Going to France this year?

Going to France this year?

Garden Amusement Park You can find it in Angers, France TEXT BY LYNSEY EIDELL  AT CONDÉ NAST TRAVELER Posted May 31, 2017 Courtesy of Terra Botanica Green thumbs might want to consider booking a trip to France soon, because a garden-themed amusement park is now open in the western city of Angers. Terra Botanica, the plant-inspired attraction, combines the beauty of flora and fauna with the excitement and thrills of a typical theme park. Located about two-and-a-half hours from Paris, the lush amusement park is an earth science class on steroids. Naturally, there are thousands of plants to explore—275,000 different plant species, to be exact. The vegetation can be explored in a variety of ways: through the extreme climate greenhouses (the mist greenhouse alone features more than 2,000 different types of orchids), down one of several themed paths (such as “On the Spice Road”), or within the “smart” garden (that teaches how to solve common gardening problems). But making the experience more exciting for both budding botanists and gardening novices alike are the rides and attractions. (Think Disney meets the botanical gardens.) There’s a hot air balloon ride that provides an aerial view of the entire park. There’s a “Journey in a Nutshell,” which is exactly as it sounds: a ride where you sit in a half nutshell and travel throughout the park’s treetops. There’s a hologram experience, a 4-D adventure, and a trip down the Loire in a miniature barge. The park even throws in some Jurassic Park vibes with its Origins of Life garden—where the occasional T. rex that might pop out. Check out some of the photos, below: Courtesy of Terra Botanica Courtesy of Terra Botanica Courtesy of Terra Botanica Courtesy of Terra Botanica Terra Botanica is open every day except Saturday, and tickets start at €12 Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new...

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Some Sacred Trees and Flowers of Sri Lanka

Some Sacred Trees and Flowers of Sri Lanka

Regretfully this is the last in the series of Sri Lanka’s flora. Perhaps Leonie and Margaret should start planning another venture to some exotic part of the world!  E.T. Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones. Photographs: Margaret Richards. The spreading Sacred fig (Ficus religiosa) or Bodhi tree is the tree that plays the most important role in the spiritual and cultural life of the Buddhists in Sri Lanka, and is found at every Buddhist temple. This is because Buddha is believed to have attained enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree, which serves as a symbol of and living link with that moment. The shrine (stupa) – the universal Buddhist architectural symbol – echoes the shape of an inverted Bodhi leaf, with its distinctive tip. Many of the island’s specimens have been grown from cuttings taken from the great Bodhi tree at the ruined ancient city of Anuradhapura. This is one of Sri Lanka’s most sacred sites as the tree is believed to have been grown from a cutting taken from the actual tree in India at Bodhgaya under which the Buddha meditated. The tree is in the centre of a large and elaborate enclosure, festooned with prayer flags and dotted with dozens of younger Bodhi trees. Pilgrims flock to this site all year round to make offerings. Another sacred tree is Sri Lanka’s national tree, the Na tree (Mesua ferrea) or Ironwood. Buddhists believe that the next Buddha will attain enlightenment under this tree. Its young leaves are bright red but mature to a deep green. Its fragrant white flowers are given as offerings in Buddhist temples and oil made from its seeds is used for lighting temple lamps. The oldest man-made forest in Sri Lanka, near Dambulla in the hill country, consists mainly of ironwood trees descended from trees planted in the 8 th century AD. The Ashoka tree (Saraca asoca), a small evergreen rainforest tree with bunches of fragrant orangey-yellow flowers which contrast strikingly with its glossy dark green leaves, is considered sacred throughout Sri Lanka, India and Nepal. It is thought that Buddha was born under an Ashoka tree and it is often planted at Buddhist monasteries. It also represents the God of Life in the Hindu faith. This tree (Ashoka means ‘without sorrow’ in Sanskrit) has many medicinal qualities. The Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is the sacred flower of Buddhism. The Lotus grows best in still, muddy ponds and when mature produces exquisite blossoms which rise above the surface – analogous to the enlightened person who lives in the world of ignorance and craving and yet rises above it to become pure and beautiful. Lotus flowers are standard decorative elements in Buddhist temples, often painted on ceilings and...

