Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads

What I've Been Up To

Dunedin Botanic Garden

You’ve guessed it! It’s another blog post from my recent trip to New Zealand – this time all about the Dunedin Botanic Garden. The Botanic Garden is located at the northern end of central Dunedin, within walking distance of the city centre. I was lucky enough to visit on quite a sunny day with my colleague Hiral Naik from Save The Snakes. Rain was forecast but we didn’t see any which was a nice way to spend the day. Now I am fan of botanic gardens with my favourites including Cambridge and Singapore. I still need to visit Kew Gardens (despite it being quite close to home) so watch this space!

One of the signs welcoming you as you enter the Dunedin Botanic Garden

The Garden itself is 30.4 hectares (0.3 km<sup> 2 </sup>) in size with plants from all over the world, covering as many biomes as possible. It is quite interesting to see just how many familiar plants and animals inhabit the area that have been either purposely planted or released in New Zealand. I’m sure with their tight biosecurity these days that New Zealand would never allow such a Garden to exist in case any of the plants escaped captivity and took up home in the wilds of South Island. Despite this, as always it is great to be immersed in nature and to try to figure out where plant species have come from and which families they belong to (I’m no botanist so this is often a fruitless effort).

Some of the many cacti that were on display

Like many botanic gardens I’ve visited within the temperate zone, there were glass houses containing cacti/succulents in an artificially maintained arid environment. Now it’s been a long time since I was last surrounded by such a variety of cacti (the photo above doesn’t do it justice), it must have been the rooftop cacti bar at Singapore’s Changi Airport. If you haven’t been and you’re transiting through – be sure to check it out! Something that has always awed me is the many ways that nature solves a very similar problem or conversely how two organisms can evolve almost the same solution on opposite sides of the world. Botanic gardens are essentially zoos for plants and because they don’t move (in relation to animals) it’s easier to observe this convergent evolution up close.

Part of the tropical house – can you spot the banana plant?

My favourite part of any botanic garden is the tropical house. Whilst most people are there sweating profusely, to me it brings back memories of my times working in the tropics. Who doesn’t like being hot and sweaty in a humid jungle? In my mind, that feeling is associated with many things but the most important one is frogs. Unfortunately New Zealand only has 4 native frogs (and 3 introduced) and I was unable to see any of them whilst there. I guess that is just one of the reasons to go back another time! The other crazy thing about tropical plants is just how many of them have been cultivated as house plants. Next time you’re in the tropics, take a look around and think just how many of them you’ve seen in a garden centre. Maybe like me, you’ve probably got some around your house too!

You’d be tricked to thinking you were in the tropics with their small patch of rainforest

Aside from all the wonderful plants, there is also an aviary with everything from kaka to scarlet macaws. It was quite strange to see a collection of parrots from all over the world but as they’re quite noisy you hear them before you see them. The native species are part of conservation programmes or being rehabilitated whilst the exotic species are just there for show. Not far from the aviaries is the New Zealand Native Plant Collection which is pretty much what it says on the tin. One thing I will mention now is that the Botanic Garden is quite hilly which means that you get some amazing views of Dunedin and the surrounding areas. It also means that whilst you’re wandering around taking photos of plants and navigating the windy paths, you’re also getting a free workout.

You could spend all day at the Dunedin Botanic Garden and if you’re in the area I recommend you visit – after all it’s free. On top of all that, the amazing wildlife and the stunning scenery, there is the cafe. It’s called Croque-O-Dile In The Garden and as you may have already guessed, is crocodile themed. They also sell some amazing food (and tea) which was much needed after wandering around for hours. There is truly everything you could ever want there!


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