Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 73.djvu/199

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THE BOTANICAL GARDENS OF CEYLON

stations, five in number, are established in parts of the island where differences in climate furnish altered conditions for plant life.

The Peradeniya garden is in the wet zone, or area of natural rain forest, at an altitude of 1,600 feet above the sea. With an annual precipitation of about 90 inches and a mean temperature of 75° Fahrenheit there are furnished the necessary conditions for luxuriant plant growth. A "dry season," extending through February, March and April, limits the growth of air plants hanging from trees, so that in this respect Peradeniya is not so interesting as Buitenzorg, in Java. The "dry season" is, however, not long enough to interfere with the growth of most plants and nearly all of the trees retain their leaves through this period. It is quite otherwise in the arid districts of northern Ceylon, where a monsoon forest with a considerable number of deciduous trees is the natural plant formation. Peradeniya, though rather too cool for cocoanuts or Para rubber, has a climate well suited to Castilloa rubber and to tea and chocolate, while palms of nearly all kinds thrive to perfection.

The garden was not originally laid out according to any system of plant classification, but was rather a beautiful park in which trees were planted for landscape effect. Now, however, the director,[1] is developing the garden according to systematic plans and making definite groups of plant families. Thus there are at present well-arranged plots devoted to palms, others to screw pines, others to cycads. It will necessarily be many years before the new plan can be fully carried out, for most of the plants in a tropical garden are trees. Indeed, the herbaceous garden forms but a small part of the whole.

Here, as in any first-class garden of the tropics, much is very new and strange to the botanist from temperate climes. Palms, screwpines, giant bamboos, orchids and tree ferns, which he has known hitherto only from books or from the puny specimens of the plant house, become the commonplaces of every-day life. The sight of trees of the Composite family, Verbena family and many other groups represented at home only by herbs opens the eyes to some of the real wonders of tropical plant life. An interesting example is that of the "potato tree" belonging to the nightshade family. It does not produce potatoes, but its flower resembles that of a potato very much enlarged. At home we think of the nightshade family including only herbs and vines, but in the tropics it includes trees as large as our ordinary shade trees, such as elm and maple.

Nearly every kind of plant will grow at Peradeniya; tropical and sub-tropical plants very well indeed; temperate plants for the most part indifferently well. The latter are, however, taken care of at the mountain garden at Hakgala where the higher altitude (5,500 feet)

  1. John C. Willis, M.A. (Camb.), FL.S.