9 November 2010

Rio's Botanical Gardens

Directly below the right arm of the statue of Christ the Redeemer lies Rio de Janeiro’s Botanical Gardens. Strolling among the 6,000 different species of tropical and subtropical plants and trees offers a complete change of pace from the throb of Brazil’s iconic first capital.

Founded by the Prince Regent of the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil in 1808, the garden was initially used to cultivate spices from the West Indies, including cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper. The 350-acre exotic garden was opened to the public in 1832.

The Botanical Gardens are best known for the avenues of Royal Palms photographed above. They line the paths near the entrance and originally, this area was only accessible to the royal family. It is believed that the palms were all grown from the seeds of a single tree known as the Palma Mater. There are over 900 other varieties of palm in the gardens.

Contrasting with the formal layout of the European and Japanese parts of the garden, it was the Amazonia section that interested me most. Wild and alive with a profusion of lush vegetation (and insects), the air was noticeably heavier and warmer than in other parts of the garden.

I was disappointed with the Victoria Regis lilies in the Frei Leandro pond. The pads were less than half the size of those I had first seen years ago in Brazil’s tiny northern neighbour, Guyana.

Birds abound in the Botanical Gardens. I was able to photograph Great Kiskadee and Dusky-legged Guan, but didn’t see any Channel-billed Toucan which also frequent the gardens.

Brazil’s largest Botanical library is at one end of the gardens, next to a well-stocked gift shop and agreeable outdoor café.

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