A day in Sao Paulo

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

IMG_4494Day two with our guide was a little slow. We started out exploring the natural areas behind the Museum Paulista. They are full of native Brazilian trees and tropical plants along with lots of exercise equipment. What’s different about Brazil compared with the US is that we constantly saw people of all ages utilizing this equipment, doing pull ups and using the leg and running machines. The woods in Sao Paulo, along with the parks and open areas all over Brazil were lively and well used.

We then toured the Museum Paulista, which chronicles Brazil’s Independence. Everything was in Portuguese and our guide was somewhat helpful in explaining the items and translating the interpretation. However we realized on this day specifically the importance of a good guide. A good guide can make or break your opinion of a city and the amount you are able to learn. This made us realize the value in mastering some useful phrases in the language of the country we are visiting before arriving. In our case the guide’s English was not great so sometimes we had a little trouble.

IMG_4500The garden in front is modeled after Versailles and is quite formal with a beautiful choreographed fountain. It is aptly named Independence Park and there is a monument to celebrate independence and also the original emperor. It was interesting to see how they were managing the loss of some of the larger trees by replacing them in the formal allées. In addition we were surprised at the amount of boxwood used in the design.

IMG_0658In the afternoon we visited the central market where we sampled lots of tropical fruit and ate lunch. Some of the best stories from the trip happen whenever we attempt to order food. Sometimes the restaurant has a menu in English which is very helpful to us in ordering. However, most of the time the waiter cannot read the English menu so we still have trouble ordering the correct item. All in all that part has been an entertaining learning experience.

That evening we flew to Curitiba. The hotel was old fashioned but the people working there were fantastic! Helpful and friendly, they carried our bags for us, were really appreciative of our smiles and attempts at Portuguese and helped us to order a vegetarian pizza. The pizza arrived with peas, corn, hearts of palm and oregano,…oh and no sauce. It was interesting compared with our vegetarian pizzas in the states but it was delicious. It was quite late and were off to bed.



Sao Paulo Botanical Garden

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

We met our tour guide at 9am today and set out for Sao Paulo Botanical Garden to walk around for a couple hours. Lindsey had tried, tried, and tried once again to make contact with the garden, but had heard very little in response, and so we arrived thinking we were there only to see some pretty sights. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Unbeknownst to us, Lindsey’s emails had beeen heard and we were met by a team of employees who were there to escort us through the garden. Our entourage included Nelson, an administrator in the education department, Rafael, an intern at the garden, and Adib, a seasonal worker who volunteered to be our translator.


The garden is partnered with the Botanical Institute of Sao Paulo, and therefore has a large research component as well as acres of beautifully maintained grounds. Sao Paulo BG was and the Institute were originally created by the state to help preserve the State Park and watershed in the area. The focus of the garden is around conservation and preservation of the natural flora of Sao Paulo and has a very active plant-rescue program to help save plants from construction projects around the state. Most recently they rescued a large group of Cyathea (tree ferns) from a highway construction project, which they replanted near the main entrance for a stunning affect. It is remarkable to see what we call “indoor plants” growing in large quantities outside.

DSC_0585As we continued through the gardens and conservatories, we found ourselves in an ever-growing number of school groups. Nelson explained that there is a kindergarten on the grounds which frequently brings the kids onto the grounds, but also Sao Paulo Botanical Garden hosts over 35,000 children a year for local public schools. Students come to explore and to learn about the different ecosystems in Brazil and how each one is important. At the garden, visitors have the opportunity to explore a çerrado (savanna) ecosystem inside one of the greenhouse, walk on an elevated pathway through a preserved Mata Atlantica (Atlantic Rainforest) and to learn about native orchids, bromeliads, and trees found throughout the entire country. By the end of the morning I think we all had a much better understanding of Brazilian ecology, thanks to Sao Paulo Botanical Garden.

