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GardenSMART Episode

Show #26/5213. de Hortus Botanicus

Summary of Show

Amsterdam
If a city could be a museum AMSTERDAM would win global awards. With its tapestry of canals, gabled buildings, and free spirit this mandated capital of the Netherlands has always attracted travelers and tourists.
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Glass House
Petra explains - There are three climates in the GLASS HOUSE. They are presently in the subtropical climate and it has a collection of South African plants. That's because the Dutch East company went, in the past, in the golden ages, to Indonesia and Asia to get spices. They would go around Africa and made sort of a little colony to rest in the neighborhood of Cape Town. There they found a lot of plants that most had never seen.
For More Information Click here

Pelargonium
The next area they visit has a whole group or collection of PELARGONIUM. They are very nice smelling plants. Petra shows Eric a leaf. It has a lot of oil and smells great, like peppermint. If you wrap it then you can really smell it, like peppermint.
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Convergent Evolution
We next visit the succulent or the cactus house. It's a wonderful collection with an incredible amount of diversity. They certainly have a lot of plants that are surviving in very arid areas. They are very proud on this glass house because it was designed a couple of years ago by a landscape architect and he wanted specially to point out CONVERGENT EVOLUTION. We have here plants from Africa and from Madagascar, the rest are plants from America. Petra tells us this because the plants are lookalikes.
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Quiver Tree
Eric wonders what are some of Petra's favorites? Her favorite is definitely the QUIVER TREE. It's from Namibia, the desert in Namibia and actually it's not a tree, it's not woody. The branches are a little bit empty and the people from the desert make sort of quivers from it for their arrows.
For More Information Click here

Euphorbia
Petra next shows us a Tuin Thijs or EUPHORBIA. It's a big family that comes from Africa. It's nice because it will have spines, leaves and flowers all together in one time. A nice little plant from Madagascar and in the leaves there is a sort of white latex. It's poison so it's to defend itself from animals. It's sometimes called Christian thorn, the thorn of Christ or crown of Christ.
For More Information Click here

Stinging Nettle
And the plant in it also has a very interesting story. It's a relative of the STINGING NETTLE but it's even more intense. It's the Gympie Gympie from Australia and it burns your skin, there is poison in it and it burns your skin. It's very, very painful and that's why they put it in glass because it's terrible.
For More Information Click here

Winti Winti
Petra points out a flowering plant. It's a sort of begonia. It's a special plant in the Voodoo religion from Suriname called WINTI WINTI. This plant now is threatened in the forest because they took a lot for their religion purposes. Of course, begonia is a very important annual you can buy in almost every garden center in the U.S. This species comes from a botanical source deep down in the forest. It's a very rare one, a Begonia Glabra.
For More Information Click here

Snippendaal Garden
The next garden is unusual. In the 1638 Johannes Snippendaal was appointed to design this medical garden. At that time Amsterdam needed apothecaries and because of increasing population the city council decided to make a medicinal garden. SNIPPENDAAL was chosen to design this garden as a place for medicinal plants. The intent was to make a herbal garden to not only grow herbs but also for education for apothics, pharmacists and doctors.
For More Information Click here

Horseradish
Petra shows us HORSERADISH, it's a quite an important medical plant. They use the roots. It's now flowering, you see from the flowers it's in the Brassicaceae family. It's important for vitamin C. In medieval times it was used to treat various diseases. They would take the root shave it, it's a strong taste. It's a wonderful culinary plant. Horseradish is used in many, many sauces.
For More Information Click here

Belladonna
Eric noticed in the other corner of the garden BELLADONNA is growing and that's a plant that he thinks has a fascinating story. The Atropa belladonna will actually have blackberries on it. They are used in liquids for eye surgery. They will drop the liquid in the iris and the iris will grow so you can better see, so doctors can better see.
For More Information Click here

Garden History
A very important part of the mission of de Hortus is education and the greenhouse we next visit was built for the purpose of bringing in school children, folks from the community and teaching them about plants and teaching them about the garden and as well about the GARDEN HISTORY. Petra wants to go back to 1682. There were two important guys, Joan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen II and Jan Commelin. Huydecoper was a manager in the East India Trading Company and Mayor of Amsterdam for 13 terms between 1673 and 1693. Commelin was a trader, a botanist, a professor of botany who was responsible for the importation of many plants imported from the Cape and Ceylon.
For More Information Click here

Palm House
Petra and Eric next visit the PALM HOUSE. They are very proud on this palm house. It was built 100 years ago for Hugo de Vries. Hugo de Vries was the director of the garden, he was a Dutch botanist and one of the first geneticists, chiefly know for suggesting the concept of genes, rediscovering the laws of heredity. He was known internationally because of his research into the mutation of the evening primrose, that beautiful flower with stunning yellow flowers.
For More Information Click here

