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The Botanical Garden

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Adjacent to the glorious Castle Belvedere and occupying 8 hectares of central Vienna, the Botanical Garden of the University of Vienna is one of Europe's finest collections of cultivated plants and trees. Established by Empress Maria Theresa in 1754 as a medicinal garden full of restorative botanicals and healthful herbs, the space is now tended to by the University's botany department, ensuring that this garden is no more ornament. Researchers such as Fritz Knoll and Karl von Frisch, winner of a 1973 Noble Prize in science, studied botany here, highlighting how much this wonderful garden has contributed to our understanding of the natural world.

The first director of the Botanical Garden was one Nikolaus von Jacquin, a renowned botanist who did much to make this one of the most diverse nurseries in the world. Von Jacquin sowed the land with seeds he had recovered from expeditions to the Caribbean, and visitors can still see examples of the exotic flora he planted. Elsewhere, handsome greenhouses hold a variety of tropical plants as well as bristly Cacti and delicate succulents, though the premises are primarily used for scientific research and most are not frequently open to the public. However, make sure to check local listings as exhibitions in the greenhouses are held occasionally, while one of the structures is permanently open year-round, hosting a rainforest themed exhibition of plant life. In all the Botanical Garden holds more than 11,500 plant species in cultivation, a treasure trove that makes this a must visit for any nature lover touring Vienna.

Perhaps the best experience to be had here is walking the arboretum, stocked with a dazzling displays of trees and woody plants. Visitors can relax in the shade of a Gingko Biloba trees, feel the smooth trunk of Persian Ironwood, smell the scent of beautiful magnolia flowers and try to take in the sheer scale of giant redwood sequoia trees and Asian conifers. One minute you can be touring the supreme Alpine garden, redolent of fresh pine and scattered with colourful wildflowers, the next you can be lost in the darkness of the Austrian garden, stocked full with Central European grasses, Pannonian bushes and spiky Russian dwarf flax. Other parts of the gardens are dedicated to cultivating the species of Madagascar, the Rubiaceae of Belgium and non-hardy plants from Australia and New Zealand.

Amazingly, and despite the historical feel to much of the grounds, the Botanical Garden was almost entirely destroyed during World War Two. The present day centre had to be rebuilt from scratch after the end of hostilities, and it is due to the painstaking work carried out by researchers and gardeners that the Botanical Gardens survives to this day. While many of the original plantings have been lost, some surprising artifacts remain; for instance the garden's Bamboo grove, first planted in 1893, miraculously survived the allied bombings and continues to thrive in the Austrian climate.

To get the best out of a trip to the gardens, try and catch one of the institute's free guided tours, where each Wednesday in the summer dedicated experts offer informative and entertaining tours of the grounds.


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