Best Urban Jungle
The debt Singaporeans owe to their 149-year-old botanical gardens is as much economic as ecological. In 1888, an eccentric but zealous horticulturist named Nicholas Henry Ridley cut herringbone-shaped channels into the bark of several rubber trees grown from seedlings sent from London. He trapped the sap and gave birth to the then British colony's rubber industry. Over the next half-century, rubber utterly transformed Singapore, whose sleepy economy had hitherto been dominated by nutmegs and cloves. With the advent of the automobile and its insatiable demand for tires, Singapore boomed.
The city-state hasn't looked back since, but when its citizens feel like a gentle walk, many of them consider the lush 63-hectare confines of the Botanic Gardens to be one of the very best places for it. Modern amenities abound every tree, shrub and herb is now meticulously labeled, for example, and the eco-friendly open-air bathrooms are immaculate, thanks to the exertions of its 90-member staff and a generous $5.8 million annual budget. But somehow the mysterious power of the rainforest still hangs heavy in the humid air. For the roughly three million visitors who stream through the gardens annually, slipping through one of its 10 gates is like slipping into a wilder past. More than any anodyne museum or tome-filled library, the majestic banyans, blood-hearted palms and riotously flowering frangipanis are a reminder of what Singapore once was.
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