Botanic Gardens grows and gets a forest to call its own

ST VIDEO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
ST VIDEO: MELODY ZACCHEUS
Tanglin Secondary School students Casey Lim and Muhammad Nabil Ali joining PM Lee on the Canopy Web yesterday at the SPH Walk of Giants, an elevated boardwalk that is part of the Botanic Gardens' new Learning Forest. The forest will be a new zone for
Tanglin Secondary School students Casey Lim and Muhammad Nabil Ali joining PM Lee on the Canopy Web yesterday at the SPH Walk of Giants, an elevated boardwalk that is part of the Botanic Gardens' new Learning Forest. The forest will be a new zone for the conservation of rare flora.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking at the official opening of the Learning Forest, a new conservation core of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, on March 31, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking at the official opening of the Learning Forest, a new conservation core of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, on March 31, 2017.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong planting Singapore Kopsia (Kopsia singapurensis) tree at the Learning Forest of Singapore Botanic Gardens on March 31, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong planting Singapore Kopsia (Kopsia singapurensis) tree at the Learning Forest of Singapore Botanic Gardens on March 31, 2017.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
PM Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, at the opening of Singapore Botanic Gardens Learning Forest on March 31, 2017.
PM Lee Hsien Loong and Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, at the opening of Singapore Botanic Gardens Learning Forest on March 31, 2017.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the elevated walkway at the Keppel Discovery Wetlands in the Learning Forest of Singapore Botanic Gardens on March 31, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on the elevated walkway at the Keppel Discovery Wetlands in the Learning Forest of Singapore Botanic Gardens on March 31, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Mass tree planting at the Keppel Discovery Wetlands in the Learning Forest of Singapore Botanic Gardens on March 31, 2017.
Mass tree planting at the Keppel Discovery Wetlands in the Learning Forest of Singapore Botanic Gardens on March 31, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Learning Forest made accessible to public with rope beds, boardwalks

For more than 100 years, a wild swampy forest with towering trees grew right next to the Botanic Gardens. Few ventured into the dense marsh.

Now, anyone can walk in the shadows of the giant sentinels with the help of boardwalks, and even lie across a rope bed to gaze into the green canopy above.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday opened the Jurassic Park-like forest, which will now be part of a larger Botanic Gardens - making it the first botanic garden in the world to incorporate freshwater wetlands and lowland forest.

It is also the only place in Singapore where the public can experience the two habitats together.

Called the Learning Forest, the $30 million project, 21/2 years in the making, will be a new zone for the conservation of rare flora. It is now home to 700-plus species of plants, up from 100 originally.

It could also take some pressure off the inscribed heritage core of the Gardens, which was named a Unesco site in 2015, by spreading visitors across the larger space and creating a buffer against urban developments nearby. The size of 15 football fields, the 10ha Learning Forest more than doubles the rainforest area in the Gardens to 16ha.

Mr Lee said the new attraction builds on the 158-year-old Gardens' legacy of conservation and improvement. He noted: "Planting a garden or forest is the work of decades. Today, the tall trees you see around us are decades, sometimes centuries old. Many of the trees in the Learning Forest are still young. But gradually, year by year, they will grow and mature. In the fullness of time, they will enrich our natural heritage."


PM Lee and Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Finance, at the boardwalk at the SPH Walk of Giants in the Learning Forest of Singapore Botanic Gardens on March 31, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI


Leung Zhi Ying (left) from Nanyang Girls' High School sharing plants information with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Botanists' Boardwalk in the Keppel Discovery Wetlands at the Learning Forest on March 31, 2017. The plant between them is the Ridley's Bamboo (Gigantochloa ridleyi). ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The National Parks Board (NParks) took reference from 19th century maps and geological surveys to shape the space.

Within it lie giant pandans, pulai trees with swollen buttress roots and sandy banks lined with pelawan trees. The forest is also a refuge for animals commonly found in the freshwater wetland ecosystem, such as the Malayan box terrapin, crab-eating frog and stork-billed kingfisher.


PM Lee walking with Mr Kenneth Er, CEO of NParks, at Keppel Discovery Wetlands in the Learning Forest on March 31, 2017. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI


Mass tree planting at the Keppel Discovery Wetlands in the Learning Forest of Singapore Botanic Gardens on March 31, 2017.  ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

 

NParks founding chief executive and Gardens by the Bay CEO Tan Wee Kiat told The Straits Times that most botanic gardens in the world are shrinking or closing. He said: "In this case, not only are we expanding, but we are enriching it with a habitat that was here that has a wealth of species that you won't find outside of South-east Asia."

The Learning Forest also has the approval of Nature Society president Shawn Lum, who said it has added diversity to the Gardens while increasing public awareness.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2017, with the headline 'Botanic Gardens grows and gets a forest to call its own'. Print Edition | Subscribe