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Popham Arboretum
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Author:  LankaLibrary [ Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:34 am ]
Post subject:  Popham Arboretum

Popham Arboretum

An arboretum (Ruk Gomuwa) is a place where trees are grown for study and display as a tree garden, without allowing unnecessary undergrowth. “Unnecessary bushes and undergrowth are controlled manually letting the big trees grow freely. It is actually not a man-made forest as some people have branded it. There is no influence whatsoever on big trees, but the scrub is artificially controlled,” explains Dilan Peiries, an officer attachéd to the Arboretum.

Sri Lanka’s only dry zone arboretum, this was established over four decades ago on 7.5 acres of thorny scrub jungle in Dambulla by British planter F.H. (Sam) Popham.

@ By Sanath Weerasuriya, Pix by Nilan Maligaspe / Sunday Times - SL

Ask for the Popham Arboretum and most people in Dambulla will shrug their shoulders. But ask for ‘Suddage Watte’ and they will direct you to the man-made jungle just two km from the town on the Kandalama Road.

An arboretum (Ruk Gomuwa) is a place where trees are grown for study and display as a tree garden, without allowing unnecessary undergrowth. “Unnecessary bushes and undergrowth are controlled manually letting the big trees grow freely. It is actually not a man-made forest as some people have branded it. There is no influence whatsoever on big trees, but the scrub is artificially controlled,” explains Dilan Peiries, an officer attachéd to the Arboretum.

Sri Lanka’s only dry zone arboretum, this was established over four decades ago on 7.5 acres of thorny scrub jungle in Dambulla by British planter F.H. (Sam) Popham. The main building and the rest of Popham Arboretum was designed by famous Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa and visitors can wander through the mud cottage where Popham lived for 10 years as well as the Bawa-designed house he later moved into and which now serves as a visitor centre.

Walking along the trails of the arboretum one sees some of the finest trees of Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone forests including the world’s only true Ebony, Diospyros ebenum, the arboretum’s icon tree Satinwood or Buruta (Chloroxylon swietenia), Palu (Manilkara hexandra), Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) and Helamba (Mitragyna parvifolia).

The arboretum is also home to a wide range of animals, birds and reptiles. A small herd of spotted deer and mouse deer has made its home here. A large number of birds such as the endemic Jungle Fowl, the Bronze- winged Pigeon and the Grey Hornbill can also be seen.

Ruk Rakaganno took over the management of the Popham Arboretum in May 2005. Twenty seven acres were added by the Institute of Fundamental Studies (IFS), which managed the Arboretum from 2001 – 2005, having received it as a gift from Mr. Popham upon his departure from Sri Lanka. Jayantha Amarasinghe, head of Popham Arboretum has been working there since the departure of Mr. Popham. Funding from various institutions came to almost zero level by 2005 and it was only after Ruk Rakaganno, took over its management that things have improved, he says.

Ruk Rakaganno established the visitor centre in the cottage once occupied by Mr. Popham and this is an all important stop for any visitor, with information on the Arboretum, the species to be seen here and research conducted on growth patterns of the valuable Dry Zone trees, the effects of chena cultivation etc. “We have knowledgeable guides to show visitors round the grounds and we conduct free classes for the children in the area on forestry management, sustainable tourism and various related fields,” Dilan explained. Buddika Dilhan, botanist and head of the Polonnaruwa Open University is working on a volunteer basis to educate children and guide visitors around the Arboretum.

Research officers at the Arboretum are conducting studies into the tree species and other fauna and flora to be found here. The Arboretum is also a centre for the study of the environment amongst schoolchildren, especially those in surrounding communities. Though an ideal location for those interested in trees and their associated fauna and to learn about the natural wonders of Sri Lanka’s Dry Zone, the Dambulla Arboretum, tends to be left off the tourist trail.“Groups of visitors are welcome, but advised to book in advance,” an official said.

Tourists could eat off a Nelum Kole, and enjoy a refreshing bath in the stream or even camp out during the night. However, campers have to bring their own camping equipment. Food could be arranged if prior notice is given,” Dilan said.

Presently, the arboretum is funded by NORAD, CIDA, UNDP's GEF- SGP and other corporate and individual donors, both local and foreign. A resource centre is also in the pipeline when finances are available and a nursery of endemic and valuable plants has been established to augment income and to ensure the survival of valuable and endangered species.
The arboretum is open to the public every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except on Wednesdays.


For information contact: 2554438 or rukraks@sltnet.lk

Author:  LankaLibrary [ Sun Feb 15, 2009 9:42 am ]
Post subject:  History of the IFS-Popham Arboretum, Dambulla

History of the IFS-Popham Arboretum, Dambulla

“Better without gold than without trees” —Sam Popham, creator of the IFS-Popham Arboretum, Dambulla.

