Southeast Asia Travel
An oasis amongst the desert of metropolis, the Singapore Botanical Gardens is regarded as one of the world's top parks and consistently voted the best in Asia. It's a surprise that it only earned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site early this year.
Originally the brainchild of Sir Stamford Raffles, the Singapore Botanical Gardens' present site was established in 1859 with the acquisition of 32 hectares of mixed use farmland and rain forest by the Agri Horticultural Society. The primary focus after its inception was agricultural development, which helped drive some of Singapore's most successful industries. The region became the number one producer and exporter of rubber thanks to cultivation studies conducted by Henry Nicholas Ridley in the late 19th century. Eric Holtum's work with orchid hybridization helped develop Singapore's orchid industry, which continues to be at the forefront in the world.
The Singapore Gardens are located in the heart of the city, and managed by the country’s National Parks Board. Exploring the park can be a little overwhelming. Expansive trials weave through a dozen gardens containing 10,000 different species of plants, several heritage buildings and trees, a natural rainforest, three ornamental lakes, educational facilities, laboratories, and even a symphony stage and amphitheater fills the site’s 74 hectares of land.
The park has been divided into three core areas: Tanglin, Central, and Bukit Timah.
This is the oldest section of Singapore Botanical Gardens, immediately accessed via the Main Gate. It is home to several of the park's major attractions including the Botany Centre, Heritage Museum, and Swan Lake. The Botany Centre houses several world-class research facilities and acts as a visitor information center. Kristin and I loved relaxing by Swan Lake, pictured right. This is the heart of the park's fauna, which I'll discuss more below.
The main attraction here is the National Orchid Garden, a 3-hectare site housing a collection of over 1,000 species and 2,000 hybrid species of orchids. Visitors can also sit down to eat in the historical E J H Corner House which now accommodates French restaurant Au Jardin Les Amis, or enjoy a concert in the natural amphitheater that houses the Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage.
This is the smallest section of the park, housing just three attractions that are all dedicated to education: the Eco-Garden, Jacob Ballas Children's Garden, and Foliage Garden.
The biggest surprise for me at Singapore Botanical Gardens was the proliferation of fauna. Numerous species of birds, reptiles, and amphibians call the park home. Here are a few stars of the show.
The Malyan water monitor can reach lengths of 3 meters, making it one of the largest lizard species on the planet (closely related to the komodo dragon. This semi-aquatic monitor lives in a wide range of habitats throughout Southeast Asia, and enjoys a varied diet that includes fish, crabs, eels, rodents, birds, and small reptiles. The Malayan water monitor is known for 'open pursuit' hunting instead of stalking their prey. They are surprisingly fast runners and swimmers that can travel in freshwater and saltwater for long distances and remain underwater for up to 30 minutes.
Malayan Water Monitors are venomous, though their venom is relatively weak. Far more dangerous is the growth of over 50 bacterial strains in their mouths, which can cause serious infections. While many consider monitors dangerous to humans, there are few recorded incidences and even fewer deaths. They best advice is to never provoke or approach a monitor lizard in the wild. Instead, just enjoy from afar.
Singapore has several native turtle species, including the Asian softshell turtle, Malayan box terrapin, and the spiny terrapin. These species can be found within Singapore Botanical Gardens alongside several invasive species. It seems the most prolific species in the gardens is the red-eared slider, which comes as little surprise since they are listed as one of the top 100 invasive species in the world.
The red-eared slider originates from the southeastern United States, but it's popularity as a pet turtle has seen it spread worldwide. Its relatively large size and low maturity age give it an advantage over native species in many locations, including Singapore. I'm not sure I saw any other species of turtle during my visits to the gardens, but I did see several red-eared sliders catching their breath on the water lilies inside Symphony Lake (pictured top right) and dozens swimming about in Swan Lake (picture bottom right).
They couldn't call it Swan Lake without these! The mute swans at the gardens were imported from Amsterdam, and are a commonly used ornamental species worldwide. Indigenous to Europe, there are now wild populations throughout North America, Africa, and Asia. The mute swan is one of the largest flying birds and can grow upwards of 15 kilograms and 170 centimeters in length with a 240-centimeter wingspan.