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When we say Rio De Janeiro, we think of the wild and feverishly electric Brazilian Carnival. The image of the massive and iconic Christ The Redeemer high atop Corcovado mountain comes to our mind. We sway to the cool and jazzy tunes of “Girl from Ipanema” or “Copacabana,” songs that instantly transport us to white sand beaches with a margarita in our hand.
When we say Rio De Janeiro, we think of the beautiful men and women of Brazil. Here is a place where the people are exuberant and full of life. It’s a dizzying city that captures the joie de vivre of the Cariocas – the locals of Rio. But it is also gritty and has its own struggles with reality.
So when we say Rio De Janeiro, very rarely do we think of 130 acres of land tended to by scientists, botanists, and gardeners. We often peg this Latin American city to be exhilarating and active. What with the strip of party beaches and bars all around this large and bustling metropolis. But in the midst of all this lies one of the most important botanical research and biodiversity conservation institutes in the world.
Jardim Botânico: The Most Beautiful Garden in Rio
The year was 1807, and the Portuguese Royal Family had fled the Napoleon-led revolution in their land. With all that they could bring from their kingdom, they crossed the Atlantic towards Rio de Janeiro.
The family brought with them plants like nutmeg, pepper, and cinnamon – all imported from the Western Indies. But these spices weren’t acclimated to the temperatures and weather of Brazil. So in 1808, King John VI of Portugal founded the Jardim Botanico or Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden.
The Jardim is home to over 6,500 species of foreign flora collected from all over the world. It has numerous greenhouses and boasts of having the most complete library in the country on the topic of botany – housing 32,000 volumes. At some point, it even had a gunpowder factory located inside the garden!
Suvaco do Cristo
The Jardim Botânico is a large property located in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro. Surrounding the botanical garden is an upscale residential neighborhood of the same name.
During the famous carnival season, the streets of Jardim Botanico become one bloc where the parade passes through. The bloc appropriately calls itself “Suvaco do Cristo,” which translates to “Armpit of Christ.”
The park lies right at the foot of the Corcovado Mountain underneath the right armpit of Rio’s (and all of Brazil’s) most prominent landmark – the statue of Christ the Redeemer.
Avenue of Royal Palms and All The Sights To Behold
Contrast the hustle and bustle of the city with the majestic and towering palm trees of the botanical garden. The symmetry and stillness of the Avenue of Imperial Palm Trees is the quintessential image of Jardim Botanico.
The Avenue is a 750 meters path lined with 134 palm trees leading from the entrance into the gardens. All these giant palms (the highest goes up to 40 meters!) descended from one single tree – the Palma Mater. The trees were planted more than 200 years ago during the reign of the Portuguese Empire. At the end of the path, you will be greeted by the Fountain of Muses.
On a bright, beautiful day, enjoy the sound of water and the sight of four Greek muses on the fountain. It was made in Derby, UK, and was moved to the garden in 1895. They represent poetry, music, science, and art. Four pillars that the Jardim espouses all throughout the property.
The Frei Leandro lake is small considering the properties size, but it is full of majestic Victoria water lilies (Vitória-régia). These plants have giant green leaves that can grow up to 2 meters in diameter. They can carry a weight of up to 45 kilograms! Named in honor of Queen Victoria of England, these aquatic plants can bloom eye-catching flowers.
The garden has a specially dedicated area for Medicinal Plants. This is a highly recommended section because it helps you learn the different usage of plants in medicine and what it can do in our daily life. Exotic plants from the Amazon like the guarana or jambu are found here.
Walk around the section, and you will find herbs, garlic, coffee, and cacao. In The Orchid House, there are more than 2500 species of orchids. It is not only a visual tour here but also a sensory experience for your nose.
There are different themed tours that you can do by yourself. There is an ‘Art Route,’ which focuses on rare art pieces. The ‘History Route’ is a tour that highlights the archaeological sites, and the ‘Noble Trees Route’ educates you of the important tree species.
The Plants & Wildlife of Jardim
For the first 14 years of the garden, it was off-limits to everyone, with only the Royal Family enjoying the garden’s beauty privately. The Jardim was opened to the public in 1822.
Some plants then played significant roles in Brazilian history and culture. Chocolate lovers should know that the confection does not grow on trees but the fruit that makes chocolate does! Cacao cultivation in Brazil began around the 18th Century. The fruit is sweet and can be eaten fresh. The seeds inside are dried out, and this is used to make rich, bitter chocolate.
One yellow flower called Ipê Amarelo symbolizes Brazil. The tree only grows flowers after a long period of drought. Ipê is an indigenous word, and it means ‘a tree with strong bark.’
The park is also home to 140 species of birds who are accustomed to human interaction. There are hawks, Channel-billed toucans, rusty-margined guan, and more! You can also witness visits from Capuchin monkeys and tufted-eared marmosets.
The Jardim is indeed a place to relax and unwind. With its sheer size, it is not designed for a quick tourist tour. But instead, you need to leisurely stroll the well-manicured gardens and ponds. If you plan to visit, schedule a full day here. You won’t be able to see all of the Jardim, but rest assured, you will find peace amid nature here.
Enjoy these photos of vibrant and exotic plants. Jardim opens on Mondays from 12pm to 5pm. Tuesday to Sunday from 8am to 5pm.