We then said farewell to Nelson and Rafael, and went with Adib to have lunch at the café located on the grounds. After lunch we got permission from the Director of the Garden to go into the research facilities located on the grounds. Though it was summer DSC_0533and many employees were on vacation, we were able to meet with some researchers from the mycology department, the seeds physiology department, and the orchid department. We even got to go into their orchid house, which holds one of the largest collections of orchids in Brazil.

We had originally planned to stay at the garden for only about three hours, but by the time we left it had been 6 hours, and we could have stayed longer for there was more to see.

Our driver picked us up and then we headed off to Parque Ibirapuera, which translates to Rotting Tree Park. This park was built on a swamp and for many years the city could not get trees to grow, they would just rot – hence the name. It was not until they started planted eucalyptus trees to absorb the moisture that the park was fully implemented. Ibirapuera park is now a beautiful public park full of residents running, walking, biking, relaxing, and enjoying the outdoors. Our new friend Adib, who agreed to come along with us from the botanical garden, showed us around and made sure that we all got back to our hotel afterwards since our tour guide had to leave before we were ready to go.

It was a wonderful day of walking and enjoying nature. Luckily we weren’t flying out that night since I think we all needed a good night sleep.

Rio and Sitio Roberto Burle Marx

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

DSCN28269am sharp and we are out the door with our guide Gerardo. Our destination today is the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx, but first Gerardo is taking us on a whirlwind tour of the city of Rio.  Driving along the Copacabana beach, we pull over for 5 minutes to snap a group photo on the famous sidewalk designed by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.



Back in the van, we drive through the city to the Sambadromo, a huge stadium designed by Oscar Niemeyer just to host the samba competitions during Carnival.  Gerardo gives us a quick lesson on how to dance the samba and then Laurie, Ling, and Josh try on carnival clothing and pose for photos.






We finish our city tour at see the cathedral, a huge, imposing concrete structure inspired by the pyramids at Chichen Itza in Mexico.DSCN2863






An hour later, we arrive at the Sitio Burle Marx, the home and studio of landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. Burle Marx was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1909.  As a young man, he traveled to Germany where he was inspired by the use of Brazilian plants in the Berlin Botanical Garden.  Returning to Brazil, he began collecting plants around his home in Guaritiba and designing landscapes for friends and clients.  He is most well known for the design of the Copacabana promenade and the landscapes around some of the government buildings in Brasilia. He also designed the Cascade Garden at Longwood Gardens. Burle Marx’s property in Guaritiba was donated to the Brazilian government in 1985 and became a national monument. It houses over 3,500 species of plants and many works of art by Burle Marx and other artists.

DSCN2904Thanks to our tour guide Gerardo, we have a wonderful and insightful tour of the Sitio. Gerardo translated everything that the Sitio tour guide said and added his own information about Brazilian plants.  He also provided everyone with much needed mosquito repellant!

The Sitio is truly stunning.  Swaths of bromeliads.  20 foot tall Plumeria trees. Contrasting black and chartreuse foliage (years ahead of his time) and the use of textured plants and hardscaping.  So many native Brazilian plants, including the Helenconia hirsuta ‘Burle Marx’ that the designer discovered in the Amazon region. Burle Marx’s use of native plants in design is inspiring.DSCN2946

We left the garden and returned to Rio late in the afternoon.  A shopping trip before dinner turned into a hilarious adventure after we got caught in a downpour (we were told it doesn’t rain in Rio!) and took a wrong turn walking back to the hotel.  After a misadventure with a sink, we finally made it to dinner at a churrascaria (a Brazilian steakhouse) where we indulged in beef and sushi and various Brazilian dishes.  It was a wonderful way to celebrate our last night in Rio and the start of our day off.

Rio Botanical Garden

Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

Welcomed by the ‘tropical water’, we landed in state capitol Rio de Jeneiro, the third stop of our entire journey. After breakfast at the hotel, the first year fellows headed to the Rio de Janeiro Botanical Garden with  our two chaperones and our new local guide Gerardo. Gerardo (pronounced Herardo) is a transplanted Argentinian who has put deep roots into Rio and is a devoted Brazilian soccer fan. To our surprise, he also loved plants as much we do and he shared his plant knowledge with us during the tour.

