For Singaporeans, the lush greenery and historic charm of the Singapore Botanic Gardens has made it a favourite spot for family picnics, wedding pictures, a walk or jog amid nature or just an escape to tranquillity.
But the 156-year-old Gardens, accorded the coveted status of a Unesco World Heritage Site yesterday, is so much more.
It is a place of research and conservation, giving home to more than 10,000 species of plants.
It has more than 1,200 species of orchids and about 2,000 hybrids housed mainly in its National Orchid Garden - making it the largest collection in the world.
It is also a site with 15 heritage buildings, including the 1921 Holttum Hall, now a museum but formerly a laboratory where orchid breeding and hybridisation techniques were experimented at.
It is also where 47 heritage trees remain preserved - including a Tembusu tree which is believed to be 200 years old.
Praising the Gardens, Germany's World Heritage Committee representative Birgitta Ringbeck pointed out that it has a variety of landscape features, plantings and buildings. That helps explain why the Gardens draws more than 4.4 million visitors annually, making it the most-visited botanic garden in the world. Leading US travel website TripAdvisor ranked it as the top park in Asia last year in its Travellers' Choice Awards.
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the 39th World Heritage Committee session in Bonn, Germany yesterday, the vice-president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (Icomos), Mr Alfredo Conti, noted that the site is home to living heritage.
"It is not an archaeological site or monument that doesn't change over time. There are plants and changes there, and there are people of the city who spend some hours of their week or weekend there. So those aspects related to life and to intangible components of heritage are also very important."
When the Botanic Gardens was founded : 1859
How big the Botanic Gardens is - about the size of 100 football fields : 74 ha
Different types of plants found there : 10,000+
Number of visitors every year : 4,000,000+
Dr Kishore Rao, director of Unesco's World Heritage Centre, said yesterday: "It is perhaps one of the most important botanic gardens in the world, reflecting a variety of values..."
Icomos, a Unesco-appointed panel that assessed the Gardens, praised it as an "exceptional example" of a British tropical colonial botanic garden in South-east Asia.
In a report released in May, Icomos also highlighted the pivotal role the Gardens played in the rubber trade in the region, as it was where rubber cultivation and extraction were perfected. Those advances led to Malaya producing half the world's latex harvest by 1920.
Icomos also said that the Gardens has played an integral role in the social history of Singapore, providing a backdrop for the lives of its residents for a continued sense of place and identity.
A green oasis in the middle of a highly urbanised city, the Gardens has played an integral role in the greening of Singapore over the years. National Parks Board chief executive Kenneth Er, who was in Bonn, said that Singapore has put in a lot of commitment and effort in keeping the city green and in doing so, retained and conserved the
Botanic Gardens. This he noted, was acknowledged by the World Heritage Committee.
"They also recognise how the Gardens has over the years contributed to the scientific research of botany and is recognised as a world institution for botanical research, particularly in the field of plant taxonomy," he said.
Among the effusive praise drawn from World Heritage Committee members, this one from Serbia stood out.
Its ambassador and Unesco delegate Darko Tanaskovic said: "The Singapore Botanic Gardens is encouraging proof of how men can re-create lost paradise, and of harmony between men and nature."