published : 2023-10-19

Botanical Gardens and Zoos Transform into Thrilling Halloween Destinations

Outdoor Halloween activities provide educational experiences for children to explore nature

An image of children exploring a botanical garden, captivated by the enormous warty pumpkins. (Taken with a Nikon D850)

Enormous warty pumpkins. Carnivorous plants. Immersive arachnid displays. Slithering snakes and fluttering bats. And illuminated displays of hundreds, or thousands, of ornately carved jack-o’-lanterns.

Zoos and botanical gardens have become increasingly popular Halloween destinations. Their haunting array of natural installations and spooky events provide a fun addition, or alternative, to traditional trick-or-treating.

They also are a teachable moment, naturalists and conservationists say.

"Fall is a celebration of the natural world, so Halloween and botanical gardens are an organic pairing," says Michaela Wright, manager of interpretive content at the New York Botanical Garden, where October is "Fall-o-Ween." The garden's Halloween offerings began with a haunted greenhouse tour about 50 years ago, she says, "and it continues to evolve and expand."

A close-up shot of a stunning carnivorous plant in full bloom at the Chicago Botanic Garden. (Taken with a Canon EOS R5)

This year, there's a Halloween pumpkin patch that includes exotic heritage varieties in blues, pinks and other surprising colors, in addition to varieties covered in warts. Master pumpkin carver Adam Bierton, a sculptor from Rochester, New York, known for his life-like jack-o’-lanterns, hosts weekend pumpkin-carving events. And of course there is the annual display of giant pumpkins, some weighing in at well over 2,000 pounds each.

At the Chicago Botanic Garden, the "Night of 1,000 Jack-o’-Lanterns" features elaborately painted and carved pumpkins, along with costumed entertainers, pumpkin-carving demos, and festive food. The garden's online adult education classes include one on "Ghoulish Plants and Folklore," and a Halloween Hub with information about seasonal plants and pumpkins.

Many zoos are joining in on the Halloween fun as well. Hosting events like "Boo at the Zoo" or "Zoo Boo," these zoos are attracting a large audience while conveying important conservation messages.

The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, for example, has been hosting "HalGLOween" since 2017, which has now become one of their biggest draws of the year. With its expanded schedule and a variety of activities like the "Skeleton Band," the "Boo Crew," and the "Python Path," not to mention the immersive display of arachnids, the zoo offers both entertainment and a chance to learn about wildlife.

A group of kids gathered around a jack-o’-lantern display, marveling at the intricately carved designs. (Taken with a Sony A7 III)

The Bronx Zoo in New York also offers "Boo at the Zoo" events during the day and "Pumpkin Nights" after sunset. Visitors can follow a jack-o’-lantern trail of over 5,000 illuminated pumpkins as they learn about nocturnal animal behavior.

These Halloween celebrations at botanical gardens and zoos provide an engaging experience for children, allowing them to explore nature in a thrilling and educational way. By combining spooky elements with informative exhibits, these events deliver not only fun but also a deeper understanding of the natural world and the importance of conservation.

As Michaela Wright puts it, "People learn best when they’re having fun, and they just may come in for some Halloween fun, and go home with a better understanding of conservation."