The Royal Botanic Garden, Peradeniya, home to more than 4,000 species of plants and trees, is a place not to be missed if you find yourself in Kandy
In the central province of Sri Lanka, just five to six kilometres west of the city of Kandy, lies the green and serene Royal Botanic Garden, Peradeniya. Home to more than 4,000 species of trees, spices, flowers and medicinal plants, the Royal Botanic Garden is spread over 147 acres. The garden is around two centuries old.
It was formally established in 1843, though the groundwork was laid back in 1821 and the origins of the garden go back to the times of King Wickramabahu III who set up his court here near the famous Mahaweli River – which is the largest river in Sri Lanka – in year 1371 after ascending the throne.
At the entrance, a map of the Royal Botanic Garden is placed. It clearly marks out the floral sections, tree collections and other significant plantations. The garden is divided into distinct parts featuring different flowers, spices, medicinal and student’s gardens, orchards, the Orchid House, the Cactus House, with over 800 cacti varieties; and many collections of trees and a number of pathways dubbed as avenues. These avenues include the Cabbage Palm Avenue, the Double Coconut Avenue, the Cook’s Pine Avenue, the Palmyra Palm Avenue and the Royal Palm Avenue. The Royal Palm Avenue is lined with majestic palm trees on both sides for as far as one can see. This is a great place for photography while taking a casual stroll amid the palm trees and the iconic bamboo collection. There are over 200 species of palm in the garden.
At the beginning of your visit, you are likely to come across the DendrocalAmus Giganteus, the largest known bamboo plantation which is originally from Burma and reaches a height of 90 to 130 feet with a diameter of around 10 inches. Young shoots of these bamboos are known to grow by a foot every day. There are other varieties of bamboos as well. Dwarf Chinese bamboo, the prickly bamboo, yellow building bamboo and the feather leafed bamboo are also parts of the bamboo collection.
If you visit the gardens early in the morning, you may come across thousands of huge flying foxes more commonly known as fruit bats which come back to the gardens for their day time rest.
One of the very famous trees here, symbolic to the Royal Botanic Garden, is the Giant Java Willow Tree. It is claimed to have spread over 2,500 square metres and is indigenous to Malaysia. The specimen is considered to be more than a century old. The Giant Java Willow Tree reminds many of the Tree of Souls from the science fiction flick Avatar.
There is a covered orchard which hoards a number of shade-loving, unique flowers and orchids along with native herbs neatly planted in pots of all sizes, all at one place. Some of the most exotic blooms and captivating flora are on display here. Blue sky flowers and prickly bush flora just below the evergreen trees complete the roof of the main Broad Walk leading towards the orchids. The entrance is adorned with the blossoming reds of scarlet poinsettias and salvia coccinea. The Flower Garden, located near the Orchid House, has a number of flowering perennials and annuals that add striking colours to the various shades of green around.
An interesting aspect of this garden is that over time, many dignitaries and heads of various countries and organisations have planted different trees during their visit here. This included Pakistani heads of state. The name and botanical details of the tree, the dignitary with his name and position and the exact date when the tree was planted are mentioned on a wooden board label which is placed on the ground adjacent or in front of the tree. This section is known as Memorial Trees. Some of the famous people that planted trees here include Nicholas II, who, in 1894 planted the Ceylon Ironwood tree; Queen Elizabeth, who in 1981 planted the Sorrowless tree; Lord Mountbatten, who in 1945, planted the Amherstia Nobilis from Burma; President Ayub Khan, who in 1963, planted the Calabash Nutmeg brought from West Africa; the then secretary general of United Nations, U. Thant, who in 1963, planted the Cuban Lythraceae; and Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the first woman president of the country who planted a camphor tree in 1972. There is also a Cannonball tree planted by King George V of the United Kingdom and Queen Mary in 1901. Syedna Tahir Saifuddin, the High Pontiff of the Muslim Dawoodi Bohra Community planted a Baikea insignis in 1941; and Crown Prince Akihito of Japan, in 1981, planted the Yellow Trumpet tree. Apollo 12 astronauts planted a Byrsonima crassifolia tree in 1970.
Many claim that if you visit the gardens early in the morning, you may come across thousands of huge flying foxes more commonly known as fruit bats which come back to the gardens for their day time rest. These fruit bats feed on nectar, pollen and fruits. The gardens also house the National Herbarium of Sri Lanka which is responsible for exploring different species of plants, identifying and registering them as the floral treasure of the country. The mesmerising landscapes, aesthetic flora and fauna attract more than 2 million international tourists and locals to visit the Royal Botanic Garden annually. The Royal Botanic Garden is open throughout the year. The ticket for adults is steeply priced at LKR 2000 with a few discounts on offer.
The writer is a physician, health care leader and a traveller. He tweets @Ali_Shahid82