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Rare jungle begins move into Amazon's giant orbs

You've seen the big, glass orbs in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood, right?

The Amazon spheres.

Well, if you've been curious about what they look like on the inside, we've got some answers for you.

The distinctive orbs draw people's eyes as they walk by Amazon's $4 billion downtown campus. From the inside you can see skyscrapers through the shapes that make up the frame.

When it's done, it'll essentially be a four-story living forest. There will be roughly 40,000 plants from hundreds of species all over the globe — some of them very rare. 

Ron Gagliardo, the horticulturalist for the Spheres, called it a meaningful collection of plants.

“Plants that have interesting stories that mean something to us,” he said. “Whether there something that’s food, or a source of medicine, or they have an interesting pollination biology, or – for some of our plants – they’re very rare in nature and threatened.”

The first one was planted this week — an Australian Fern tree. Thousands more are in Amazon’s greenhouse in Woodinville, being tended and prepared before moving into the spheres.

Oliver Anderson, an Amazon employee standing outside the orbs on Thursday afternoon, said he's really excited for the spheres to open in 2018. After all, there will be bird nest-style tree houses for employees to use as meeting spaces.

"The idea is to make for a more creative environment. Where people aren't just in some sterile room where they're looking at the same whiteboard and same walls and doors,” Anderson said. “Hopefully some cool innovation will come from it."

At a balmy 72 degrees, 60 percent humidity, with waterfalls and greenery, it will be an oasis in the middle of downtown for Amazon employees.

Seattle’s gray skies won’t prevent the plants from thriving: The spheres have a sophisticated LED lighting system that adjusts itself depending on the amount of natural light coming in through the glass structure. If it’s gloomy, the lights will turn themselves up to make sure the plants get the right amount of light.

Ron Gagliardo, the horticulturist for the spheres, said the domes will bring nature into the downtown area.  

“And offer people an opportunity to connect with nature in a way that they can never do at their desk, or even sometimes in their home or their daily lives,” he said.

But if you're not an employee, you may not get much out of the spheres.

John Schoettler, Amazon's vice president for global real estate, said the public can access the space if they sign up for a campus tour.


"This is really Amazon workspace. There are no desks in here, but it's like coming to a park. So it's just an alternative workspace for employees."

Schoettler said the architecture is also on track to become as iconic for Seattle as the Space Needle.

Which reminded us of what several Amazon workers told us they call these giant balls – usually with a childish grin.

Year started with KUOW: 2015