Sri Lanka’s botanic gardens have a long and proud history, punctuated by
colonialism, and industrial change. Throughout this period the gardens
have continued to flourish, and the plant collections and herbarium
grown. Within the context of the 21st century, the gardens represent a
significant national asset for Sri Lanka.
Over 1.4 million people visit Sri Lanka’s botanic gardens every year.
And that is in addition to the 5% of the nation’s schoolchildren who
visit annually. As a profit-making public institution, employing almost
450 people, the National Botanic Gardens are uniquely placed to educate
by stealth, taking advantage of the pleasure and joy experienced by
visitors to share, gradually, our growing knowledge and expertise in
conservation, biodiversity, floriculture and sustainability.
A Brief History of Botanic Gardens in Sri Lanka
The history of the Royal
Botanic Gardens dates as far back as 1371 when King Wickramabahu III
ascended the throne and kept court at Peradeniya near Mahaweli Ganga.
Later, in the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinghe from 1747 to 1780 this
was made a Royal Garden and from 1780 – 1798 King Rajadhi Rajasinghe
resided therein, where a temporary residence was erected for him.
A vihare and dagoba were built in the reign of King Wimala Dharma which
was improved by King Rajadhi Rajasinghe. The vihare and dagoba were
destroyed by the English when they occupied Kandy. The famous historical
battle of Gannoruwa between Rajasinghe II and the Portuguese was fought
on the Northern side of the river. A priest resided here till the
Gardens were formed by Mr. Alexandar Moon in 1821 six years after the
final conquest of the Kandyan Kingdom.
In 1810 under the advice of Sir Joseph Banks a garden named Kew was
opened in Slave Island and Mr. William Kerr was appointed as its
Superintendent. In 1813 the garden was moved to Kalutara for the
reception of economic plants which could be cultivated there on a larger
scale than was possible at Slave Island. Kerr died in 1814 and under the
rule of his successor Mr. Alexander Moon this Garden was finally moved
to Peradeniya in 1821 as it was found to be favourable and better
adapted for the proposed Botanic establishment. The transfer of exotics
from the Kalutara Garden was made by successive Superintendents at least
up to 1843.
During Moon’s superintendence the opening of the Royal Botanic Gardens,
Peradeniya, can be said to have commenced though at first only the South
West portion of the Gardens was cleared and opened and it was mostly
planted with cinnamon and coffee. Moon published his “Catalogue of
Ceylon Plants” in 1824 in which was given the Botanical and native names
of 1,127 plants, indigenous to the island. After the appointment of Mr.
George Gardner in 1844 the institution started upon its more active
independent and useful existence that it has since maintained. Only 40
acres of the 147 acres were in cultivation when Gardner took charge and
the chief use made of the land was to grow jak, coconuts and vegetables
for sale by the Government Agent in Kandy. Gardner effected many
important improvements in the condition of the Gardens but his chief
work was the exploration of the country for the collection and
preparation of its flora. He died at Nuwara Eliya in 1849 and was
succeeded by Dr. Thwaites who for over 30 years maintained the Gardens
in a high state of efficiency, added largely to our knowledge of the
flora of the Colony and gave the establishment its world-wide
Thwaites was succeeded by Dr. Henry Trimen, under whose rule and capable
management the beauty and usefulness of the Gardens were very
considerably advanced. He established the Museum of Economic Botany,
opened branch Gardens at Badulla and Anuradhapura and began the
publication of his work, “The Flora of Ceylon” which however was
finished by Sir Joseph D. Hooker after Trimen’s death in 1896. In 1896
Trimen was succeeded by Dr. J.C. Willis and from that date a new
extension of scientific work took place. In the early years work was
mainly directed towards the introduction and acclimatization of useful
and ornamental plants but in later years activities developed towards
Economic botany and Agriculture and led to the development of the
Department of Agriculture in 1912. Mr. H.F. Macmillan who was appointed
Curator in 1895, was made the Superintendent of Botanic Gardens in 1912
and Mr. T.H. Parsons the Curator in 1914. During Macmillan’s
superintendence the Gardens were improved and extended and his great
work “A Hand Book of Tropical Planting and Gardening” was published.
Macmillan retired in 1925 and Mr. T.H. Parsons continued as Curator till
1945. Mr. D.M.A. Jayaweera who was appointed as the Superintendent in
1945 contributed a lot to our knowledge on medicinal plants and orchids
of Sri Lanka. Mr. D.T. Ekanayake who became the Superintendent in 1971
pioneered the floriculture in Sri Lanka. Mr. D.B. Sumithraarachchi, as
the Director National Botanic Gardens improved the condition of the
botanic gardens tremendously and conducted many useful taxonomic works
until leaving the gardens in 1998. Dr. D.S.A. Wijesundara assumed duties
as Director in December 1998 and served the gardens in that capacity
until August 2006.
In August 2006 the Department of National Botanic Gardens was
established and Dr. Wijesundara was appointed as the Director
General.Today, the responsibilities of Royal Botanic Gardens include the
management and development of Garden attached to the Kandy Official
residency of His Excellency the President and the maintenance of
religious and ancient trees.
Faunal Diversity of Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya
In addition to the wide diversity of plants, Royal Botanic Gardens,
Peradeniya have some interesting wildlife.
The Peradeniya Botanic Gardens are an excellent place for birds
watching. More than 80 species of birds can be seen here easily
including 10 endemic species and some rare migrant birds. It is one of
the good place to watch endemic birds like the Yellow-fronted Barbet,
Ceylon Small Barbet, Layards Parakeet, Sri Lankan Hanging parrot,
Pompadour Green Pigeon, Brown -capped babbler.
Also it is a good place to observe raptor birds. If you are lucky enough
you may see the rare Black eagle and the nesting behaviors of the White
bellied Fish eagle which has one of the biggest wingspan of Sri Lankan
The Royal Botanic Gardens are one of the best places to see butterfly
fauna and study their life circles. There are about 80 species of
Butterflies recorded here with 05 endemic species. Various kinds of
flowering plants and a vast collection of plant diversity are a source
of food and food plants of butterflies. On sunny days you will be able
to see Sri Lankan most beautiful and the largest butterflies like the
Endemic Ceylon Birdwing, Blue Mormon, Common Mormon, Common Rose,
Crimson Rose, Mime and Banded Peacocks flying all over the place.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are one of the best places to see butterfly
fauna and study their life cycles.
These are about 20 species of reptiles in Royal Botanic Gardens
including some endemic skinks.
Botanic Gardens offer a nice shelter for amphibians. More than 15
species of amphibians can be seen here including Ceylon caecilian (Icthyopis
glutinosus) which is considered as a ‘living fossil’.
Gardens are a good habitat of mammals of Sri Lanka as well. About 18
species of mammals are recorded from here. Sri Lanka flying squirrel (a
nocturnal rodent), Sri Lankan torque, Sri Lankan Palm civet and rusty
spotted cat are some of them.
Also you can observe a big colony of fruit bats (flying foxes) in the
arboretum of gardens.