DSCN1872In the garden, we met Thais Almeida, a curator who has been working  at the garden for almost 10 years. She  toured us around the garden. Rio BG was founded by King John in 1808 when he was Prince Regent. From Thais we learned that the garden has a collection of both Brazilian native plants and exotic flora from all over the world which include historical collections as well. We saw trees such as mango tree, jack fruits and some others from Asia. The famous palm tree allee along the main road shows the exotic view of the tropical region, some of them have been in the garden for more than a century,  which is quite impressive. This garden is federally funded, but it has some problem with financial development which has negative effect on the collection.



DSCN1909Greenhouses are important in this area as well, including an orchid house and a bromeliad house. They have native living orchid collection and also species collection in their herbarium where we had a brief tour. They did very good interpretation of orchid with information like the name of orchids, the habitat of orchids and so on. Also, the bromeliad collection is very significant, starting with two pineapple plants in front of the IMAG0263Bremilliario.

After the Botanical Garden, we went to the national forest area which is adjacent with the garden. Covered with tall tress, the shade composed a natural umbrella where people can enjoy the cool air in summer. We ended our tour by stopping at the Chinese Vista, which is a great location to get a view of the city.

Thanks to Gerardo who gave us a great plant tour and shared many wonderful stories of Rio. IMAG0267



Photography by: Longwood Graduate Fellows

Our day began with an early pick up at the hotel by our very personable tour guide Luciana. On the drive to Inhotim she told us about Belo Horizonte’s history and helped us with some Portuguese words and pronunciation. Inhotim is located about an hour outside Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais. Well known for the mining of precious metals,specifically gold and iron ore, Minas Gerais is also known for the mining of gems like topaz, amethysts, aquamarines, emeralds and diamonds. Along the way we observed mango trees galore, a million Mimosa-looking species, flowering in every color of the rainbow, plus plumeria, mandevilla and an abundant amount of graffiti, not just in Belo Horizonte but all over BraziI’s cities. Belo Horizonte and its outlying areas are quite hilly which made for an interesting ride in a stick shift van with 8 people on a small road with 42 speed bumps.


I think it’s fair to say that Inhotim took our breath away the minute we arrived. The visitor’s center was like an open air flower festival with fresh stunning arrangements around every corner. A large iridescent cobalt blue butterfly floated by on the breeze as we took a group photo and basked in the seventy-something degree air while we awaited our meeting with Leticia Aguiar, Botanical garden and Environmental Manager. Leticia spent a lot of time with us. She described a relatively new botanic garden (officially only two and a half years old) led by a visionary man who intends to create and promote a contemporary style of living. A garden in a community connected with art, the environment, and people. She told us about their comprehensive ongoing sustainability efforts, many adult and Children’s education programs, and an exciting tree rescue mission just to start. Her presentation about Inhotim’s philosophy reminded us a lot of Longwood’s mission, vision and values.

DSC_0366DSC_0412IMG_4208The garden itself was vast and sweeping- perfectly manicured-down to the valleys and up the mountains with art galleries and pavilions connecting each garden together. We only had time for a few of the galleries. The contemporary art was created specifically for Inhotim. Beautiful or thought provoking each pavilion inspires one back out to the gardens. We enjoyed a delicious lunch at one of Inhotim’s restaurants in the typical Brazillian buffet style. After a special tour around the production facilities, we had to get on the road to the airport. Sadly, we didn’t see everything Inhotim had to offer that day and so it was difficult to tear ourselves away. It was an inspirational visit however and we are excited about the great work being done and the opportunities forged for future connections as a result of our visit.


