Popular Science Monthly/Volume 67/November 1905/The Botanical Garden at Buitenzorg, Java

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PSM V67 D584 Herbarium and botanical museum at buitenzorg institute bogor.png
Herbarium and Botanical Museum at Buitenzorg Institute.






By Professor FRANCIS RAMALEY, Ph.D.,


PROBABLY the term 'botanical garden' brings to the minds of most people something in the style of a cemetery with a few trees and a great many oblong beds of herbaceous plants, each bed with a white label suggesting a small gravestone. In a properly appointed botanical garden most people expect to see also some hot houses for orchids and a tank with warmed water for tropical water lilies and lotus.

Should an ordinary mortal, or even a botanist, be dropped from a balloon into the middle of the garden at Buitenzorg, he would, for a time, hardly appreciate that he was in a botanical garden. The usual 'ear marks' of such an institution are certainly not apparent at first glance. The plants are mostly trees, no warm tanks are necessary, and there are cool houses instead of hot houses. The botanist, in looking at the names of trees would only now and then recognize one he had run across somewhere in a text-book. Were it not for a very few names, he might believe he had landed on some other planet. Certain it is he would see few plants he had known before in the temperate zone.

After a time spent at Buitenzorg the term 'plant' no longer suggests a small green creature with pretty flowers—something which dies down in autumn and comes up at Easter time. The plants at Buitenzorg are trees, and there are hundreds, nay, thousands, of these; while only a trifling space is allotted to puny little herbs—the things that we of the temperate regions know as 'plants.'

Of course the well informed naturalist knows the tropical world as the 'mother of life' and he expects to see a wealth of green, a
PSM V67 D586 Large liana near the entrance to the botanical gardens in bogor.png
A Large Leana (Entada scandens) near the Entrance of the Botanical Gardens.
PSM V67 D586 View across the pond to the palace of the buitenzorg bogor governor general.png
View Across the Pond to the Governor General's Palace at Buitenzorg.

abundance of plant individuals and plant species. Still I doubt if any one who has not actually visited a wet tropical region can have a very clear idea of the real luxuriance of Buitenzorg. In an ordinary temperate forest the number of species of trees can almost be counted on the fingers of two hands; the species in a northern coniferous forest might be counted on the fingers of a single hand. In a west Java forest there may easily be fifty species of trees within a distance of as many feet from an observer. In the whole island of Java there are


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Laboratory for Researches.

probably a thousand different kinds of arborescent plants—perhaps more.

In the botanical garden an attempt is made to assemble the various plants of the Dutch East Indies and also to get the more notable species from other lands. This garden should be especially useful at this time to American botanists who may be intending to work in the Philippines. Java belongs to the same floral region as the American East Indies, and our islands will doubtless show some likenesses and differences in flora, which will be of great interest. At Buitenzorg the visiting botanist has before him, in well organized form, an epitome of all tropical botany.

Aside from any special interest which American botanists might have in Buitenzorg, there are countless objects of general botanical interest to be seen there. One who keeps in touch with modern botanical literature can not but be struck with the fact that in these days tropical botany is becoming more and more important. The ordinary text-books still illustrate most points in physiology and morphology by reference to plants of the temperate zone, yet there is an increasing tendency to refer more often to tropical plants. The modern botanist needs to know something of the tropics—the more the better. At Buitenzorg he can learn a great deal in a short time.

The visitor, on going through the gate of the garden, enters at once a long avenue planted with canary trees (Canarium commune). Here is something with no counterpart anywhere else in the world. As one walks down Canary Avenue in early morning he notices perhaps, first the darkness, then looking up he sees the branches above, overarched, as it were, to form the vaulted roof of a Gothic cathedral. Here and there a few stray sunbeams, stealing through, make bright patches of light on the moist roadway; the lianas, climbing up the great tree trunks, are covered with dew and their huge leaves glisten as they are gently waved by the morning breeze. Their long, aerial roots sway to and fro as slow-moving pendulums. The great buttressed

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A Path in the Jungle.

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Jungle Scene. A Species of Pandamus with Long Grass-like Leaves. A Plant (Zlatostenima) with Long Pointed Drip-tips.

roots of the canary trees, covered with epiphytic ferns and orchids, seem almost too picturesque to be quite natural. Everywhere the eye feasts on a wealth of green. It is hard to escape the thought that this is fairy land.