Eastern Cape Giant Cycad
One of their biggest container plants is the EASTERN CAPE GIANT CYCAD or Encephalartos altensteinii. 300 years ago it came here from the Cape by ship. They purchased it from the collection of King William II. He had a palace, a winter palace, with very nice, exotic plants, some of the oldest from the western world.
For More Information Click here

Cinnamon Tree
Eric and Petra move on. Eric comments that they are now standing under the shade of a beautiful CINNAMON TREE. It too is a pretty old specimen. Correct? Yes it's true. It was planted by Hugo de Vries several hundred years ago so it's an old one.
For More Information Click here

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Show #26/5213. de Hortus Botanicus

Transcript of Show

In this Episode GardenSMART visits a 500 year old garden right in the heart of Amsterdam and gets a look into their history as well as their amazing plant collection. A lot of history and a lot of great plants.

If a city could be a museum AMSTERDAM would win global awards. With its tapestry of canals, gabled buildings, and free spirit this mandated capital of the Netherlands has always attracted travelers and tourists. With world class museums, quirky festivals, theater, live music, laid back bars, and delightful restaurants there's never a shortage of things to do in Amsterdam.

GardenSMART will spend the day with Petra at de Hortus Botanicus. It was founded in 1638 by the city to serve as an herb garden for doctors and apothecaries. It is situated right in the very center of the city and is home to a collection of plants that is quite unique. Don't let the size of the garden fool you, nearly 4,000 species of plants call this sanctuary home.

Eric meets Petra and thanks her for joining us. Petra welcomes Eric and GardenSMART and makes the point that we're in Amsterdam, in the center of the city. De Hortus Botanicus is one of the oldest gardens in Europe. In 1638 it started as a medical garden and now is a hotspot for tourists. It's been nearly a decade since Eric was last here and every time he visits he finds it's such an amazing place with incredible diversity. He knows Petra has certainly got some wonderful, new collections to show. The weather is fine, a lot of flowering right now so let's get started.

Petra explains - There are three climates in the GLASS HOUSE. They are presently in the subtropical climate and it has a collection of South African plants. That's because the Dutch East company went, in the past, in the golden ages, to Indonesia and Asia to get spices. They would go around Africa and made sort of a little colony to rest in the neighborhood of Cape Town. There they found a lot of plants that most had never seen. So it was quite interesting because at that time plants were sought because of research, science, trade, but also for prestige because rich people did like to have some beautiful, exotic plants in their gardens or their plant houses. What are some South African plants in this beautiful structure? They have bird of paradise but also belagonion and a lot of lilies and gladiola. They are from South Africa. What are some of the other really unusual plants in this collection? Petra would like to show the waterblommetjie, it's a South African name for a little water plant. They use it in a stew and it's also very ornamental. Eric imagines that there are a lot of culinary plants that have come out of the Dutch East India Trading Company as they were collecting herbs and spices and bringing those back to Europe. So a lot of really interesting plant stories.

The next area they visit has a whole group or collection of PELARGONIUM. They are very nice smelling plants. Petra shows Eric a leaf. It has a lot of oil and smells great, like peppermint. If you wrap it then you can really smell it, like peppermint. In the time of the golden age they couldn't have showers on the ships so the Dutch East company made an oil sort of perfume to wash themselves because it disinfects. Also there is an insect repellant component to the oil that is in the pelargonium leaf. We think of citronella and, of course, we use that all the time in candles or oils that keep mosquitoes away.

We next visit the succulent or the cactus house. It's a wonderful collection with an incredible amount of diversity. They certainly have a lot of plants that are surviving in very arid areas. They are very proud on this glass house because it was designed a couple of years ago by a landscape architect and he wanted specially to point out CONVERGENT EVOLUTION. We have here plants from Africa and from Madagascar, the rest are plants from America. Petra tells us this because the plants are lookalikes. The cactus may look like it's from Madagascar but they are not related to each other, they are not family. But in the evolution they make the same strategies to survive in the dryness. And that's an important point, convergent evolution shows us that plants that are having to survive in the same environments end up undergoing a lot of the same processes to adapt to the really dry heat that they would experience in the desert.

They also have aloes. Aloes are like growing in rosettes but also you have the agave from Mexico. It's also growing in rosettes, but they are not from the same family. There are quite a few very unusual plants in this collection.

Eric wonders what are some of Petra's favorites? Her favorite is definitely the QUIVER TREE. It's from Namibia, the desert in Namibia and actually it's not a tree, it's not woody. The branches are a little bit empty and the people from the desert make sort of quivers from it for their arrows. They are hunters. Also sometimes it is flowering yellow flowers, big yellow flowers, and the bits of the flowers, you can eat it. It tastes like asparagus. Very nice. Everybody is very enthusiastic about this plant and also children are "wow." The stem, they hollow it out, people use it as a fridge because they can cool it with water.

