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

Mt. Gede-Pangrango National Park

(written by Tom Brightman, photographs by Martin Smit and Tom Brightman)

Today was a study in contrasts—between the stark reminders of the burgeoning Indonesian population (now 14 million strong in the Jakarta area), the steep slope deforestation for tea plantations, and the lush beauty and biodiversity of the sub-montane rainforest on the slopes of volcanic Mount Pangrango.

Tea plantations

Our driver skillfully maneuvered us up the narrow, serpentine, lorry and motorbike-choked road from the city of Bogor, through a profusion of roadside vegetable and fruit stands (life is not complete without enjoying the sweet and sour nirvana of a fresh-picked mangosteen) and satay purveyors. We drove past the lower slopes of Mount Pangrango that are covered in thousands of hectares of tea plantations, orderly and lovely, but devoid of their virgin rainforest cover.  As we approached the Cibodas Botanic Garden, our point of embarkation for our rainforest trek, both sides of the road were filled with small, local plant nurseries boasting healthy inventories of every tropical plant imaginable.  We met Eka Iskandar, a researcher from Cibodas, who turned us over to our guide for the hike, Ken.

Typical fruit stand

Gede Pangrango Park consists of a landscape dominated by twin volcanoes: Mt. Gede at 9,704 ft above sea level and Mt. Pangrango topping out at 9,904 ft. above sea level.  The mountains’ slopes are very steep and are cut into by rapidly flowing streams that carve long ridges and deep valleys.  To quote the official park guide, “Pangrango evokes esthetic feelings of what a graceful volcanic cone should look like and, reflecting its tranquil appearance, is classed as extinct.  On the other hand, Gede is a very active volcano. Currently deceptively quiet, viewed over time Mt. Gede is one of the most active volcanoes on the island of Java.”  Given the recent earthquake activity in Indonesia, we were glad that both were quiet this day!


Our hike took us on a steep, rocky trail through thick sub-montane rainforest to our destination of the Cibeureum waterfall. Not one, but three waterfalls are formed by the confluence of the Cibeureum, Cidendeng, and Cikundel rivers.  At over 90 feet tall, the falls crash into the lush surroundings, thrusting a cool mist into the forest below.

Cibeureum waterfall

The forest is full of plants competing for light. The large canopy trees host their own ecology of ferns, orchids, and climbing vines and provide a home to Ebony leaf monkeys, false cajoles lizards (pictured), and many spectacularly gilded butterflies.  Plants of note included Rattan (Plectomia elongate), Arisaema filiforme, and numerous orchids.

Tree fern covered in moss and epiphytes

This level of biodiversity has not gone unnoticed.  The park is one of seven World Biosphere Reserves in Indonesia, as designated by UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere program.  Although just a remnant of the large rainforests that once dominated this part of the world, the Gede-Pandrango forest is impressive nonetheless.

False cajoles lizard

Bali Botanic Garden

(written by Abby Johnson, photographs by Nate Tschaenn)

Approximately 1300 meters above sea level is one of Indonesia’s many wonderful treasures. Bali Botanic Garden, lives up to its slogan, “culture and conservation in harmony.” The garden’s diverse collection of medicinal, ceremonial, and conservation plants reflect the pride of Bali.  The lush green landscape is lined with bishop’s wood echoed by tree ferns and an extensive palm collection. Other delightfully engaging features include collections of over 250 magnificent species of orchids, over 200 glorious species of begonias, and 2 hectares of trees ferns. These collections along with others include plants found in the wild of Indonesia as well as propagated species. Conservation efforts are desperately needed to preserve the tree ferns. Tree ferns are often cut for use as a medium to grow orchids.

Dr. Adji touring fellows through the gardens


Bali Botanic garden opened in 1959 but was devastated by a volcanic eruption in 1963. Today, about fifty centimeters of volcanic ash contributes to the rich soil mixture. The diverse population of plant life is thriving. 10% of the world’s orchid population grows in Indonesia.


Group shot in front of a giant statue depicting the Hindu legend of the epic battle between Kumbakarna Laga and a monkey army.

Our gracious guides, Dr. Adije and Mr. Wede,  re-introduced us to familiar plants from an edible perspective, like eating the new leaves of athyriums. The most coveted sighting in the garden was the amorphophallus, the largest unbranched inflorescence. Certain species have edible bulbs. Our guides also highlighted plants that offer premium prices on the market like Ratan, which grows wild here in Bali!

 Under the shade cloth of the orchid garden.

The garden composts all possible natural materials and rubbish from the garden. Three months later, the outcome is healthy organic compost used in the onsite nursery as well as compost sold to local farmers and residents.


Some of the hybrid begonias in the garden's extensive begonia collection


Overall our visit to beautiful Bali Botanic Garden was educational and inspiring. We recommend you visit Bali botanic garden too!

Group shot in the begonia garden.

Arrival in Bali

(written by Sara Levin, photographs by Martin Smit)

We made it to Bali on Friday evening accompanied by Wendy and Tom who joined us for the second leg of our trip.  Bali is fresh and fragrant with bright flowers found everywhere from the Plumeria strands handed to us as we left the airport to the small colorful Hindu offerings set out each morning.

Hindu offering

We started our first full day in Bali with a visit to the IDEP Foundation, an NGO that strives to “help people help themselves by cultivating resilient and sustainable communities.” IDEP uses permaculture education to help the community in a variety of ways.  They offer workshops on natural disaster preparedness and recovery by teaching earthquake-resistant building techniques and educating communities on how to sustainably rebuild after a natural disaster.