When the visitor passes onward to the lake and looks across at the wooded island where are planted magnificent flowering trees, shrubs of wonderful foliage, and, more striking than all else, the red stemmed 'sealing wax palm'—when he looks across the lotus and Victoria regia to all this tropical luxuriance he must perforce become enthusiastic, even though he be by nature the most cold-blooded of men.

The garden has an extent of about one hundred and fifty acres. Through one end of it passes the Tjilwong River and along here is some low ground, while further back is higher land with more undulating surface, where, from certain vantage points, good views may be had of the neighboring mountains. Only a few avenues are open to carriages, but there are many neatly paved foot-paths usually following a somewhat winding course. These foot-paths form the boundaries of the different sections in which are trees of the various plant families arranged in systematic and orderly fashion. To a botanist, interested in a given group of plants, this is a most useful arrangement. It is much better than the more common plan of grouping trees according to the kind of soil in which they do best, and still better than the even more usual plan of scattering them about, hit or miss, wherever there happens to be room.

A visitor to the garden who is not a botanist will be disappointed that the labels give only the scientific names of trees. He who may wish to see teak, satin-wood, ebony, the mango, nutmeg, rambutan and other notable trees must first find out for each the two many-syllabled Latin words which are used to designate a plant for scientific purposes. As these words are painted on the labels in a sort of modified German script they are not quickly read. Besides this the labels are narrow and frequently the name will not go in one line, but must be divided. The division is often made, not with regard to the nature of the word, but to the convenience of the native who does the painting. So one may see such divisions as 'flavesce-ns,' 'co-mmune,' 'macrant-hum' 'integrif-olia' and some others quite as startling.

If there were signs up showing the families in a given lot, and if the labels gave the common names and native home of some of the more important trees, even the professional botanist would be pleased; to the ordinary visitor there would be added an interest now quite lacking. The guide books give a bad English translation, from the Dutch, of directions for seeing the garden. No one, however, unless gifted with second sight, could even keep to the course mapped out, let alone see the various objects mentioned. During my stay in Buitenzorg I used to get out the guide book most religiously every Sunday. But although I spent some hours every week day in systematic study of the gardens, I was never able to follow with ease the official itinerary.

But even if the guide book be maddening, one can find many interesting things without great trouble. The Canary Avenue is something which never palls. The fine collection of palms is a joy to look upon. There are all sorts of queer-looking and strange plants to attract attention. Screw pines with their curious prop roots interest every one and cycads and tree ferns deserve more than a passing glance.

One is sure to be impressed with the great number of trees bearing conspicuous flowers. More than one man has asked me, on finding me to be a botanist, whether our northern trees would blossom out handsomely if grown in the tropics. Of course I have to say 'no'; that a leopard would more easily change his spots.- It so happens that trees with large, showy flowers are more common in the tropics than in our part of the world. But we have the catalpa and tulip tree. There are plenty of trees in the tropics with inconspicuous flowers, too, but these the non-botanist does not notice.

The climate of Buitenzorg is very moist, there being a yearly rainfall of two hundred inches, or about six times that of New York. Dry spells seldom last long and the atmosphere is nearly saturated with moisture at all times. Correlated with the wet climate we find that many trees have leaves with long pointed drip-tips. The water from the surface of the leaf collects on these pointed tips and runs off quickly. Trees do not need a thick covering of cork to protect them from drying out or to save them from cold. So we find, instead of the
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Canary Avenue at Buitenzorg.

PSM V67 D592 Sausage tree.pngThe Sausage Tree. thick, rough, furrowed bark of our own forests, only smooth trunks even in the case of large and old trees. This often leads strangers to underestimate the size of tropical trees, for they have come to think of smooth hark as belonging only to small trees.