Another one is the elephant's ear, a collangea. It's like velvet, the texture is fantastic, very soft. It's also utilized as a strategy against the sun, very hot circumstances.

Eric sees a number of plants that are pretty familiar to us. The barrel cactus is a very common Arizona, Mexico native plant.

Petra next shows us a Tuin Thijs or EUPHORBIA. It's a big family that comes from Africa. It's nice because it will have spines, leaves and flowers all together in one time. A nice little plant from Madagascar and in the leaves there is a sort of white latex. It's poison so it's to defend itself from animals. It's sometimes called Christian thorn, the thorn of Christ or crown of Christ. Actually it has nothing to do with Christ because it's from the island of Madagascar and not from Jerusalem or Israel. It's a very interesting plant. There are many euphorbia that are very useful ornamentals for their foliage, many of them have very, very impressive blooms like this one so a wonderful ornamental plant.

In contrast Petra shows us a Carrion. It grows in dry areas and will have a very big flower. It smells like a dead body which attracts flies or pollinators.

She next shows us a medical plant from South Africa. It's the wild sister of the aloe vera a well known medical plant. This aloe vera they cut the leaves then they let it drip a sort of gel. It will crystalize in black crystals and then they make all kinds of cosmetics from it. It's a nice plant for the beauty of the women. It does great things for the skin. We find aloe vera in many different products, it's wonderful for cuts and burns and has been a very important medicinal plant over the years.

Petra and Eric next visit the tropical greenhouse. This, of course, is designed to mimic a rainforest, which is one of the most bio-diverse environments in the world.

There are so many incredible plants here but Eric would like for Petra to first talk about an incredible structure that basically looks like a large terrarium? Well, actually it is a nice piece of design from the end of the golden age because when on ships and on the ocean, which of course was salt water, a lot of plants that they took from South Africa or wherever died. That is why they had to make a construction to invent something to protect the plants. First they did it in globes from glass but that didn't work out so they made this. It could be ferried from the ports to the garden so it's terrific, very interesting. And the plant in it also has a very interesting story. It's a relative of the STINGING NETTLE but it's even more intense. It's the Gympie Gympie from Australia and it burns your skin, there is poison in it and it burns your skin. It's very, very painful and that's why they put it in glass because it's terrible. It's here just for people's safety.

Another wonderful plant is the vanilla orchid. Of course that's a very important plant in the world trade for food. It's an economical plant, actually from Mexico. It's an orchid an epiphyte, as well a climbing plant. But right now there are a lot of plantations in Reunion and Madagascar, on the islands, not in Mexico anymore. To get it to flower they have to pollinate it by hand because they don't have the bee that's responsible for the pollination in Mexico. So it is, of course, a very nice surprise. The bean of the flower they let it ferment, the process of fermentation is why it smells so fantastic. They use it in perfumes and also in coca cola she thinks. Where would our ice cream be without it?

Petra points out a flowering plant. It's a sort of begonia. It's a special plant in the Voodoo religion from Suriname called WINTI WINTI. This plant now is threatened in the forest because they took a lot for their religion purposes. Of course, begonia is a very important annual you can buy in almost every garden center in the U.S. This species comes from a botanical source deep down in the forest. It's a very rare one, a Begonia Glabra.

Petra and Eric next discuss a palm from West Africa. Although a palm from West Africa, right now there are a lot of plantations in Asia actually growing this plant because the forest where these are typically grown is threatened right now. And palm oil is very important as a culinary plant, we see it in so many different applications whether it's baking or cooking and they have been over harvested in many parts of the world. Petra says this garden is responsible for this tree moving to Asia because the tree came into Amsterdam and later on they shipped it to Asia and started a plantation there. So they were there from the beginning of this process.

The next garden is unusual. In the 1638 Johannes Snippendaal was appointed to design this medical garden. At that time Amsterdam needed apothecaries and because of increasing population the city council decided to make a medicinal garden. SNIPPENDAAL was chosen to design this garden as a place for medicinal plants. The intent was to make a herbal garden to not only grow herbs but also for education for apothics, pharmacists and doctors. Johannes Snippendaal started with maybe one hundred indigenous plants. He had a lot of contacts and when he ultimately left the plants numbered over 800. Prior to modern medicine, we're talking about five hundred years ago or so, all doctors had to work with were plants and of course even modern medicine is still largely plant based. That's where a lot of the most important healing agents come from. A lot of plants that are in this garden come from the east of Europe. It's a wonderful education garden and a great opportunity for people in the community or people from all over the world to come see what medicinal plants would have been used at that point in time.

