Singapore Botanic Gardens – the first and only tropical botanic garden on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List

The Singapore Botanic Garden (SBG), a 74-hectare (183-acre) botanic garden in the central part of Singapore, is the only free-admission botanic garden in the world that opens from 5am to 12am daily (except for the National Orchid Garden within that charges an admission fee and opens from 8.30am to 7pm daily).  Now, SBG can proudly boast new “firsts” to its achievements, as it has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site at the 39th session of the World Heritage Committee (WHC) in Germany, Bonn on 4 July 2015!  Besides being the first & only tropical botanic garden on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List, it is the first in Asia & the third botanic gardens inscribed in the world following Orto botanico di Padova and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. 🙂

The idea of a national garden in Singapore started in 1822 when Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore & a keen naturalist, developed the first ‘Botanical and Experimental Garden’ at Fort Canning.  It was only in 1859 that the Gardens at its present site was founded and laid out in the English Landscape Movement’s style by an Agri-Horticultural society.  After 15 years, the Gardens was handed over to the British colonial government (in 1874) & a series of Kew-trained botanists saw the Gardens blossom into an important botanical institute over the following decades.

I have been to SBG on several occasions, but I don’t think I have ever felt bored from strolling in the gardens and enjoying the lush nature landscape.  So I will cover the areas that I have been to and aim to include those yet-to-be-discovered areas in the future below. 😉

Map of SBG, extracted from its official website

Map of SBG, extracted from its official website

With the opening of the Botanic Gardens MRT station (Circle Line) near its Bukit Timah Gate since 8 October 2011, getting to the gardens is more accessible than before.  That was the starting point of our morning walk on the most recent visit too.  We walked through the Trellis Garden & as we got nearer to the Eco Lake, we spotted the Black swan “strolling” on the grass, attracting many excited onlookers such as myself haha.  On another occasion when we visited, the Black Swan was enjoying itself on the lake. 😛

The Black Swan at Eco Lake

The Black Swan at Eco Lake

We continued our walk, east of the MRT station, passing by the Bougainvilleas & Foliage Garden near the Cluny Park Gate to reach the 1.5-hectare Evolution Garden – where the preserved, fossilised remains of real ancient trees stand.  This garden showcases the beginning of life on Earth & the earliest plant species, as well as how plants have evolved & adapted through the ages.


South of the Evolution Garden is the Fragrant Garden boardwalk, attracting numerous bees with its flower scents.  It is indeed living up to its name ya! 😉 Next to this is the 2.5-hectare Healing Garden displaying over 400 varieties of plants used medicinally.  It is laid out thematically relating to component parts of the body such as head, respiratory & reproductive systems.

Madagascar Periwinkle in the Respiratory & Circulatory Systems section

Madagascar Periwinkle in the Respiratory & Circulatory Systems section

Madagascar Periwinkle (长春花) is pretty common along the streets of Singapore isn’t it?  Now then I know that it has proven to be effective in treating leukemia & lymphoma, & traditionally used as a disinfectant, as well as to treat diabetes & hypertension.

Guess what fruit is this? ;)

Guess what fruit is this? 😉

The above photo actually shows a White Mulberry tree, also in the Respiratory & Circulatory Systems section.  It is native to China & the fruits are traditionally used to treat diabetes, coughs, wheezing, headaches, fevers & constipation.  There are many other plants in this garden but it’s better for you to visit the garden personally than to look at my photos right? Haha.  Do note that there is also a section for “poisonous” plants that treat specific ailments.

We took a breather at the Food Canopy next to the Raffles Building near Nassim Gate before continuing our walk towards the Symphony Lake & Orchid Plaza.  Spotted a Cannonball tree with large & brightly-coloured flowers in front of the al-fresco casual concept restaurant Casa Verde:


Looking at this Cannonball flower cheers me up, does it have the same effect on you? 🙂

The next highlight of the walk is to get on the Rain Forest boardwalk trail, home to the oldest remnants of primary rainforests in Singapore.  The 6.2-hectare rainforest is part of the original site of the Botanic Gardens founded in 1859 & more than 80% of its plant species are rare & endangered in Singapore.  It’s a shady & easy trail for everyone to enjoy. 🙂


As we exited from the Rain Forest, there is the Jelawai tree, 1 of the heritage trees native to SBG standing at 47m tall.  It is one of the tallest trees in the gardens & has been around for more than 150 years.  I can attest to the claim on its height, as I couldn’t even take a successful photo of the entire tree despite trying many different angles such as squatting down from a distance. 😛

The Jelawai Tree

The Jelawai Tree

Another iconic historical landmark is the Bandstand, an octagonal gazebo erected in 1930 & retained its original form over the years.  The site was initially a small hill, just 33m above sea level & the highest point at the Tanglin Core.  The hill was levelled off around the 1860s under the instructions of SBG’s first superintendent, so that regimental bands could perform on the site.  Although it is no longer a regular site for music performances, it has become a favourite wedding photo spot, with the ring of yellow rain trees adding to the charm of the site.  In fact we spotted a wedding ceremony happening the morning we were there.

The iconic Bandstand

The iconic Bandstand

Besides the wide variety of flora & fauna that one can see in SBG, there are also several lovely sculptures in the Sun Garden & Sundial Garden, commissioned & presented by David Marshall in the 1980s.


There is also the Frangipani Garden with a number of swings amongst the sweetly scented blooms, for visitors to relax on, & possibly to relive your childhood (at least we were excited when we saw the swings!) haha.

Finally, how could we leave SBG without visiting the Heritage Tembusu Tree, that is depicted at the back of the Singapore $5 note? 😉

The Heritage Tembusu Tree is so majestic that I have to take 2 photos to stitch them up for a complete view!

The Heritage Tembusu Tree is so majestic that I have to take 2 photos to stitch them up for a complete view!

The Heritage Tembusu Tree, located on the lawn overlooking the Swan Lake, is more than 150 years old, with a girth spanning more than 7.8m in circumference & standing tall at 30m, easily recognised by its signature lower branch.  Apparently, its flowering season occurs twice a year – usually in May or early June & October/November, & its creamy-white blooms will emit an alluring fragrance, especially in the late evening.  Since 2013, a fence was erected to deter visitors from treading on the area around the tree, unlike in the past when visitors could even sit on its lower branch for photo-taking.  The fence allows its roots to recover from the effects of soil compaction caused by years of heavy human traffic.

We left the SBG via the Tanglin Gate (upgrading in progress) after more than 3 hours in the lovely gardens.  This gate is at the other end of the SBG from where we started, opposite Gleneagles Hospital & located at the junction of Napier Road & Cluny Road.  It is accessible to the famous Orchard Road shopping belt, either by taking a bus at the bus stop in front of Gleneagles Hospital (2-3 bus stops away), or by foot if the weather permits.

There are other landmarks that I may have missed above, nonetheless I hope it has somehow aroused your interest in visiting the first & only tropical botanic garden on UNESCO World Heritage list, either as a first-time or repeat visitor? 😉

The inscription of SBG as a UNESCO World Heritage site is truly a marvellous jubilee birthday gift to Singapore as she celebrates her 50th birthday in 2015.  SBG will continue to play an important role as a leading tropical botanical institute and appealing place of interest to locals, as well as appeal to tourists who like to “hunt” for the UNESCO World Heritage sites around the world for a different experience.

This was written after the most recent visit to Singapore Botanic Gardens in June 2015.

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