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The De Hortus Botanical Garden is apparently the oldest botanical garden in the world, being founded in 1638. It received many of its more exotic plants from the Dutch East India Company in the 17th and 18th century (this might explain the image of a ship on the shield, see left side of the gate).

It claims to house on its 1.2 hectacres about 4000 species (6000 plants), which is roughly 2% of all plant species known to man. Given the size of this garden which is not huge (and miniscule relative to the land surface of Earth), this could be the place on our planet with the highest diversity of plant life. Artificial biodiversity it is, but nevertheless an important one. There must be a lot more plant species that we have not yet recognized.

There are seven greenhouses and a shop. The main entrance to the garden and the shop are humble and un-commercial, a bit unexpected given the amount of touristy publicity it receives in brochures. They could definitely do better with the shop – there was hardly anything interesting to buy, unlike the Van Gogh museum. I do not remember seeing any crown jewels or any specimen of palm being marked as a crown jewel.

It was December and many of the plants had lost their leaves and resembled a scattering of dry brown sticks.  Some are not visible above ground, its presence only recorded by a plastic label next to a little disturbance in the soil. The pond was dark green – no sign of life. The giant leaves of what I presume must be lotus in the pond were used as ground cover to protect something. I can imagine what the place would look like in spring or summer.

For one of the critically endangered, it stays behind bars out of the reach of any rare plant snatchers or lovebirds who like to declare their affection on tree trunks. To the uninitiated me, it looked a bit like a Christmas tree or a source of palm fronds for Easter.

The greenhouses are wonderful. Below is the palmhouse.  This picture is taken from an elevated walkway inside the palmhouse. Many different sizes and shapes.

Another walkway, this one in the subtropical greenhouse.  My glasses and camera lens was completely fogged up when we entered the tropical greenhouse. The desert greenhouse was nice, dry and cool and it had the most unusual looking plants.  Some of them – I have seen in a greenhouse in Neuchatel where they had a special collection of plants from Madagascar.  I should do a post on these weird looking plants later.

There was a greenhouse full of butterflies. While there are lots of them, I can only see four different species.  I wonder if there is a biological reason for not having a greater diversity in the collection.

They are fluttering everywhere, feeding on flowers, cut fruits, or what I think must be some sugary water in little cups placed in the middle of a printed flower. I wonder if the butterflies are attracted (or fooled) by the print, or it is just really for the visitors.

This species is remarkable -part of the wing is transparent. Other than the lens in our eyes, I cannot think of any higher land animal whose body parts are transparent.

They also had a display case where they kept the caterpillars and rows of pupa.  I guess if the timing was right, we could have witnessed the emergence of a butterfly from its pupa.

I would like to revisit the garden in a warmer season. This place reminds me of Brooklyn Botantical Garden.  At its location surrounded by brick houses in a big city, this place resembles a cute neighborhood garden. The collection and its history has a lot of potential – it could use a bit more entrepreneurial spirit to make it an even better institution of the city.

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