-age one. How else would an old mining town in the British Isles house plant species from all over the world, including those of tropical and Mediterranean climates?
The town St Blazey in Cornwall is where some very clever and environmental scientists, engineers and businessmen built the Eden Project: a complex featuring two huge covered biomes (ecological “communities”). Take a look here and here. One of them has a rainforest climate, and the other one has a Mediterranean climate. The rainforst-climate one is the largest greenhouse in the world.
The space-age part is the material used; it’s called ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE for short). It’s only 1 percent the weight of glass while transmitting more light than glass (and costing way less to install than glass). This is not your grandfather’s greenhouse.
The Rainforest Biome is surely the only place in the United Kingdom where you can find bananas, coffee, rubber and bamboo growing. Perhaps a bit less spectacularly, the Mediterranean Biome features olives and grape vines among other plants that generally have no business growing north of the Alps.
It’s a pretty incredible transformation for a site that used to be a Kaolinite mining pit. But being green can have some unintended consequences; locals argue that too much public money goes to funding the Eden Project, and others note that the project’s carbon footprint is actually quite big, given all the cars and planes that bring the 1 million-plus visitors every year.
On the plus side, though, is the opportunity to observe plant species and study biology and other earth sciences in unique environments, which is why EF Educational Tours groups visit the Eden Project on certain science-themed EF itineraries.