Singapore Botanic Gardens

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Singapore Botanic Gardens
Symphony Lake, Singapore Botanic Gardens - 20041025.jpg
Singapore Botanic Gardens is located in Singapore
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Location in Singapore
Location Singapore
Coordinates 1°18′54″N 103°48′58″E / 1.3151°N 103.8162°E / 1.3151; 103.8162Coordinates: 1°18′54″N 103°48′58″E / 1.3151°N 103.8162°E / 1.3151; 103.8162
Area 74 hectares (182.86 acres)
Created 1859 (1859)
Type Cultural
Criteria ii, iv
Designated 2015 (39th session)
Reference no. 1483
State Party Singapore
Region Asia-Pacific

The Singapore Botanic Gardens is a 156-year-old tropical garden located at the fringe of the Singapore's main shopping belt. It is one of three gardens, and the only tropical garden, to be honored as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Botanic Gardens has been ranked Asia's top park attraction since 2013, by TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards. It was declared the inaugural Garden of the Year, International Garden Tourism Awards in 2012, and received Michelin’s three-star rating in 2008.[1][2]

The Botanic Gardens was founded at its present site in 1859 by the an agri-horticultural society. It played a pivotal role in the region's rubber trade boom in the early twentieth century, when its first scientific director Henry Nicholas Ridley, headed research into the plant's cultivation. By perfecting the technique of rubber extraction, still in use today, and promoting its economic value to planters in the region, rubber output expanded rapidly. At its height in the 1920s, the Malayan peninsula cornered half of the global latex production.

The National Orchid Garden, within the main gardens, is at the forefront of orchid studies and a pioneer in the cultivation of hybrids, complementing the nation's status as a major exporter of cut orchids. Aided by the equatorial climate, it houses the largest orchid collection of 1,200 species and 2,000 hybrids.

Early in the nation's independence, Singapore Botanic Gardens' expertise helped to transform the island into a tropical Garden City, an image and moniker for which the nation is widely known. In 1981, the hybrid climbing orchid, Vanda Miss Joaquim, was chosen as the nation's national flower. Singapore's "orchid diplomacy" honors visiting head of states, dignitaries and celebrities, by naming its finest hybrids after them; these are displayed at its popular VIP Orchid Gardens.[3][4]

Singapore's botanic gardens is the only one in the world that opens from 5 a.m. to 12 midnight every day of the year. More than 10,000 species of flora is spread over its 82-hectares area, which is stretched vertically; the longest distance between the northern and southern ends is 2.5 km (1.6 mi). The Botanic Gardens receives about 4.5 million visitors annually.


Singapore Botanic Gardens logo, Cyrtostachys palm

The first "Botanical and Experimental Garden" in Singapore was established in 1822 on Government Hill at Fort Canning by Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore and a keen naturalist. The Garden's main task was to evaluate for cultivation crops which were of potential economic importance including those yielding fruits, vegetables, spices and other raw materials. This first Garden closed in 1829.

It was not until 30 years later that the present Singapore Botanic Gardens began in 1859, when the Agri Horticultural Society was granted 32 hectares of land in Tanglin by the colonial government, which had obtained it from the merchant Hoo Ah Kay, known as Whampoa, in exchange for land at Boat Quay.

Lawrence Niven (landscape designer) was hired as superintendent and landscape designer to turn what were essentially overgrown plantations and a tangle of virgin rainforest into a public park. The layout of the Gardens as it is today is largely based on Niven's design. The Agri Horticultural Society, however, ran out of funds and, in 1874, the colonial government took over the management of the Gardens.

The first rubber seedlings came to the gardens from Kew in 1877. A naturalist, Henry Nicholas Ridley, or Mad Ridley as he was known, became director of the gardens in 1888 and spearheaded rubber cultivation. Successful in his experiments with rubber planting, Ridley convinced planters across Malaya to adopt his methods. The results were astounding; Malaya became the world's number one producer and exporter of natural rubber.[5]

Music was played at this gazebo, known as the Bandstand, in the Singapore Botanic Gardens in the 1930s

Another achievement was the pioneering of orchid hybridisation by Professor Eric Holttum, director of the Gardens from 1925 to 1949. His techniques led to Singapore being one of the world's top centres of commercial orchid growing. Today it also has the largest collection of tropical plant specimens.

