Chicago is not called the Windy City for nothing, especially in the winter when Arctic winds sweep off Lake Michigan. There is, however, an escape plan for fair-weather fans.

No, you don't have to catch the next plane out to Florida. There is soothing warmth a lot closer to home. Tropical and temperate environments to warm and entertain even in the most frigid Midwestern months.

Flowering plants, lush vegetation and earthy fragrances await in glass-enclosed oases.

Glorious gardens

The Garfield Park Conservatory, with 4.5 acres of indoor landscaping, is one of the world's largest gardens under glass.

All is lush and warm. Stepping into its six-room, five-story-tall greenhouse is like entering a lost world.

The most luxuriant and vibrant of its hothouses is the Fern Room. It really does look like a "Jurassic Park" setting because its dino-sized ferns, rocky outcroppings and indoor lagoon were cultivated to evoke the swampy landscape of prehistoric Chicago. Some of the oldest plants in the city, which nearly touch the vaulted ceiling, can be found in this section.

(The conservatory is open -- with its continuous schedule of floral shows and workshops -- during major renovation to create a more user-friendly front entry pavilion, add a children's garden and remodel Horticultural Hall.)

The Lincoln Park Conservatory is a smaller-scale replica of the Garfield Park Conservatory. In fact, the entire Lincoln Park Conservatory could fit into just one of Garfield Park's rooms. Still, the four large glass buildings that make up the Lincoln Park Conservatory, with daytime temperatures of 72 degrees, boast their own charms.

At the entrance, the Palm House greets nature lovers with a display of rare orchids in colors of white, pink and violet. A beautiful display of Bird of Paradise flowers (they look like exotic birds) line the Woodland Walk, which leads to the sweetly fragrant Tropical House. Rubber trees are cultivated in this section.

Blooming things are always pleasures to behold, but in the dead of winter they bring extra enjoyment. That's why cold season shows are such crowd-pleasers at both park conservatories. During the Christmas holidays, poinsettias banish cabin fever and the azalea show in February and March tantalizes with a hint of spring. The spring flower show from late March to early May is alive with lilies, hydrangeas, tulips and daffodils.

In near west suburban Oak Park, the three-story, glass-enclosed atrium at the Oak Park Conservatory includes a steamy Tropic House in which papaya, coffee, cacao and banana grow. A cobblestone path winds around a waterfall and along a rock-encircled koi pond alive with foot-long golden-orange fish.

Nearby stands a grove of banana plants brandishing 2-by-6-foot leaves. Next to that thicket, Arabian coffee trees are loaded with coffee beans. When the lemon tree blooms, the smell is intoxicatingly sweet. Screeches of a yellow- headed Amazon parrot complete the scene.

The conservatory uses no insecticides, so amateur entomologists who look carefully might notice a praying mantis at work exterminating other insects. Also to be noted is the eucalyptus tree. (The koala's favorite food smells like Lemon Pledge furniture polish.)

Tropical paradises

The Lincoln Park Zoo's two tropical getaways not only provide the dense jungle environment found mostly in equatorial regions, but also give visitors the opportunity to see animals in native-like habitats.

There's an abundance of natural light from overhead skylights, though Chicago's short winter days necessitate extra artificial lighting. Overhead misting systems maintain high humidity with daily rain showers common to the tropics.

The Regenstein Small Mammal-Reptile House fills its 45-foot-high glass dome with a computer-controlled ecosystem that re-creates the rain forests of South America, the savannas of Africa, the deserts of Asia and the dry forests of Australia. Naturalists can observe an Asian small-clawed otter treading water, watch an African dwarf crocodile sunning lazily at pool's edge, time the South American Galapagos tortoise as it inches its way across the sand, and "ooh" and "ahh" over the adorable koala as it carefully selects the tastiest eucalyptus leaf.

The highlight of the zoo's McCormick Bird House is the Flight Area. This forested bubble features a waterfall that tumbles from a rocky bluff, cutting through a grove of trees and lush plants before flowing into a tropical river basin. From a wooden footbridge, bird watchers can spot Inca terns zooming in and out of the foliage. Nearby, the orange-beaked, white breasted, Amazonian Toco toucan ruffles his black feathers. This cute bird looks like a fluffy stuffed animal, and is very popular with children.