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Tea and Spices

Tea and Spices

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones Photos: Margaret Richards Accustomed as we are to seeing tea in little square bags or as dry black leaves, it was a wonderful experience to walk amongst waist-high bushes covered in glossy evergreen leaves with serrated edges – Camellia sinensis – otherwise known as Ceylon tea. Tea has been the staple drink of the Chinese for centuries, but it was only after the collapse of Sri Lanka’s coffee trade in the mid-nineteenth century that tea plantations were established there.  Fortunes were soon made by the colonial planters and speculators who flooded into the island and vast swathes of hill-country jungles were cleared to make way for new tea estates. Tea production remains an important part of Sri Lanka’s economy today and is still a labour-intensive and low-tech industry.  Plucking the leaves is done by hand, mostly by women, who fill large sacks. The youngest two leaves and bud are picked from the end of every branch. We saw very few flowers on the bushes as the constant plucking encourages the plant to produce more leaf buds.  After plucking, the leaves are dried and then crushed for about half an hour – a process which releases juices and enzymes and triggers fermentation. This is a crucial element in determining the quality of the tea and appears to be a closely guarded secret between competitors – reminding us of the mystique surrounding wine production! After sufficient fermentation is deemed to have taken place, the tea is fired in an oven to prevent further fermentation. The tea is then graded into an endless permutation of forms and flavours, after which it is tasted by highly specialised tea tasters before being sent for auction. Orange Pekoe is the top quality tea, with the leaves intact, whereas the fragments and dust are used for tea bags.   Sri Lanka is of course noted for its spices and we found it fascinating to walk through little settlements where nutmeg, clove and cinnamon trees were growing.  These spices can also be gathered and prepared without complicated machinery. We saw cloves being dried in the sun on mats outside little homesteads and learnt that they are actually the aromatic flower buds of the Syzigium aromaticum, a tree in the Myrtle family and relative of our Waterbessie (Syzigium cordatum). Nutmeg trees (Myristica fragrans) have fruit that looks rather like apricots, which when ripe splits into two halves exposing a purplish-brown shiny seed – the nutmeg;  covered by a net-like red leathery outer growth called aril – the mace. The fruit is opened by hand, the aril (mace) removed and flattened by hand and put on mats to dry in the sun for two to four...

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Flowering trees in Sri Lanka

Flowering trees in Sri Lanka

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman-Jones Photographs: Margaret Richards In the lush tropical paradise that is Sri Lanka, there are numerous flowering trees from all over the world growing with great exuberance. One we were particularly interested to see was the beautiful Spathodia campanulata or African flame or tulip tree, which grows in the jungle and reaches almost three times the height of those growing at the Knysna Waterfront. This tree actually originates in tropical Africa but grows well in tropical or semi-tropical areas throughout the world. We were told that the early British managers of tea plantations in Sri Lanka’s hill country planted them near their bungalows as they believed they were a deterrent to mosquitoes! Apparently it was believed that mosquitoes would stick to the nectar of the spectacular orangey-red flowers. Whether this actually was the case or not, it has resulted in this stunning tree brightening the landscape of the tea-growing areas. Another foreign flowering tree seen in the Kandy botanical gardens is the Rose of Venezuela (Brownea grandiceps), with its magnificent almost spherical crimson inflorescence. The inflorescence can be up to 20cm wide and hangs from the underside of the main branches. It remains attractive for several weeks, as although the individual flowers only remain open for four days, they open in succession. Surprisingly this tree belongs to the pea and bean family. It grows naturally in the understorey of Amazonian rainforests where it can reach 20 metres in height. The Pride of Burma (Amherstia nobilis), is another stunning tree, with crimson, orchid-like flowers hanging from a long stalk. This tree is now rare in the wild where it grows in dry evergreen forests. The genus is named after Lady Sarah Amherst (1762-1838), who lived in Calcutta in the 1820s where her husband was Governor-General of Bengal. She is an example of an upper-class English woman who was able to indulge her interest in botany through her position as a diplomatic wife. Incidentally she also had a beautiful multi-coloured Burmese pheasant named after her – Lady Amherst’s pheasant (Chrysolophus amherstiae) which she introduced to Bedfordshire! The curious Canon-ball tree (Couroupita guianensis) originates in the rain forests of Central America. We were warned not to walk under this tree, as its large, round and heavy fruit could cause an injury to innocent passers-by when it suddenly falls to the ground with a loud crash. The large unusual fragrant yellow and pink flowers are very popular as offerings at Buddhist shrines and temples and the trees are often found growing round Buddhist temples in both Sri Lanka and Thailand. Hindus also regard the flowers as sacred and the tree is commonly found growing near Shiva temples in India. Several trees are...