During the Japanese occupation of Singapore from 1942 to 1945, Hidezo Tanakadate (田中館秀三), a professor of geology from Tohoku Imperial University, took over control of the Singapore Botanic Gardens and the Raffles Museum. At the beginning of the occupation, he ensured that no looting occurred in the Gardens and the Museum. Both institutions continued to function as scientific institutions. Holttum and Edred John Henry Corner were interned in the Gardens and instructed to continue their horticultural work. The Gardens was also renamed as Shōnan Botanic Gardens (昭南植物園). Later that year, Dr. Kwan Koriba (郡場寛), a retired professor of botany from the Kyoto Imperial University, arrived as Director of the Gardens, a post he held until the end of the war.

After the war, the Gardens was handed back to the control of the British. Murray Ross Henderson, curator of the Herbarium before the war, succeeded Holttum as director from 1949 to 1954. Eventually the Gardens played an important role during the "greening Singapore" campaign and Garden City campaign during the early independence years.


Orchids in the National Orchid Garden

Singapore Botanical Gardens is open from 5 a.m. to 12 midnight every day of the year. There is no admission fees, except for the National Orchid Garden within the main gardens.

The garden is bordered by Holland Road and Napier Road to the south, Cluny Road to the east, Tyersall Avenue and Cluny Park Road to the west and Bukit Timah Road to the North. The linear distance between the northern and southern ends is around 2.5 km (1.6 mi). There are a number of entrances in different zones of the gardens, but the Tanglin Gate facing Holland Road in the south is the grand entrance.

National Orchid Garden[edit]

Phalaenopsis philippinensis orchid growing in a mist house

National Orchid Garden is the main attraction within the Botanic Garden. Located on the mid-western side of the Garden, the hilly three-hectare site has a collection of more than 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrids of orchids.

Within the Orchid Garden there are a number of attractions such as the following:

Burkill Hall: Burkill Hall is a colonial plantation bungalow built in 1886. It used to be the director's house and was named in honour of the only father and son pair to hold the post of Director of Singapore Botanic Gardens, Isaac and Humphrey Burkill. The ground level serves as an exhibition area, showcasing information on the different hybrids named after VIPs who have visited the garden.

VIP Orchid Garden: located at the back of Burkill Hall, displays hybrids of the most popular VIP orchids. Notable ones include Dendrobium Memoria Princess Diana, Dendrobium Margaret Thatcher, Renantanda Akihito, Dendrobium Masako Kotaishi Hidenka, Dendrobium Elizabeth and Vanda Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. More than 100 celebrities, dignitaries and visiting heads of states have been honored by Singapore's orchid diplomacy program.

Orchidarium: A haven for serious orchids enthusiasts, the Orchidarium houses natural species in a tropical setting.

Tan Hoon Siang Misthouse: Tan Hoon Siang was a descendant of Tan Tock Seng, who was a philanthropist and founder of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital. The misthouse contains a colourful collection of different hybrids. It also has a small collection of fragrant orchids like Vanda Mimi Plamer.

Lady Yuen-Peng McNeice Bromeliad House: Named in honour of its sponsor, the Bromeliad House showcases plants from the Bromeliaceae family, which includes the pineapple. The unique collection of bromeliads on display was acquired from Shelldance Nursery in the United States in 1994.

'Coolhouse': The Coolhouse tries to recreate the environment of a tropical highland forest and showcases orchids that are normally only found in the tropical highland areas.

Orchid shown needs identification.

A waterfall in the Ginger Gardens


The Singapore Botanic Gardens has a small tropical rainforest of around six hectares in size, which is older than the gardens themselves. The rainforest and its bigger cousin at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve are located within the Singapore's city limits. Singapore is one of the only two major cities with a tropical rainforest within its city limits, the other being Tijuca Forest in Rio de Janeiro.

