Botanic Garden Re-Opens
This is Shirley Griffith. And this is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program EXPLORATIONS.
Today we tell about the United States Botanic Garden. This museum of living plants re-opened in Washington last week.
The trees on the Washington, D.C., streets have lost their leaves. The wind feels cold. Inside the United States Botanic Garden, however, the world is warm and colorful.
This glass house near the United States Capitol shows rare and beautiful plants from all over the world.
It re-opened December Eleventh after more than thirty-three million dollars worth of improvements. The work took four years.
The thin green leaves of fern plants seem to reach out to welcome visitors as they enter the building. Red poinsettia plants are everywhere to mark the season around the Christmas and New Year holidays.
About four-thousand plants are growing in the Botanic Garden. Experts have placed the plants in different areas designed to meet their special requirements. Each area has different environmental needs for the plants growing in it. Light from the glass covering high above fills all the areas. Modern equipment controls the temperature, water and other needs of each plant group. The equipment is all new. Seventy percent of the plants are new.
Federal and city officials say they are pleased that the United States Botanic Garden has opened again. They believe the new building will help bring more visitors to America's capital city.
The officials are probably correct. Thousands of people already have visited the re-designed Botanic Gardens. Comments of "ooh" and "ah" and "beautiful!" continually are heard throughout the building.
Visitors enter the plant-house through the Garden Court. They walk on a stonework floor past two narrow pools that shoot water into the air. Tall plants, trees and street lights line the area. They seem to watch over the visitors in the Garden Court.
Many people stop to examine and take pictures of the chocolate tree growing in the Garden Court. Its small white flowers grow into large pods – seed containers. Candy factories and other manufacturers of sweet foods and cooking supplies use these plants to make chocolate.
Botanic Garden workers have filled this area with many other plants. They include plants that provide olives, figs, almonds, plums, tea, coffee and rice. Like the chocolate tree, they are used to produce food and drink. Experts call them "economic" plants.
Visitors can see rare and threatened plants in the Endangered Plant area. Botanic Garden chief director Holly Shimizu says some of these plants are so rare they have no names. She explains how some of the plants got here. Officials at border areas have taken them away from people entering the United States. The people were trying to bring the rare plants into the country illegally.
The nearby Plant Exploration House shows modern relatives of plants collected long ago by Admiral Charles Wilkes. The famous explorer traveled around the world between Eighteen-Thirty-Eight and Eighteen-Forty-Two.
Among the collection are birds of paradise plants. They have yellow and blue flowers. These are not common flowers, however. Instead, they look very much like birds. One visitor said she expected the flowers to sing.
Waterfalls make a calming sound in the Orchid House at the Botanic Garden. Colorful orchid flowers grow directly from the rocks and trees in this area. They include some very rare orchids like the blue Vanda. Another kind of orchid has an unusual color of red. The color is so light that it appears almost white.
Adults praise the beauty of the flowers. Children, however, show more interest in the tropical pitcher plants in the Orchid House. These plants know when an insect is nearby. They trap the insects. Then, "The plants eat them all up ," as one young visitor said.
Some very useful plants are in the Medicinal Plant House of the United States Botanic Garden. For example, a sausage tree from Africa grows here. Earlier relatives of this plant provided the first material for a drug effective in treating breast cancer. And the black bean plant contains a substance that helps treat AIDS.
Plants called saw palmettos also grow in the Medicinal Plant House. They contain a substance that treats prostate cancer. Some people use oil from ginger plants like those that grow here. This oil is said to help cure stomach and tooth pain.
Stepping into the Palm House is like suddenly finding yourself in South America or southern Asia. This room holds a jungle – a thick forest. Designers have created it to look like a farm in a hot country, that is no longer used. A fallen tree forms a bridge through plants and palm trees. Nature is reclaiming the cleared farmland.
Light from outside shines on this thickly green world through the top of the Botanic Garden building. This glass covered area in the Palm Court is twenty-eight meters high. You can climb steps to see the palm trees and other growth from above.
From the heights, you can see silver rings that circle the bottoms of the royal palms. Brown fur covers part of trees called Teddy Bear palms. As you might expect, the bottle palms look like huge bottles used to hold liquids.
The World Desert House has cactus plants that are old, unusual or rare. The blue cycad cacti have sharp needles extending from them. These cycads are related to a plant Admiral Wilkes brought to Washington more than one-hundred-fifty years ago.
Some visitors express surprise about other plants here. They did not expect to see grasses, trees and flowering plants growing in this dry desert area of the Botanic Garden.
The nearby Garden Primeval contains plants that existed on earth more than a million years ago. One young visitor said it looked like dinosaurs should be walking among the fern plants.
The tradition leading to the present United State Botanic Garden began in Eighteen-Sixteen. At that time a cultural organization in Washington, D.C., proposed creating a special garden. This garden was to have plants from the United States and other nations.
Four years later, Congress established the garden of the Columbian Institute for the Promotion of Arts and Sciences. The plants were shown in an area west of the Capitol building until Eighteen-Thirty-Seven. The Columbian Institute stopped meeting that year. People in Washington, however, did not want to be without a garden.
In Eighteen-Forty-Two, Admiral Wilkes' group of explorers returned from the South Seas. The plants they had collected found a home in a specially built glass covered house. In late Eighteen-Fifty, workers moved the plants into a new structure on the place where the first garden had been. In Nineteen-Thirty-Three, the garden was re-established in its present main home. The building occupies a large piece of land at the foot of the Capitol building.
The United States Botanic Garden will continue to grow. A private organization called the National Fund for the United States Botanic Garden is raising money for a National Garden. It will be planted outside, to the west of the Botanic Garden building.
The new open-air garden will show unusual and useful plants that grow well in the area around Washington, on the east coast of the United States. An Environmental Learning Center will teach environmental sciences and the art of growing plant life.
Many special areas are planned for the new National Garden. A showcase garden will hold many kinds of trees, grasses, flowers and other plant life seen in America. The rose garden will contain more than two-hundred kinds of historical and modern roses. A butterfly garden will have plants that colorful butterfly insects like to visit. A children's garden will contain play areas.
Visitors praise the beauty of the rebuilt plant center. Chief director Shimizu, however, says the garden has other important purposes, too. One is the possibility for creating plant collections that are more scientific.
Mizz Shimizu also says the Botanic Garden provides a natural atmosphere where people can think, or just rest. She says looking at plant life helps heal the human spirit.
This Special English program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. The audio engineer was Mick Shaw. This is Steve Ember. And this is Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week at this time for another EXPLORATIONS program on the Voice of America.