Beginning as a simple garden in the backyard of the Dutch governor general’s official home in 1817, the Bogor Botanical Garden has now transformed into one of Southeast Asia’s largest centers for conservation. It is located right in the heart of Bogor, reaffirming its function as the city’s lungs and a public oasis for the locals who long for open green spaces.
The faces of Aira, 7, and Fahri, 4, were full of smiles. They ran after each other and laughed every now and then. Their mother Dina Yulita, 35, accompanied them that day, watching them run around on the green grassy field at the Bogor Botanical Garden in West Java.
“Compared to 15 years ago, the botanical garden is much more organized these days,” said South Jakarta resident Dina on Thursday (18/5/2017). Limited green space in the capital forces Dina to take her children to Bogor, which is quite far away, just so they can play freely outside.
The Bogor Botanical Garden is one of the city’s major icons. On Thursday, the garden, built under the initiative of German botanist GCG Reinwardt, was 200 years old.
If in the past the botanical garden was used to collect plants from all over the archipelago and to introduce foreign vegetation to the local environment, now the botanical garden must be transformed into an ecotourist destination and a place for locals to enjoy the great outdoors.
“Better management makes many people want to come to the botanical garden, either to exercise or just relax,” said Bogor resident Jakadhi Dharmaputra, 23.
Every day, the garden receives between 1,000 and 1,500 visitors. On weekends, the number of visitors can be 10 to 15 times larger. Limited parking space results in buses and cars being parked on the streets surrounding the park, inducing headaches among locals.
Better management makes many people want to come to the botanical garden, either to exercise or just relax.
To resolve this problem, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences’ Botanical Garden Vegetal Conservation Center (PKTKR LIPI), the botanical garden’s management body, will cooperate with the Bogor administration and the Public Works and Public Housing Ministry to construct a parking building on the site of the Bogor Market.
“Better management at the garden increases hotel occupancy rates in the area,” Bogor Mayor Bima Arya Sugiarto said. The presence of the botanical garden has also boosted the local economy and supported regional revenue (PAD).
For environmentalists, the Bogor Botanical Garden supplies clean air, obstructs surface water flow and provides clean water. However, for researchers, the garden is a valuable treasure trove of biological wealth and knowledge.
A number of Indonesia’s current major commodities, including oil palm, rubber, tea, quinine and vanilla, were first introduced into the archipelago at the botanical garden. “It was also at the botanical garden that auxin, the growth hormone on plants, was first found in 1926,” LIPI head Iskandar Zulkarnain said.
It is also at the Bogor Botanical Garden that a number of rare vegetation specimens have successfully been bred, including the Amorphophallus titanium and Rafflesia patma from West Java. The Bogor Botanical Garden is recorded as the only place where the R patma can be cultivated outside of its original habitat. The garden is also home to various plants with high potential, including ornamental plants as well as plants with food, energy and medical potential.
More plants are continuously added to the botanical garden’s collection, including monopodials, herbariums and cereals. Its biological wealth makes the Bogor Botanical Garden influential in Southeast Asia, along with the Singapore Botanical Garden.
Now, the 87-hectare Bogor Botanical Garden has over 12,000 plant specimens. The garden also serves as an example for the development of regional botanical gardens across Indonesia.
Nevertheless, the work at the botanical garden is far from finished. “Many plant species have yet to be added to the collection,” PKTKR LIPI palm researcher Joko R Witono said. Out of the 1,000 types of palm in Indonesia, only 570 have been named. Researchers are in a race against time. Many forests have yet to be explored. On the other hand, many original habitats for plants have been destroyed due to deforestation and natural disasters.
The garden only has around 500 orchid species. “Many of the Indonesian orchids that have yet to be recorded are thought to be extinct,” PKTKR LIPI orchid researcher Sofi Mursidawati said.
Only 24 percent of the 118 types of plant in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) red list are conserved in botanical gardens across Indonesia. It is hoped that the presence of regional botanical gardens will boost efforts to rescue rare plants.
President Joko Widodo encourages regional governments to develop botanical gardens. This can be done by provincial or city/regency administrations, especially those outside Java, with an adequate amount of land.
The encouragement was expressed by Presidential Chief of Staff Teten Masduki at an event commemorating the Bogor Botanical Garden’s 200th anniversary. Present during the commemoration event was Indonesian Botanical Garden Foundation chairwoman and the nation’s fifth president, Megawati Soekarnoputri.
The presence of regional botanical gardens is important, considering Indonesia has exceptionally high biodiversity and diverse ecosystems. From the 33 botanical gardens currently in operation and being initiated, LIPI hopes to see 47 botanical gardens in operation by 2030.
This, however, is not an easy matter as establishing botanical gardens requires strong commitment from regional governments, including in the provision of land without any legal issues and the provision of managers and researchers.
The development of botanical gardens is a long-term investment. The true benefit for locals can only be seen after a long period of time – far longer than any term of political office. Nevertheless, considering the huge benefits, the development of botanical gardens must be encouraged and prioritized.