Petra shows us HORSERADISH, it's a quite an important medical plant. They use the roots. It's now flowering, you see from the flowers it's in the Brassicaceae family. It's important for vitamin C. In medieval times it was used to treat various diseases. They would take the root shave it, it's a strong taste. It's a wonderful culinary plant. Horseradish is used in many, many sauces. It's a very important family like broccoli, kale, many of the leafy greens that we eat because they are very high in antioxidants. It's very pungent thus helpful for respiratory type illnesses and as an antioxidant, high in vitamin C. It would have been very important along with citrus in the fight against scurvy.

Eric noticed in the other corner of the garden BELLADONNA is growing and that's a plant that he thinks has a fascinating story. The Atropa belladonna will actually have blackberries on it. They are used in liquids for eye surgery. They will drop the liquid in the iris and the iris will grow so you can better see, so doctors can better see. It's also used by southern European women. They will drip it in their eyes to be more attractive to the men. It's an early solution to dilating the pupils and of course can still be used for that purpose today. Petra does think that with medicinal plants we do always need to be aware of the dosage. We need to be cautious using plants like this.

A very important part of the mission of de Hortus is education and the greenhouse we next visit was built for the purpose of bringing in school children, folks from the community and teaching them about plants and teaching them about the garden and as well about the GARDEN HISTORY. Petra wants to go back to 1682. There were two important guys, Joan Huydecoper van Maarsseveen II and Jan Commelin. Huydecoper was a manager in the East India Trading Company and Mayor of Amsterdam for 13 terms between 1673 and 1693. Commelin was a trader, a botanist, a professor of botany who was responsible for the importation of many plants imported from the Cape and Ceylon. These men were the driving force behind de Hortus Botanicus garden. At that time plants were very important, there was a lot of freight and these men made money from plants. At the time they started to obtain plants from all parts of the world, all parts of the globe, they started to make not an herbarium but a water color atlas of the plants. It is called a Moninckx atlas. Today it's digital and very nice. It contains 420 watercolor pictures of exotic plants. Jan Moninckx and his daughter Maria were the primary artists. Petra shows Eric four paintings and they are beautiful. It's hard to underestimate the importance of this kind of documentation. This predates photography so provided a way of helping people understand taxonomically, what these plants looked like.

Another important innovation was the heated greenhouse. They enabled the study of plants in all kinds of stages from seeds to leaves to flowers and fruit. So that was a big influence in the progress of the whole story. Being able to keep these plants alive was hugely important. Many of the plants were tropical and, of course, the climate here would not allow the plants to over winter, thus greenhouses allowed those plants to grow in more of their native environment so they could actually be studied through the entire life cycle of the plant.

Petra and Eric next visit the PALM HOUSE. They are very proud on this palm house. It was built 100 years ago for Hugo de Vries. Hugo de Vries was the director of the garden, he was a Dutch botanist and one of the first geneticists, chiefly know for suggesting the concept of genes, rediscovering the laws of heredity. He was known internationally because of his research into the mutation of the evening primrose, that beautiful flower with stunning yellow flowers. This is one of the most impressive architectural structures on the property but it also would have served a very practical purpose, which is in the winter they would bring in these really, really large plants that are in containers then in the summer time could then be brought out into the garden. This is how they kept all of that alive year round.

One of their biggest container plants is the EASTERN CAPE GIANT CYCAD or Encephalartos altensteinii. 300 years ago it came here from the Cape by ship. They purchased it from the collection of King William II. He had a palace, a winter palace, with very nice, exotic plants, some of the oldest from the western world. It was very, very impressive. We see cycads in the U.S. a lot but, of course, nothing of this stature. It's quite large. It's on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It's a vulnerable plant. There are some in their natural habitat but also a lot of them in gardens.

Eric and Petra move on. Eric comments that they are now standing under the shade of a beautiful CINNAMON TREE. It too is a pretty old specimen. Correct? Yes it's true. It was planted by Hugo de Vries several hundred years ago so it's an old one. He planted it for education. Cinnamon was, of course, a very important spice. They actually made cinnamon from the inside of the bark. Cinnamon is one of the spices that is very important for the city of Amsterdam. Holland became rich because of cinnamon trading, black pepper, nutmeg, all kinds of spices.

Our time has come to an end. Eric thanks Petra for spending the day with us. We have learned so much and have truly enjoyed this beautiful historic place. This is an amazing urban garden. The architecture, design, plants and history make this place so very special. Petra in turn thanks Eric and GardenSMART for visiting and hopes Eric and the crew will have a nice trip in the other gardens visited while here in Holland and Belgium.

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