A few hours later we boarded the flight to Rio de Janeiro. Emerging from the clouds we found ourselves flying down to a beautiful jewel of a city. Nestled between lagoons and mountains, surrounded by boats and ferries, the city lights were just turning on. It was dusk and Rio looked like a piece of diamond jewelry- twinkling and shimmering in the sunset. Islands dotted the harbor, rainforest sprung up between the buildings and the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer stood above the water welcoming us.

The Regal Victoria

Photography: Longwood Graduate Fellows


The familiar knocking wake-up call came at 5:45am this morning and once again we put on clothes, life-jackets, sunglasses, shoes and promptly hopped in the canoes. This morning we were only going a short distance over to the shore, where we disembarked and got onto an elevated walk way to journey through the rainforest canopy. It was wonderful to be able to get a new perspective of the rainforest, without having to get into a tree-climbing harness. It was the destination, however, that we were most excited about; we were on our way to see Victoria amazonica growing in the wild. As we emerged out of the forest, the walkway continued into the water where we were able to see many plants below us, including blooming Amazon Water-platters. It was truly amazing to see these majestic plants growing in the wild. The experience was only improved by a surprise visit by a group of capuchin monkeys!




After all the excitement of our early morning adventure we returned to the boat for breakfast and then with reluctant hearts we began to collect our belongings, and repack our bags. Our last stop on the boat was at the meeting of the rivers. This is where the Rio Negro, the river we have been traveling on, and the Amazon River merge. The water continues on for thousands of meteres more to the Atlantic Ocean. The dark waters of the Rio Negro and the silty rivers of the Amazon river meet just East of Manaus, yet the water takes another 6km, creating a very unique natural phenomenon.


From here the boat continued to the Manaus bay, where we disembarked and returned to the hotel to await transportation to the airport. It was sad to leave the amazon and our wonderful boat, but we were very excited to see what Belo Horizonte had in store for us.


If you want to learn more about Victoria amazonica and its importance at Longwood Gardens, check out Laurie’s blog post here.

Strange things happen in the Amazon

Photography: Longwood Graduate Fellows

The sound of knocking on our door wakes us up at 5:30. It’s piranha fishing day and we need to be ready to leave in a few minutes.  In our groggy state, we throw on clothes, our life-preserver and run to catch one of the small boats (called “canoes” by our guides) that is taking us out to fish.

DSC_0141A quick boat ride away, up along a bank, we are in prime piranha fishing territory.  After a quick lesson in how to fish, we throw our lures over the sides of the boat and wait for a nibble.  In no time at all, our hooks are picked clean but we have no fish! This takes more patience and skill than we thought.  David Sleasman is the first of our group to catch a piranha, a “small fellow” as he describes it.  With the help of a guide, Laurie Metzger reals in a large black piranha.

DSCN1700Back to the boat for another delicious breakfast of authentic Brazilian food and fresh fruit.  After breakfast, we venture to a caboclo village to learn about açai and maniok. Açai is a type of palm that produces a fruit, commonly eaten for its high nutrient content, as well as hearts-of-palm. The açai palm can also produce hearts of palm but harvesting the heart kills the plant. Our guide Hugo explains explains how maniok was processes historically and how the caboclo people process it today to sell at market. The guides set up a special tour just for us, so we part from the larger group and get a tour of the farm, specifically looking at the trees and flowers that grow there.  In the fields, we notice chia interplanted with the maniok and we are delighted to see a sloth resting in a small tree.

IMG_4046After lunch, we take a special trip to see the Amazon pink dolphins. Pink dolphins are at risk because of boating, changes to their habitat, and because they are hunted by the local people. They are very shy and do not come around humans. However, a caboclo family has begun feeding the dolphins to attract them to a small platform. For a small fee, we get to see the dolphins being fed and to touch them. After the dolphins swim away, we spend half an hour swimming in the river. The family also has captive 14 pirarucu, one of the largest freshwater fish in the world. The fish are incredible! They are 6 feet long and covered in black and red scales.  As we get ready to leave, the family presents us each with a necklace made of wood, beads, and one large fish scale at the center.