The limp, dangling leaves of some tropical trees are most curious. They are frequently quite red, just as are the young leaves of maples in temperate climates. It is not easy to say just why some plants have adopted this peculiar habit of letting the leaves grow full size before they are strong enough to stand out in proper fashion. Certain it is, however, that. by hanging down in this way the young, tender leaves are much less exposed, and hence in less danger of injury by excessive light and heat. PSM V67 D592 Chocolate tree showing caulanthy.pngChocolate Tree, Showing Caulanthy. A moist climate, such as that of Buitenzorg, favors the growth of epiphytic or perched plants—also of parasites. Seeds or spores, carried by the wind or birds, find lodgment in the forks of trees. With plenty of moisture in the air and a constant warm temperature they grow luxuriantly. Thus it happens that trees are covered with moss. Even the very leaves are often marked with delicate patterns of moss and lichen. Orchids and ferns in great number are perched upon the horizontal branches and the smooth trunks also serve for the lodgment of many plants as well. Since Darwin's time every one has known something about orchids: plants with curious flowers adapted to insect visits—flowers of handsome colors and strange shapes. But many orchids have small greenish or white flowers, and these are the ones most common in the Buitenzorg garden. There is also a good collection of species which have been 'planted' not planted in the ground, but simply tied to tree trunks. Here they get along very well without drawing any water from the soil. There is plenty of moisture in the air and these plants are provided with absorbing tissues to take in what they need.

Things grow on a large scale in the tropics. Many of our tiny herbs at home have tropical relatives which are large trees. There

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India Rubber Tree.

are tree ferns, the tree-daisy and the tree-tomato. In our own part of the world the sunflower is the largest plant of the composite family, but in the tropics there are many shrubs and trees belonging to this order of plants. Fruits of great size are common. A good example is seen in the 'sausage tree' the fruits of which are great sausage shaped structures two feet long, weighing many pounds. The jak tree has a fruit which looks something like an enormous watermelon, except for the roughened warty outer rind. The flowers, and hence the fruit, are on old wood—not developed at the tips of young branches as are the apples, peaches and other fruits familiar to us. Such production of flowers and fruits on the older parts of the tree is known as 'cailiflorie' or 'caulanthy' the terms meaning 'flower on the stem.' Caulanthy may often be seen in the tropics, while among trees of temperate regions it is almost unknown.

Plants inhabited by ants are sure to strike the attention of visitors. There are many of these so-called 'myrmecophilous' plants in the garden at Buitenzorg; some brought in from the neighborhood, while others, behaving like Topsy 'just growed.' The commonest are species of Myrmccodia, woody plants about two feet tall, with the base of the stem much swollen and containing large winding passages swarming with ants. These plants do not grow on the ground, but are attached

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Waringin Tree, Batavia.

to the branch of some tree, a habit of life very common in moist climates. A handsome tree known as Humboldtia is also myrmecophilous. The flowering twigs are swollen and hollow—the cavity opening to the outer world by a small hole through which ants enter. Apparently in these various cases the ants do not serve the plants in any way. There are, however, certain species of Acacia, which produce a sweet substance attractive to a certain kind of warlike ants, and these ants protect the tree from the attacks of the leaf-cutting ants. Other kinds of Acacia, not provided with ant police, are often seriously damaged by the leaf-cutters.

In our school geographies we have all read about the wonderful banyan tree which sends down roots from its outspread branches and eventually covers a great area. A whole avenue of such trees is to be seen at Buitenzorg. The trees are the 'waringen' a sort of banyan, and the avenue is called the 'Waringen Alle.' Other trees, such as the India rubber plant, have the same habit of putting forth aerial roots which grow down and penetrate the soil and eventually cause a wide spreading of the tree.

A short magazine article can not bring the reader very close to tropical plant life as shown in the Buitenzorg garden, but the illustrations may help to make clear some of the features I have mentioned. It must be understood that the gardens are maintained primarily for scientific purposes and that there are countless objects, interesting to the botanist, the enumeration of which would be wearisome to the general reader.

It is the wish of the director of the gardens that botanists from all countries should make use of the garden for study. At his suggestion the government erected some years ago a commodious laboratory for the exclusive use of visiting men of science. Naturally enough, since Java is a Dutch dependency, most of the visitors thus far have come from Holland, but many Germans have also been there. Almost no Americans have studied in Buitenzorg. This is the more strange, since our botanists are accustomed to travel long distances and many have worked in Europe. With the increased importance of the tropics which has come in recent years, there should be a greater interest developed in the study of tropical life. It is much to be desired that our own botanists make use of this and other tropical gardens in order that we may not remain behind other nations in this important branch of natural science.

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Market place in Buitenzorg.