Not every nature-lover coming to Taiwan has time to immerse themselves in the mountainous interior. For those who can’t spare more than half a day away from the big city — or who prefer curated ecosystems to true wilderness — botanical gardens are excellent places to understand why Taiwan has been called a ‘biodiversity hot-spot’.
The country’s best-known botanical garden is a short metro ride from central Taipei. A research centre since 1896, Taipei Botanical Garden is divided into almost 30 themed zones, such as aquatic plants, flowers and herbs mentioned in the classics of Chinese literature, gymnosperms (plants whose seeds are not enclosed in fruit), lotus ponds and palm trees. Birdwatchers come here to see and photograph Malayan night herons, White-breasted waterhens and other avian beauties.
The far larger Fushan Botanical Garden is just 33km from Taipei 101, but difficult to visit for two reasons: There’s no public transport option and visitors must apply for permission to enter at least five weeks beforehand. Life of Taiwan can, of course, do the necessary paperwork and arrange a driver-guide to bring you to this remote yet sublime spot in the foothills.
The garden is always cooler than Taipei, and mist and drizzle are common. According to the Taiwan Forestry Research Institute, the government unit which runs several of the island’s botanical gardens, Fushan is home to 515 plant and tree species. Some are fairly common in the countryside, such as the nettle Taiwanese people call ‘biting people cat’. Others are very seldom seen, for example the Taroko Oak, mostly confined to mountainsides near Taroko Gorge.
Fushan also offers visitors an exceptional range of insects – crane flies, dragonflies, robber flies, plus weevils and other beetles – and a chance to see larger animals. Formosan macaques, pangolins, Reeves’s Muntjacs (a type of small deer) and wild boars are common nighttime visitors, when humans aren’t around.
More than 700 plant species are crammed into Taichung Botanical Garden, managed by and located very near the National Museum of Natural Science. The garden’s Tropical Rainforest Conservatory is a steel-and-glass structure as tall as a 10-storey apartment block. Inside, there’s a waterfall and a small creek. In addition to retaining warmth and moisture, the building is designed to trap flowery scents which attract butterflies.
National Taiwan University Tropical Botanical Garden, on the outskirts of Zhushan, an hour by car from Taichung, makes for an interesting stop en route to Sun Moon Lake. The university which manages this site (155m above sea level, and about the size of 15 football pitches) is in fact one of the country’s major landowners, its experimental forests and plots for agricultural, arboreal, and botanical research accounting for about 1% of Taiwan’s total area.
Among the garden’s highlights are three types of sandalwood and rows of Taiwan incense cedars; the latter is sometimes used to make furniture (the wood is strong and termite-resistant) or incense. Whether you’re seeking self-education, fresh air and exercise, photo opportunities or nothing more than a picnic spot, contact Life of Taiwan today and ask to have a botanical garden included in your private guided tour of Taiwan.