Botanical Gardens in Sri Lanka

Perideniya Botanical Gardens: (Kandy)  
Hakgala Botanical Gardens (Nuwara Eliya) (Hill Country) (link)

Perideniya Botanical Gardens: (Courtesy Department of Agriculture, Sri Lanka)

The history of these magnificent Royal Botanic Gardens dates as far back as 1371 when King Wickramabahu III ascended the thrown and kept court at Peradeniya near Mahaweli river. Later, in the reign of King Kirti Sri from 1747 - 1780 King Rajadhi Rajasinghe resided therein, where a temporary residence was erected for him. A vihare and dagaba were built in the reign of King Wimala Dhamma which was improved by Kind Rajadhi Rajasinghe. The vihare and dogaba were destroyed by the English when they occupied Kandy. The famous historical battle of Gannoruwa between Rajasinghe II and the Portuguese was fought on the Northern side of the river. A priest resided here till the Gardens were formed by Mr Alexandar Moon in 1821 six years after the final conquest of the Kandyan Kingdom.

In 1810 under the advice of Sir Joseph Banks a garden named Kew was opened in Slave island and Mr William Kerr was appointed as its Superintendent. In 1813 the garden was moved to Kalutara for the reception of economic plants which could be cultivated there on a larger scale than was possible at Slave island. Kerr died in 1814 and under the rule of his successor Mr Alexander Moon this Garden was finally moved to Peradeniya in 1821 as it was found to be favorable and better adapted for the proposed Botanic establishment. The transfer of exotics from the Kalutara Garden was made by successive Superintendents at least up to 1843.

During Moon's superintendent the opening of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, can be said to have commenced though at first only the South West portion of the Gardens was cleared and opened and it was mostly planted with cinnamon and coffee. Moon published his "Catalogue of Ceylon Plants" in 1824 in which was given the Botanical and native names of 1, 127 plants, indigenous to the island. After the appointment of Mr George Gardner in 1844 the institution started upon its more active independent and useful existence that it has since maintained.

Only 40 acres of the 147 acres were in cultivation when Gardener took charge and the chief use made of the land was to grow jak, coconuts and vegetables for sale by the Government Agent in Kandy. Gardner effected many important improvements in the condition of the Gardens but his chief work was the exploration of the country for the collection and preparation of its flora. He died at Nuwara Eliya in 1849 and was succeeded by Dr Thwaites who for over 30 years maintained the Gardens in a high state of efficiency, added largely to our knowledge of the flora of the Colony and gave the establishment its worldwide reputation. Botanic Gardens at Hakgala was established in 1861 for introduction of Cinchona into the island and in 1876 Gampaha (Henarathgoda) Botanic Garden was started for the introduction of Rubber.

Thwaites was succeeded by Dr Henry Trimen, under whose rule and capable management the beauty and usefulness of the Gardens were very considerably advanced. He established the Museum of Economic Botany, opened branch Gardens at Badulla and Anuradhapura and began the publication of his work, "The Flora of Ceylon" which however was finished by Sir Joseph D. Hooker after Trimen's death in 1896. In 1896 Trimen was succeeded by Dr J.C. Willis and from that date a new extension of scientific work took place.

In the early years work was mainly directed towards the introduction and acclimatization of useful and ornamental plants but in later years activities developed towards Economic, Botany and Agriculture and led to the development of the Department of Agriculture in 1912. Mr H.F. Macmillan who was appointed Curator in 1895, was made the Superintendent of Botanic Gardens in 1912 and Mr T.H. Parsons the Curator in 1914. During Macmillan's superintendent the Gardens were improved and extended and his great work "a Hand Book of Tropical Planting and Gardening" was published. Macmillan retired in 1925 and Mr T.H. Parsons continued as curator till 1945.

Hakgala Botanical Gardens (Nuwara Eliya) (Hill Country) (Courtesy Department of Agriculture, Sri Lanka)

Hakgala Botanical Gardens are located approx 10km from Nuwara Eliya City. Hakgala is an essential visit for tourists to the famous hill resort of Nuwara Eliya. Hakgala is a temperate hill-country garden where also the dreamy low-country lotus and water lily floats in their serene loveliness. Pinks and blues emerging from a flat- floating background of lush leaves, recall the calm of yellow-robed monks, white-clad, devotees and flickering oil lamps.

The gardens are legendary, and once the pleasure garden of Ravana of the Ramayana epic. According to legend it was one of the places where the beautiful Sitha was hidden by the demon king. The present Botanic Gardens were founded in 1860 by the eminent British botanist Dr. G.H.K. Thwaites who was superintendent of the more famous gardens at Peradeniya, near Kandy.

It was the site initially for experiments with cinchona whose bark yielded quinine, used as a a tonic and anti malaria treatment. This was perhaps also the reason for the popularity of tonic as quinine was the principle ingredient of tonic water. The cool, equable climate of the hakgala area, whose mean temperature is around 60 degrees Fahrenheit, encourages the growing of suitable temperate zone plants, both ornamental and useful. These include conifers and cedars from Australia, Bermuda and Japan, cypresses from the Himalayas, China, Mexico and California.

 New Caledonia also gifted Hakgala a special variety of Pine trees with specimens also from the Canary Islands as well. An English oak, introduced around 1890, commemorates the "heart of oak" - relating to Britain's naval superiority of the time. There  is also a good specimen of the camphor tree, whose habitat is usually in regions above 12,000m. If you are looking for an English Rose Garden you will find it in Hakgala's Rose garden, where the wonderful sights and scents of these thousands of roses can be experienced in an infinite variety. Close by is the fantastic exotic sophistication of the Orchid House. A special attraction here is the  montane orchid, endemic to Sri Lanka.

It would be in the worst possible taste to describe the Fernery as a collection of "vascular cryptograms" But that is how the dictionary describes the plant whose delicate fronds conjure up visions of misty grottoes, lichen-covered stones and meandering streams. The Fernery at Hakgala is a shady harbour of many quiet walks, in the shade of Hakgala Rock which is shaped like the jawbone of an elephant, from which it is named. Sri Lanka's ferns are well represented here, along with ferns from Australia and New Zealand.


rainforest Lily in Hakgala Botanical Gardens (Nuwara Eliya) (Hill Country)
Lily in Hakgala Botanical Gardens (Nuwara Eliya) (Hill Country)
Plants used in Ayurvedic Medicine from Botanical Gardens
Rainforest flower from Nuwara Eliya High Country area
breadfruit tree bearing extensive fruit
Beautiful Heliconia tropical flower from Perideniya Botanical Gardens

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