Ginger Garden[edit]

Located next to the National Orchid Garden, this one-hectare garden brings together members of the Zingiberaceae family. The garden houses a restaurant called Halia Restaurant. There is also a drop-off point along Tyersall Avenue as well as a waterfall. The garden was officially opened in 2003 and it took over the spot vacated by the previous Orchid Enclosure.

Botany Centre and Tanglin Gate[edit]

Singapore's first "green roof" at the Green Pavilion

The reopened Tanglin Gate has been given a new look. Gone is the old cast iron gate; it now sports a more modern silver colour with a leaf motif as its main design.

The two new blocks of offices and classroom in the upgraded Tanglin Core area are known as the Botany Centre. They house the:

Office Building (Botany Hall 1) at the redeveloped Tanglin Core
  • Library of Botany and Horticulture (including the Public Reference Centre);
  • the Singapore Herbarium;
  • Orchid Breeding and Micropagation; and
  • education outreach and workshop classrooms.
One of the newer attractions is the Saraca Stream in the Tanglin Core area

The corridors and walkways of the Botany Centre are covered by leaf imprints. There are also a number of wooden carvings scattered around the grounds, and fern-covered vertical walls.

The Green Pavilion is the first "green roof" in Singapore. Weed- and grass-like plants fully cover the pitched roof. It houses the visitor services desk as well as a cafe, Food For Thought, in its basement.

The offices of former directors, namely Holttum Hall (after Eric Holttum, Director of the Gardens from 1925 to 1949) and Ridley Hall (after Henry Nicholas Ridley, first director of Gardens from 1888 to 1911) were preserved and now known as the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Heritage Museum and Ridley Hall (a function space).

Jacob Ballas Children's Garden[edit]

The Children's Garden was named after its main donor Jacob Ballas, a Jewish-Singaporean philanthropist who died in 2004.

Built at a cost of S$7 million (of which $99 million was donated by the Jacob Ballas Trust and sponsors), it is located at the quieter northern end of the Botanic Gardens. It has its own visitor centre with a café. It opened on Children's Day, 1 October 2007. The National Parks Board claims it is Asia's first children's garden. There are play areas like the Water Play area, a small playground, tree-houses with slides, and a maze. There are also interactive exhibits that teach how photosynthesis takes place, and a mini-garden that showcases how plants may be used to make dyes and beverages, or as herbs.

At the Children's Garden Visitor Centre there is a sculpture by the Israeli artist Zodok Ben-David. Named Mystree, it was commissioned by the Yad Vashem museum in 2010. From a distance, the sculpture looks like a tree but a closer inspection reveals 500 human figures.

Although it is part of the Botanic Garden, the Children's Garden has its own entrance along Bukit Timah Road.

Other attractions[edit]

The lush lawns of Palm Valley are a popular spot for picnics and outdoor concerts

Tropical plants line the bank of the Saraca Stream as it meanders its way down a small hill. The main highlights of the stream walk are the Yellow Saraca trees (Saraca cauliflora) and Red Saraca (Saraca declinata). Other attractions include the Palm Valley, Bandstand area, Sun Garden and Sundial Garden.

SSO Concert at the Singapore Botanic Gardens
Chopin monument, just south of Symphony Lake

The Botanic Gardens has three lakes, namely Symphony Lake, Eco-Lake and Swan Lake. The Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage on Symphony Lake occasionally has free concerts on weekends. Notable performers include the Singapore Symphony Orchestra and Singapore Chinese Orchestra. On 10 October 2008,[6] a statue of the composer Frédéric Chopin was unveiled just south of Symphony Lake.

The headquarters of the National Parks Board is located within the grounds of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Eateries within the garden include Corner House, a casual fine-dining restaurant in a colonial bungalow; Casa Verde, a café at the Visitor Centre; and Halia Restaurant, a restaurant at the Ginger Garden. There are also gift shops for visitors. Singapore's national agency in biodiversity-related issues, the National Biodiversity Centre, is also located within the grounds of the gardens.

