By Dr. D. S. A. Wijesundara Director General –Department of National Botanic Gardens
Sri Lanka’s botanic gardens have a long and proud history punctuated by colonialism and industrial change. Throughout this period the gardens have continued to flourish along with the plant collections and herbarium. Within the context of the 21st century, the gardens represent a significant national asset for Sri Lanka. The Year 2011 will see the expansion of the Botanic Garden Network to cover all the climatic regions of the country.
Over 1.8 million people visit Sri Lanka’s botanic gardens every year. And that is in addition to the 5% of the nation’s school children who visit annually. As a profit-making public institution, employing almost 450 people, the National Botanic Gardens are uniquely placed to educate by stealth, taking advantage of the pleasure and joy experienced by visitors to share, gradually, our growing knowledge and expertise in conservation, biodiversity, floriculture and sustainability.
Current activities within the gardens include: education and training, botanical research, and contributions to biodiversity conservation and public education. A staff re-structuring programme is already underway to accommodate the new strategic priorities. 2007 was a landmark year, notably for the opening of a new Education Centre Facility within the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, the founding of the first new botanic garden in 130 years and the launch of a new, nationally accredited Diploma in Floriculture and Landscape Design.
Future needs to be addressed include ex-situ conservation of biodiversity and the potential for economic return for Sri Lanka.
The National Botanic Gardens of Sri Lanka are pioneering botanical institutions, started during the early years of the 19th century. The following are the important milestones in the history of Sri Lanka’s botanic gardens;
1371 Peradeniya first used as a royal pleasure garden by King Wickramabahu III
1780 King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe declared Peradeniya as a Royal Garden
1799 A botanic garden established at Peliyagoda by Eudelin de Jonville, a Frenchman in the service of the Governor, Frederick North
1810 A botanic garden informally named “Kew Gardens” established on Slave Island, Colombo, by Joseph Banks
1812 First Superintendent, William Kerr, appointed
1814 “Kew Gardens” relocated to a site on the banks off the Kalu Ganga at Kalutara
1817 2nd Superintendent, Alexander Moon, appointed
1821 The garden moved to Peradeniya
1824 Moon’s “Catalogue of Ceylon Plants”, listing 1,127 indigenous plants with their local names was published. National Herbarium established.
1861 Hakgala botanic gardens established as experimental plot for cinchona.
1864 Thwaites’ Enumeratio Plantarum Zeylaniae, the first scientific cata logue of the flora of Sri Lanka, published
1876 Gampaha, Henarathgoda botanic gardens established as experimental garden for rubber.
1893 Vol. 1 of the Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon first published
1900 Vol. 5 of the Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon published
1912 Sri Lanka Department of Agriculture (SLDA) established and Botanic Gardens came under research division of SLDA; the director, J. C. Willis, resigns in protest.
1968 The Revision of the Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon Project started
1982 Botanic gardens became separated from the research division and a Deputy Director of Agriculture (Botanic Gardens) appointed
1994 Botanic Gardens Division of the SLDA was elevated and a Director (National Botanic Gardens) appointed.
2000 Vol. 14 of the Revised Handbook to the Flora of Ceylon published
2005 Botanic Gardens separated from SLDA.
2006 The Department of National Botanic Gardens established. Work began to establish new dry zone botanic gardens.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya; Botanic Gardens in Hakgala and Botanic Gardens at Henarathgoda, Gampaha were responsible for almost all of the plant introductions for economic and environmental development of the island of Sri Lanka in the 19th Century. Activities during this period resulted in the development of economic and plantation crops, the emergence of important state departments such as the Forest Department in 1887 and Department of Agriculture in 1912, as well as the institutions for the development of plantation crops such as tea and rubber.
After 1912 the botanical research activities at the national botanic gardens slowed down and it was during the last few decades the taxonomic research in the gardens started to resume with the commencement of the Revision of the “Flora of Ceylon” Project.
Currently, the three national botanic gardens of Sri Lanka are engaged in the taxonomy of the flora of the island, floriculture, ornamental horticulture, ex situ plant conservation, as well as the maintenance and development of the botanic gardens and its allied units. According to the Gazette notification (1471 of Nov. 10, 2006), the main functions of the Department of National Botanic Gardens are:
1. Planning and implementation of ex-situ conservation strategies for the conservation of Sri Lankan plant diversity
2. Carry out activities to disseminate authentic information and technical expertise on plants and plant-related industries of Sri Lanka using educational and communication strategies.
3. Conduct diverse research and implement technologies to develop the floriculture industry in Sri Lanka
4. Management and development of National Botanic Gardens at high standards
5. Prepare development plans for the establishment of new botanic gardens in appropriate places
6. Plan and implement research and technical programmes needed to popularise Amenity Horticulture in Sri Lanka
7. Provide technical advice to conserve Sri Lankan plants of historic importance.
Until recently, the national botanic gardens came within the remit, and were organised by the Department of Agriculture. Management areas such as budget allocation, personnel and administrative matters were previously handled by the Department of Agriculture. The period ahead is characterised by a change in management needs, within a new and fast changing political, environmental and global climate.
Just as the introductions of tea and rubber have shaped the past, it is anticipated that the gardens have a future impact. Areas where future achievements will demonstrate the gardens’ contribution to the development of Sri Lanka are outlined in the table below, alongside areas where there is already a past track record of performance – and impact.
Ecotourism, floriculture and the development of the herbal industries all feature strongly as areas of national policy priority, where impact matters and progress will be monitored over the coming few years. Impact in each of these areas can be defined as having economic impact in Sri Lanka.
Impact in these will also cause changes within the gardens themselves, with higher demand for education and training courses, tour guides trained to a high service standard. Additional technical and business support needs from small and medium sized businesses, engaged in one or more of these industry areas, may also emerge.
Over the last 180 years the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya has significantly increased capability by emphasising high quality science, expanded contributions to biodiversity conservation and improved public education programmes. This effort will be reinforced over the period ahead by a focus on key targets for development, and appropriate re-structuring, recruitment and training initiatives.
Areas of Past Impact Areas of Future Impact
Recreation Eco Tourism
Plant Introductions Commerce and E-Commerce
(for economic returns) Floriculture and Herbal Industries
Pharmaceuticals and Medicines
Plant explorations Biodiversity, Bio-prospecting
and Ex-situ Conservation
Knowledge Knowledge Management –(Historical/scientific archives and herbaria; Development and maintenance of national botanical inventories; GIS; Updating of Flora of Sri Lanka; Publications promoting flora; Comprehensive herbaria for specific high diversity sites such as Sinharaja, Hor ton Plains, Knuckles; Research on inventory, monitoring and control of invasive alien species; Building national capacity for systematic botany; Education and Training Initiatives).
To be continued next week.
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