Date of visit: 9 May 2014
Time: 3-5 pm
Most of us would agree that the Singapore Botanic Gardens (SBG) is the long standing iconic garden of the country. But did we know that in its early years, it was also home to animals, such as rhinoceros, leopards, monkeys, birds, etc?
Really? You may have asked, or laughed it off like some of us did in our LAS visit to the Botanic Gardens. When Christina, one of the NParks guides showed us an archived photograph, we realize that this was more truth than naysay. In fact, some of us found out later during our LAS visit that the SBG maintains a zoological status for more than 40 years from its founding years before it was abolished in 1903. Most of the animals became part of the collection from donation and their population was maintained through exchanges with overseas zoos. Today, one of the visible hints of its early history is the stone animal artifacts that greet visitors as one walks through the Green Pavilion.
A quick walk through the history of SBG. The SBG was established in 1859 in the Tanglin area, by the Agri-Horticultural Society, through a government grant of a piece of land obtained from the merchant Mr Hoo Ah Kay, more famously known as Whampoa. Through SBG’s 155 years of history, 2 SBG directors notably spearheaded the proliferation of rubber cultivation in Malaya from 1890s and pioneered orchid hybridization, placing Singapore as a leading centre for commercial orchid growing. The SBG has also survived the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945 and had a Japanese director during this period.
Our 2-hour LAS visit by 28 librarians covers mainly the Library of Botany and Horticulture and the Singapore Herbarium, which are located at the Botany Centre. The Library consists of the Public Reference Library and the Reference Library. The Public library showcases herbarium specimens of plants common in Singapore and also has a self-service pictorial compilation for plant enthusiasts and students alike. The Reference Library, together with the Herbarium existed since SBG was established, and is one of the oldest botany library in Southeast Asia. The Reference Library collection has about 30,000 journals, books (including more than 4,000 rare books and botanical illustrations) and other media. Access is restricted only to NPark staff, visiting researchers and authorized users. We were privileged to be able to see some rare historical books and photographs of SBG in the backroom of the Reference Library.
The Herbarium has a huge collection of 750,000 herbarium specimens from the Malesian region, Southeast Asia region and has a strong collection from Singapore and Peninsular Malaysia dating from the 1880s. Botanists from the Herbarium actively collect plant specimens sans seeds from these targeted regions from frequent field trips. Serena, our guide, gave us an introduction of the specimen-making process and the filing method of the Herbarium’s filing system. We also learned that multiple specimens were made for the same plant for exchanges with other herbariums. The Herbarium is also taking photos of plants to document 3D images and colors of real plants collected. It is also transcribing old specimen records which were hand-written.
All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2007.
In the last 15 minute of our visit, we were taken for bonus visits to the Heritage Museum and the CDL Green Gallery. Qiu Xian and Christina walked us to the Museum which is in the Holttum Hall building, currently a conserved building. The Holttum Hall was built in 1920 and was once a laboratory and office of Professor Eric Holttum, the SBG director who pioneered orchid hybridization. The 2-storeyed museum has interactive and multimedia exhibits, which details SBG’s early history and heritage, including its past and present directors. There were old specimens, paintings and replicates of botanical books which are too fragile as real displays. Beakers and equipment used in laboratories lined the display at second level, and the staircase landing is also decorated by a magnificent chandelier made from beakers and test-tubes. Old pictures of the Holttum building often shows it pictured with an old kapok (silk-cotton) tree. Though not the flowering season yet, some of us were still thrilled to see the real giant tree and catch cotton fluff floating down from its crown.
The walk through the CDL Green Gallery was a quick one, and was preceded with a 5-min video of Singapore’s greening history. The current theme of the Gallery is “Living in a Garden” and will be changed once every five to nine months. A quick search from the Internet showed that the Gallery is designed to be an eco-friendly building with solar roof panels capable of supplying all the electricity required to operate the building. It also has Green Walls and energy efficient interior fittings. For its zero-energy effort, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) has awarded it with the BCA Green Mark Platinum status, highest tier for green buildings in Singapore.
The LAS Social and Programmes committee will like to thank NParks staff, Christina, Qiu Xian and Serena for allocating their time to host the event and making the educational trip a rewarding one. There was much to explore in the 2 hour visit and we will be back personally again, to learn of the rich history and explore the botany diversity of the SBG.
Reported by: Quek Tze Guek