Future developments[edit]

A "Tyersall extension" to the Gardens was announced in 2009. A total of 18ha of land is being added in expanding the Gardens by almost four times its original size in 1859. Known as the Gardens' Learning Forest when fully complete in 2018, the extensions include a Forest Conservation Interpretive Centre and a Natural History Art Gallery, housed in colonial buildings more than a century old. The Learning Forest will showcase the best of tropical trees that grow under local conditions and strengthen the Botanic Gardens' position as a premier institute for research, conservation and education. Visitors will be able to appreciate this unique collection of trees and plants through various thematic walks within the Learning Forest featuring giant trees, trees with interesting forms and barks of various textures, a conservation collection of rare fruit and nut species and a bamboo garden.[7] Also included is a flood protection scheme for the main shopping district of Orchard Road and its surroundings and a water detention pond with capacity to hold excess storm-water of about 15 Olympic-size pools.[8]


Replica of the ancient Lepidodendrons or giant clubmosses at the Evolution Garden

An official application for Singapore Botanic Gardens to be listed as a World Heritage Site was submitted to UNESCO in January 2014. The bid underlines the gardens' historical and cultural significance and its achievements in conservation and research. A 700-page nomination dossier was compiled and written up over one-and-a-half years, led by the National Heritage Board’s (NHB) preservation of sites and monuments division and the Botanic Gardens director, Dr Nigel Taylor, who was also involved in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew's own UNESCO bid from 2000 to 2003.

As part of the process, the dossier had to seek the assessment of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), a separate professional association. On May 16, 2015, ICOMOS's panel of experts backed the inscription without reservation – the best recommendation possible, stating:[9]

the Gardens demonstrates the evolution of a British tropical colonial garden into a modern and world-class botanic garden, scientific institution and place of conservation and education.

On July 4, 2015, in Bonn, the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee deliberated Singapore's submission, and all 21 members endorsed it.[10][11] Dr Taylor recalled the unanimous vote: [12]

It was extraordinary, one of the longest salutations I’ve heard ... and every single member of the committee had something important to say and some had a lot to say in favour of the inscription.

Singapore Botanic Gardens is the first tropical, and only the third botanic gardens on the UNESCO World Heritage listing. The honour was widely noted as a fitting tribute to the nation's 50th year of independence.[13]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Singapore Botanic Gardens clinches prestigious Unesco World Heritage site status", The Straits Times, July 4, 2015 
  2. ^ "Botanic Gardens top park in Asia on Tripadvisor". The Straits Times. June 20, 2014. TripAdvisor Travellers' Choice Awards 
  3. ^ "Urban Haven". The Straits Times. July 5, 2015. 
  4. ^ "Orchid diplomacy". Tabla. Nov 11, 2011. 
  5. ^ Cornelius-Takahama, Vernon (29 March 2001), Sir Henry Nicholas Ridley, Singapore: National Library Board Singapore 
  6. ^ The Unveiling Ceremony of a Monument to Frederic Chopin & Inaugural Concert by NAFA Orchestra, The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Singapore, 5 October 2008, retrieved 4 June 2010 
  7. ^ "The Sunday Times - Botanic Gardens to keep on growing". Government of Singapore. Retrieved 25 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "wildsingapore news: Work to start on extension to Botanic Gardens". Retrieved 2015-08-08. 
  9. ^ "Unesco title plants Singapore firmly on world map". The Straits Times. July 5, 2015. null 
  10. ^ Melody Zaccheus (July 4, 2015), "Singapore Botanic Gardens clinches prestigious Unesco World Heritage site status", The Straits Times 
  11. ^ "Singapore Botanic Gardens declared UNESCO World Heritage Site". Channel NewsAsia. July 4, 2015. 
  12. ^ "UNESCO nomination dossier a labour of love since 2010 - Channel NewsAsia". Channel NewsAsia. July 6, 2015. null 
  13. ^ "Singapore Botanic Gardens the UNESCO World Heritage Site". Ghetto Singapore. July 5, 2015. 

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