Sunday, November 6, 2016

Visiting Singapore--Gardens by the Bay

We stood astonished. Huge metal "trees."  This was Singapore. On the Equator, with lush plants but also industrialized and high-tech. So: a tree-like metal framework for tropical vines.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
Here is how they looked from a distance, from a second or third story walkway.

The Gardens by the Bay are new: they opened to the public in October 2011. The metal trees, described to me as supertrees, are still mostly bare on top, but in a few years they will probably look like tropical rainforest trees, with leaves and branches tangled all across the now-bare metal canopies. They are tall, but the tropical rainforest that once grew on Singapore, was very tall too.

metal tree base, Singapore

Singapore is building upon its warm wet climate to dazzle with tropical plants. When they were building Gardens by the Bay, they sent buyers around the world looking for plants. Those buyers didn't purchase seedlings, but in Africa, mature baobabs, in Central America, tall cacti and, in Europe, 300 year old olive trees. There's enough land development going on in the world today that generally the trees bought were destined for destruction.

baobab, Singapore

cactus, frangipani, Singapore

ancient olive trees, Singapore

There were gardens outside, but I used up my energy on the huge domes (greenhouses). I should have allocated another day to explore the spots outside--gardens in Malay-style, Chinese-style, colonial, and more--alas!

The two climate-controlled buildings were spacious and very tall--quite an engineering marvel actually, since it is not trivial to build a large area without supports that block the sun or to maintain  temperatures and humidities simultaenously appropriate for both people and plants.

The whole effect was incredible. Lavish. Dramatic. Entertainment with living plants.

These two views are pleasant and give you a sense of the size of the first dome.



Beyond those pathways we came to an area for temporary exhibits. The display featured African plants and flowers. The alligator is wood or ceramic, but the patterns on the rhinoceroses in the second photo are made with brightly colored beans. Note the people back beyond the rhinoceros to get an idea of the size of the display.

floral display, Singapore

floral display, Singapore

Other parts of that house, The Flower Dome, had amazing sprays of orchids--indeed, Singapore is full of spots with outrageous displays of orchids. It also had small fields of geraniums, stands of multicolored coleus and more.

The second dome had a spiral walk up around an artificial hill several stories high. Another engineering feat. They'd set the temperatures for montane cloud forests around the equator and loaded plants all over the little mountain. Spectacular flowers and leaves from all over the world. Singapore itself is not mountainous, but the habitats recreated occur in nearby Malaysia and Indonesia.



We started at the top and circled slowly down.


The workers maintaining the plants made it more amazing. People have to regularly climb onto the slopes of the mountain to tend the plants.

Look carefully to see the third man (backpack below the big leaves)

Another worker 
Looking downward:


The video will give you a better idea:

It was truly an amazing mix of glorious plants and the technology to maintain climate-control. Environmental education was slipped in on descriptive signs. Both buildings had classrooms and museum-like displays as well. 

Often we stand in the Temperate Zone and wring our hands about the loss of rainforests and their organisms. For Singapore, that's their neighborhood and their heritage. Like all the rest of us, they are belatedly trying to find ways for people to live well without destroying natural ecosystems. Environmental education and these displays of the wonder of tropical plants help build support for conservation. Sometimes it felt like a theme park with live flowers, some of it was over-the-top in floral opulence, and of course you could visit without thinking a bit about protecting these organisms and their habitats. But appreciation is a necessary step toward conservation. As wonderful as plants are, it can be hard to get people to notice them in the bustle of daily life. So the Gardens by the Bay show what can be done, combining showmanship and!

Comments and corrections welcome.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

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