IDEP Demonstratioin Garden

They work with school groups to teach organic horticulture techniques and have an outreach program with prisons to teach prisoners how to grow vegetables and save seeds.  The IDEP farm consists of a small demonstration garden featuring permaculture practices to help teach the community about organic gardening.  They have sites all around Indonesia and a few neighboring islands.  We were incredibly impressed with their work.  More information on the IDEP Foundation can be found at

Nelumbo nucifera

We ended our first day in Bali with a trip to Taman Tirtagannga, the water temple.  This beautiful temple was once a retreat for the royal family.  Today it is a pubic oasis, tucked away among the rice fields in eastern Bali.

Rice fields close to Tirtagannga

Taman Tirtagannga

Pulau Ubin

(written by Nate Tschaenn, photographs by Abby Johnson)

On our last full day in Singapore, we took a trip away from the many tall buildings of mainland Singapore to a smaller, largely uninhabited island on the northeast side of Singapore called Pulau Ubin.

Boat ride from mainland Singapore to Pulau Ubin

Boat ride from mainland Singapore to Pulau Ubin

In the morning we met with Dr. Robert Teo, assistant director of the park at Palau Ubin, who described some of the work National Parks has been doing on the island. The name Palua Ubin roughly translates “granite island” and several granite quarries once operated on the island. The quarry industry, along with the farming of various crops like rubber and coconuts, left the island badly damaged. In 1977 National Parks started to manage the island to protect and restore the biodiversity of this area. Since this time 254 new species of plants have been recorded in Singapore and 69 species once thought extinct in Singapore were rediscovered.

Tour of sensory garden trail

Tour of sensory garden trail

After our meeting, we were shown the butterfly garden, which attracts 80 different species of butterflies. We were also given a tour of the sensory trail where we had the opportunity to see, touch, smell, and taste many interesting plants. While on the tour we were very lucky to see a hornbill, a beautiful bird that had once been driven off the island due to the destruction of its natural habitat  by the quarry and agricultural operations.

Oriental Pied Hornbill

Oriental Pied Hornbill


One of the large trees found on the island

After lunch we visited Chek Jawa, a wetland park on the far eastern side of Pulau Ubin. Here we had a fantastic tour through the wetlands and were able to see a variety of ecosystems in this one area, including mangroves, sandy beach, rocky beach, seagrass lagoon, coral rubble, sand bar, and coastal forest. The whole area was teeming with life, and we were able to spot beautiful birds, crabs, and lots of funny looking mudskippers.  In December of 2001, Check Jawa was saved from a planned reclamation project that would have destroyed this natural area. Volunteers conducted a biodiversity survey and convinced the government to suspend the project, at least temporarily. We were certainly lucky to have been able to experience this beautiful park and hope that Singapore will continue to preserve these unique habitats.

Tour through the mangrove wetlands

Tour through the mangrove wetlands of Chek Jawa


This funny looking mudskipper is a species of amphibious fish


Gardens by the Bay & HortPark

January 11, 2012 – Gardens by the Bay & HortPark, Singapore
(written by Quill Teal-Sullivan, photographs by Wonsoon Park and Sara Levin)

The past two days have been full to the brim with visits to many of Singapore’s beautiful parks and urban green spaces. Tuesday morning started at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s newest and largest garden project sitting on one-hundred and one hectares encircling Marina Bay.  We were greeted by Chris Dalzell, a former Longwood international intern who recently moved from South Africa to act as the garden’s Assistant Director of Garden Operations.  Chris and his colleagues toured us around the site, which will be completed for an official public opening in June of this year. Gardens by the Bay features two large conservatories – one that will create a cool-dry Mediterranean climate, and the other a cool-moist mountain climate.

Flower Dome of the Gardens by the Bay

We were able to tour the Flower Dome, freshly planted with remarkable specimens imported from around the world.  Most notable were the enormous baobabs planted on a cantilevered overlook, and the gnarled one-thousand-year old olive trees just in from southern Spain.  Another highlight of the gardens were the eighteen “super trees” gracefully arching overhead, clad with epiphytes and climbers.  The “super trees” are one of the spectacularly clever aspects of the garden design, acting as a venting system for the glasshouses, water catchment mechanism, solar energy receptor, as well as an aesthetic wonder.

Super Tree

After a lunch of various local delights, we met with Dan Burcham (our host with the most and LGP alumn), and his colleagues at the National Parks Board (NParks) to tour four exceptional urban greening sites. As part of Singapore’s vision of “the city in a garden”, NParks offers financial assistance to green the exterior of existing buildings.  Three of the sites we visited were vertical green walls each designed by a different firm with a unique system and design philosophy.  The end of a long and most stimulating day of garden touring culminated in a trip to the top of Marina Bay Sands Sky Park to decompress and admire the city from above.

Green wall at the F1 race track

On Wednesday we traveled to HortPark, a display garden within the NParks system that features small-scale garden exhibits aimed to inspire Singaporean residents to include gardens and horticulture in their home life.  HortPark partners with local landscape companies that rent small plots to display their design, acting as publicity for the company and inspiration for the visitors.  As Abby says, “it is the perfect collaboration between government, industry, and community”.

Vegetable Garden at HortPark

Silver Garden at HortPark

HortPark sits within the Southern Ridges region, a chain of parks, gardens and natural areas linked with ‘park connectors’.  Two knowledgeable NParks staff, Wilson and Eric, led us on an excursion through a few of the natural areas. This included a jungle accessed by a 9 km canopy bridge, home to a delinquent gang of macaque monkeys, as well as a most beautiful wooden bridge with views to the sea and the city.

Dillenia suffriticosa

The evening was capped with a barbeque accompanied by the senior staff of NParks at the Outwardbound Singapore headquarters.  We ate satay and fresh fruit in the evening heat, feeling so grateful for the generosity of our Singaporean hosts and, the incredible opportunity we have as Longwood students to experience the ‘city in a garden’.

Canopy walkway at southern ridges

Henderson Waves