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Exploring Sri Lanka

Exploring Sri Lanka

Article: Leonie Twentyman-Jones, Photos: Margaret Richards. How magical it was to travel through a country where there is abundant water, friendly, kind and gentle people (somewhat bemused nevertheless by seeing ‘mad’ white people walking through their villages, along fertile meticulously terraced vegetable beds and rice paddies and in amongst tea plantations, when they could have travelled in the ubiquitous three-wheeled ‘tuk-tuk’),  and surrounded by luxuriant vegetation. We came home with wonderful memories full of intense colours – vibrant greens, blues, purples, oranges and yellows, and all shades of red from deep carmine to delicate pink – reflected in their plants and birds, and echoed in the fabrics worn by the people as well as their brightly painted homes. The Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens near Kandy, capital of the Hill Country, and the largest and finest gardens in Sri Lanka, covering almost 150 acres, give one a wonderful overview of the local and foreign plant and tree species which flourish in the country. The history of the site dates back to 1371 when an early Kandyan king built his royal residence there. During the 18th century a later king established a pleasure garden for the nobility and after the last Kandyan king was defeated by the British in 1815, the gardens were transformed into a botanical garden. They were developed and expanded by various 19th century British botanists including Dr Henry Trimen, the younger brother of Dr Roland Trimen, zoologist and head of the South African Museum in Cape Town in the 1870s. During the 20th century their work was continued and further developed by noted Singhalese botanists. Highlights of the gardens include an orchid house filled with more than 300 different species; over 200 species of palms including three magnificent palm avenues; a spice garden including cinnamon, pepper, cardamom and some of the oldest nutmeg trees planted in 1840 and still bearing fruit, as well as all spice and bay leaf trees; a bamboo collection including the giant bamboo of Burma (Dendrocalamus giganteus) whose new shoots grow about 30cm each day; a beautiful flower garden with a border of striking coleus varieties; a lake covered in different varieties of water lilies, including the Blue water lily (national flower of Sri Lanka) with Nile papyrus along its edge; the Great lawn with an enormous Java Fig tree (Ficus benjamina) in its centre ; and numerous trees from all over the world, including some spectacular flowering trees like the Rose of Venezuela (Brownea grandiceps). What a special garden for both locals and visitors to enjoy.     Share this:Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in...

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Discovering Mangrove Swamps

Discovering Mangrove Swamps

Contributor: Leonie Twentyman Jones Until fairly recently I have thought of mangrove swamps as being rather menacing, dark tangled places in the tropics, inhabited by alligators slithering over the mud, runaway fugitives  or maybe a hideaway for pirates – no doubt  fuelled by reading thrillers or adventure stories set in the Florida Everglades or Caribbean islands. I had no idea that two of the most southern mangrove swamps in Africa are found in estuaries along our Transkei coast. Far from being menacing they are essential for a healthy marine ecology. Like the Knysna salt marshes they are part of an elaborate food chain and provide a safe nursery for young fish and other intriguing creatures, like the mudskipper. Mudskippers are amphibious fish, so when the tide goes out they skip over the mud-flats in search of food using their sturdy pectoral fins as legs. Mangrove swamps play an important role in protecting coastlines from storm damage as the trees and their roots decrease the effect of wind and wave action. In the Umngazana River mouth we saw three different species of mangrove trees all growing densely packed together – the white, black and red mangroves.   Each has evolved different ways of surviving in soils that are regularly waterlogged, airless and loaded with salt. High tides bring marine aquatic and estuarine conditions, while low tides expose the mud and roots to aridity, heat and desiccation. The White mangrove (Avicennia marina) is a pioneer tree, among the first to colonise open tidal habitats, later being restricted to the more inland parts of the swamp where conditions are at their most extreme. It has ‘pencil’ or breathing roots which stick up through the mud round the tree. These help to trap silt and stabilise the substratum. The trees provide shade so that other mangrove species can germinate. The White mangrove can exude excess salt through its leaves. The seeds germinate on the tree, so what is dropped and dispersed are actually seedlings which root quickly when they are washed ashore. The Black mangrove (Bruguiera gymnorrhiza) grows behind the White mangrove on the inner side of the swamp where the soil is slightly drier and there is shade for its seedlings. It has elbow or knee-like roots protruding from the mud in order to obtain air. The tree gets rid of excess salt by depositing it in its leaves, which turn yellow, drop off and are immediately grabbed by the Red Mangrove crabs to drag them into their burrows to eat. Incidentally the crabs are a favourite food of the Mangrove Kingfisher! Fruit also germinates on the tree developing into a long cigar-shaped hypocotyl, so that what falls from the tree is a...

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