Interest in a botanical center for Des Moines began in 1929. A proposal was made to build a flower conservatory surrounded by formal gardens in one of the city parks. In 1939, a city greenhouse was acquired on the west side of the river, just north of downtown. It served the city as a production and display greenhouse until the Botanical Center was completed in 1979. Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, proposals were made for a botanical center to be constructed on urban renewal land near downtown. Construction began in October 1977 and the Center was completed December 15, 1979.
The Botanical Center is managed and operated by Des Moines Water Works. Support for the Des Moines Botanical Center comes from both public and private dollars, which include tax revenues from the City of Des Moines and other surrounding communities. In addition, revenues are received from memorials, contributions, grants, membership fees, and fundraising events of the Friends of the Botanical Center. The Des Moines Botanical Center is a member of the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta.