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The Botanic Gardens of Macau

Volume 3 Number 2 - July 2006

Servi├žos de Zonas Verdes e Jardins

Macau is located on the southwest bank of the Pearl River estuary, Guangdong province, China. It is composed of the Macau Peninsula, Taipa Island and Coloane Island. Although its total area is only 27 km2, Macau has a population of almost half a million. Given this population density, with less than desirable urban greening and natural resources, the role of the Botanical Garden of Macau is important.

The history of botanic gardens in Macau starts with the "Flower Nurseries" during the Ming (AD 1368-1644) and Qing dynasties (AD 1644-1911) when westerners introduced many exotic plants.  During the 18th and 19th centuries, a wealthy Portuguese merchant rented his palace (now renamed the Camoes Garden) to the British East India Company. The garden of the palace was used to grow exotic plants before sending them to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, UK. The Camoes Garden is still running a tree nursery with an area of 4,500 m2 and has a large number of old trees such as Mimusops elengi, Artocarpus nitidus subsp. lingnanensis, Erythrina variegata and Syzygium cuminii. Another site called a botanic garden is the Flora Garden, which was used as a tree nursery by the Macau Governor Tomas de Sousa e Rosa in the 19th century. The Flora Garden is home to many unique and rare plants, such as Crescentia alata, whose leaf resembles the shape of a cross.

Currently the only sizeable botanical garden in Macau is the Seac Pai Van Natural Park on Coloane Island. The park covers a total area of 8,450 m2, and can be divided into six zones:

1. Medicinal Plant Garden

Developed in 1994 with an area of 550 m2, the Medicinal Plant Garden mainly holds traditional Chinese medicines collected from the wild and grown in trial grounds. The Garden has 137 species, which are divided into 17 categories based on the medicinal function of the plant. As the concept of "tonic tea" in the Guangdong region has a long history, many famous herbs are grown in the Garden. For example, the Garden has Dendranthema indicum, Plumeria rubra var. acutifolia, Lonicera macrantha and Bombax ceiba, which are the ingredients for the "Five Floral Tea"; as well as Schefflera heptaphylla, Ilex asprella and Eriobotrya japonica that are essential to make the "Twenty-Four Herbal Tonic Tea".  The Garden also has rare plants like Entada phaseoloides.

2. Garden of Exotic Plants

Covering an area of about 550 m2, the Garden of Exotic Plants, built in 1994, has 53 interesting plants, such as the "child-bearing" Kandelia obovata, the insect-eating Nepenthes mirabilis and Drosera spathulata, the energetic Mimosa pudica, Solanum mammosum with beautiful fruits, and Euphorbia tirucalli that can generate energy. 

3. Garden of Fragrant Flowers

Built in 1985, this Garden, also covers about 550 m2, is full of fragrant flowers with 32 species including Rosa multiflora, Jasminum sambac, Michelia figo, and Osmanthus fragrans. This collection of flowers gives the Garden both a pastel colour and a constant fragrance throughout the year. Visitors are welcome to experience the marvel of fragrance therapy in this peaceful environment.

4. Arboretum

In the 1980s, the extensive single-species plantation of Pinus massoniana on the outlying islands was devastated by the pest Hemiberlesia pitysophila which launched a large-scale reforestation project involving 421 ha.  The Arboretum, covering an area of 6,500 m2, was set up in 1986 and opened to the public in 1997. With over 100 tree species belonging to 40 families, this Arboretum is a gene bank for tree species in Macau.  It supplies a wide range of species for reforestation and some exotic species. Outside the Arboretum is a pond for people to enjoy fishing. Although the Arboretum's major objectives are scientific research and environmental education, it also provides nice scenery and recreation.

5. Pteridophyte Walk

The Pteridophyte Walk was built in 2001. Its aim is to conserve wild ferns in Macau by ex situ conservation and to cultivate ferns commonly used in Macau. There are 72 wild fern species in Macau, representing 3% of total fern species in China. The Pteridophyte Walk has 50 fern species.

6. Imported Plant Trial Zone

Also built in 2001, the Imported Plant Trial Zone has an area of about 300 m2. The Trial Zone has contacts with 176 scientific research organizations in 55 countries. So far over 100 plant species have been successfully introduced into cultivation. Most of the introduced plants are trees for pedestrian sidewalks or urban greening and medicinal and succulent plants.

Due to the limited land in the territory, it is important to make good use of the parks and gardens of Macau, while organizing complementary activities such as visits, study trips, seminars, ecotours and exhibitions on plants and horticulture. These scattered parks and gardens can form a powerful network for urban greening and the conservation of biodiversity in the city.