First-year fellow Ling Poses with the dolphins

After a few hours break back on the Clipper and at a beach, we head out again in the canoes to look at more plants and animals. Since we have continued to travel east, the plants and animals are very different than what we saw yesterday.  The water is less acidic here and supports more wildlife. It is late afternoon and the birds and animals are becoming more active. DSC_0206 As we pass a lodge, our guide Hugo spots a group of squirrel monkeys near the river bank.  Hugo throws chunks of bananas to attract the monkeys to the boat and soon we have several monkeys running up and down the canoe searching for more food.  Once the bananas run out, the monkeys scamper back to the shrubs on the bank and we move out.  A few minutes later, we spot a fishing hawk in a tree.  Hugo tries to bring it down by throwing fish into the water but a pink dolphin keeps eating the fish before the hawk can get it! Finally, the hawk successfully swoops down and grabs the fish. In the next hour, we see more kingfishers, herons, ibis, and other waterbirds than we can count.

After dinner, we all head up to the top deck of the boat and watch as we approach the city of Manaus.  A bridge spans the width of the Amazon and connects Manaus to the southern bank of the river.  We watch a long time as we approach the bridge which is lighted and changes colors every few seconds.  Finally, long after bed-time, we return to our cabins and fall into bed, ready to wake up again for another adventure.


The Amazon (Continued)

Photography: Longwood Graduate Students

With the bell ringing, we got up at 5:30 am and started an morning exploration of Rio Negro rainforest.


The  mysterious journey of the plants and animal kingdom started along the bank of creek.  Although it  is the rainy season of this year, the water leve of the Negro River still not as high as the previous years which we can tell from the water mark on the tree trunks. Many epiphytic plants, such as philodendron, bromellias and many other ones telling the different life styles of Amazon. The most exciting part is to get the chance seeing cattleya orchid in bloom on the top of 60 feet tree trunk. At the same time, bird watching we saw parrots, toucans,vultures displayed the biodiversity in Amazon rainforest.  Many of these species named with Amazon and that means they only exist in this region. Also, quite a bit tropical features were caught with the more exploration.


Jungle tour was led by both local guide and translator for 2 hours. We got into the deep heart of rainforest which only has 10% sunlight. All the plants survive in their own special ways in this complex ecosystem. Several native trees such as Makuku, rose wood, Brazilian tree, water vine, ferns, philodendron, heliconias which make us feel like back in the conservatory at Longwood Gardens,  while all the plants here grow in their original ways surrounding by the animal and insects neighbors.

The great experience of rainforest gave us the best lesson of biodiversity which makes everybody think about conservation and preservation a lot more afterward.




Brazil Blog Day 1 & 2

Photography: Longwood Graduate Fellows

IMG_3862Early Tuesday January 8, the first year Longwood Graduates and chaperones, David and Lori, kicked off our long awaited trip to Brazil.  After meeting at the airport in Miami, we flew, without a hitch, to Manaus, Amazones, Brazil.

After breezing through customs, we collected our luggage (luckily nothing was lost.) A wonderful Brazilian man named Alex was waiting for us. As he gave us a quick tour of Manaus, he told us about our agenda for the following day and delivered us to our hotel, the Go Inn.  We reminded each other to use bottled water for teeth brushing, had a short meeting and were off to sleep.


It’s fair to say that until I arrived in Manaus, I never knew humidity. It wasn’t particularly hot, only 80 degrees, but the air stuck to us like dew on the morning lawn.  Immediately we were awestruck by the impressive humidity and the friendly people.

IMG_3967 IMG_3918 The next morning, we tried various juices of the region…Acerola, described by one Fellow as “mystery citrus deliciousness,” Maracuja (Passion Fruit) “tart and tropical” and Cupaucu with a “Limey Pear” flavor.  We admired Manaus’s varying architecture and walked around the famous, Teatro Amazones, where we were able to hear the Symphony rehearsing for the evening’s concert.  Before noon we visited many notable parks and public spaces that featured the influence of famed Brazilian landscape architect, Roberto Burle Marx.

That night we spent our first of three evenings on the Amazon Clipper, with our guides Hugo and Sardes. (Who have already helped us with a lot of tree and bird i.d.)  As we set sail, the air was so humid it began condensing into raindrops but a few minutes later a rainbow appeared. We enjoyed our first dinner on the boat and then went for a night cruise around the Rio Negro in small canoes to scout kamens, night hawks and frogs.  Along the way the stars came out. I mean hundreds and millions of twinkling, sparkling gems, so close together, one could hardly identify the constellations.  There was so much to see that we couldn’t look away. For the first time ever, we saw Orion’s bow and all at once we witnessed a falling star. The true meaning of “infinite” started to glimmer for each of us. As a result, I’ve started to believe that diamonds are just the earth’s attempt at mimicking the heavens.

Enjoy the photos—stay tuned for our adventures on day 3 and 4!


Cibodas Botanical Garden and Taman Bunga Nusantara

(written by Wonsoon Park, photographs by Abby Johnson)

How nice it has been for us to finally meet the people who we have been longing to meet while preparing for this trip. Eka was the one of those people that we have wanted to meet. Eka, who is in charge of research in Cibodas Botanical Garden, greeted us with a very genuine smile and happily guided us into the gardens. The Cibodas Botanical Garden is one of seven bioregions in Indonesia designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site as well as one of four national botanical gardens in Indonesia along with the Bogor, Bali, and Purwodadi botanical gardens. It’s located in Mount Pangrango adjacent to Mt. Gede-Pangrango National Park.

Group shot with director and research staff

We met the staff of Cibodas and had a meeting that included a presentation from the director, Dr. Didik Widyatmoko who has worked in the field of horticulture for twenty-four years as an endemic plant expert and held many different positions among a diverse array of Indonesian organizations. There are twenty-two research staff members who have a wide variety of specialties including taxonomy, medicinal plants, rhododendrons, and plant breeding and almost 200 workers in the garden. The garden was established in 1852 and focuses mainly on conservation, research, environmental education, and tourism.

Eka touring us through the orchid house

The eighty-five hectare garden is uniquely positioned because a natural preserved area surrounds it, which is important for their plant conservation. The garden has almost 500,000 visitors a year. Some of the research projects at the garden include carbon stock and biomass assessment, restoration and rehabilitation, bryophyte conservation, exploration and research of Sumatran montane forests, and ecological studies and forest dynamics. They also collaborate with BGCI on environmental education programs and teacher training.

Tree fern collection

After our meeting, we went out to explore the gardens. The most impressive garden was the bryophytes garden, which has 100 species growing very well under the perfect weather conditions for them. Beside the garden the Amorphophallus titanum plants, which have magnificent flowers every 4 years or so, each showed their single individual leaf that appeared as a big tree-like stem emerging from the ground. We were able to see the nursery where Indonesian plants that are collected on the yearly plant expeditions are held and the nurseries growing indigenous orchids and Nepenthes. There was also a cherry tree garden, rhododendron garden, begonia garden, medicinal plant garden, and cactus garden. The fern collection was well organized and included various tree ferns, the stems of which are sometimes used for orchid growing material. The Chinese also collect the scales of the fronds for medicinal purpose. After we saw the oldest tree in the garden planted in 1860, it started to rain. We kept touting to see the rest of Gardens and it looked even more special under the heavy tropical rain.

Bryophyte garden

Amorphophallus titanum

Amorphophallus titanum

The next destination, Taman Bunga Nusantara was a totally different world. It had a water garden, French garden, rose garden, American garden, Balinese garden, and Japanese garden on the thirty-five hectare property managed by 150 gardeners. The garden was established in 1995 and shows relatively new and more stylish garden display. The Balinese garden and maze garden were the highlights of the trip since they were full of extraordinary plants that we have never seen before and made us feel like we were in a more exotic atmosphere.

One of the many whimsical displays at Taman Bunga Nusantara