Source: Ruk Rakaganno

Dambulla Arboretum was established in 1963 by Mr. Sam Popham on 7.5 acres of land in Dambulla, the dry heartland of Sri Lanka. The property was at the time covered with scrub jungle which Mr. Popham described as being “…a wild disorderly undergrowth lording it over the north, east, and south-eastern parts of the island, a wilderness ‘useless and malarial, mile upon mile like a tired sea' ”.

This land and the plains of the north, east and south-east of the island were originally covered with Semi-Evergreen Forest. This tall forest was, too often, destroyed to make way for chena, shifting or slash and burn cultivation and other developmental activities. What springs up in the wake of chena cultivation is the scrub jungle.

After Sam Popham bought the land he enclosed it with the aim of clearing the scrub jungle and replacing it with trees, especially those native to the area. He soon found that the seedlings released spontaneously by his act of clearing away the scrub jungle, grew and prospered much more successfully than seedlings brought in from outside nurseries. The seedlings that had pre-existed the scrub jungle were built to cope with and conquer the harsh conditions of the dry zone. So started the unique experiment that is today the Arboretum. It became a trial in what happens when a piece of scrub jungle is fenced off and judiciously cleared and allowed to rejuvenate with minimal interference from humans. The Arboretum is also unique in that it is the only arboretum in the dry zone of the island.

The Popham Method

The method used by Popham to establish the arboretum was so special that it has come to be known as the Popham method. The method was influenced by his dislike of tampering with nature's ways. He “cleansed” parts of the property – that is to say he selectively cleared away the scrub jungle and thereby released seedlings of the earlier evergreen forest.

The Popham method is best described in the words of the man himself, who wrote “ I have egged Nature on to call the tune; I have left the trees to get on with the task. They cope very successfully on their own, and my help is needed for the most part only in their formative years. They grow where their seeds fell…During early growth they are encouraged, by stempruning and crown lifting…Last comes thinning-out ” – taken from Dambulla – A Sanctuary of Tropical Trees.

The property was divided into 12 blocks and these blocks were cleared at different times, which means that one can now see woodlands in different stages of growth. Some blocks have not been cleared at all and continue to be covered by the scrub jungle.

The rationale for the staggered clearing was that only an area which could be nurtured and protected from the exigencies of wind, drought, floods etc, by Popham and his team would be cleared at any one time.

Arboretum and Woodlands

The IFS-Popham Arboretum is made up of two distinct components, the Arboretum and the Woodlands. The Arboretum was established on a property 7.5 acres in extent in 1963. This land was covered in scrub jungle and Sam Popham began his experiment of reinstating the original dry zone forest soon after he acquired the property.

The Woodlands is 27 acres in extent and was acquired and added onto the property in 1989 after the Arboretum had been gifted to the IFS. At the time of acquisition the woodlands was a piece of land overused for cultivation. After 1989 Sam Popham divided the woodlands into different blocks and implemented the Popham method on these blocks at different stages. Thus the visitor walking through the woodlands will observe blocks at different stages of succession towards the original dry zone jungle. The Popham method of releasing seedlings by judiciously clearing scrub jungle and protecting the seedlings with stakes is still being undertaken in the woodlands. As you walk through the woodlands keep a watch out for young seedlings which have been released and staked out for protection. Another form of protection given to the young seedlings and the property as a whole is the careful establishment of firebreaks throughout the property. The fire gaps established by Sam Popham ran like a maze throughout the property and round the boundaries and are still maintained today to protect from the devastating fires which can spring up so easily in the driest months of the year.

Who is Sam Popham?

Sam Popham first came to Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, with the Royal Navy. He later became a tea planter in the 1940s. His abiding love for trees encouraged him to work on the Smithsonian Ceylon Flora Project. While engaged in this work he acquired the property at Dambulla and started to plant the land with Mango trees. This however did not prosper and he then decided to replace the scrub jungle with as many species of Sri Lankan native trees as he could find. So started the Arboretum. He lived on the land for 38 years firstly in a very basic cottage which is on the left of the entrance to the property.

He later moved into the cottage, designed for him by Geoffrey Bawa and which today serves as the Visitor Centre. He lived in this cottage for 28 years with the trees as his constant companions. His adopted family Setunga and his wife and two daughters lived close by and were constantly in and out of the property. Sam lived at the Arboretum until 2001, after which he went back to England to retire there.

The forest found in the dry zone is the semi-evergreen monsoon dry forest. It is so called because along with the evergreen species there are deciduous species that exist in this forest. These forests receive rain from one monsoon only, the northeast monsoon.

These forests are important for many reasons. They house a vast array of bio-diversity in plants and animals. Many of the trees and herbs endemic to these forests are of immense value for medicinal, building and other purposes. Many of the country's national parks are also found in the dry zone which houses a lot of wildlife. They thus have important economic potential.

Unfortunately widespread destruction of these forests has taken place since colonial times for a variety of reasons including building of reservoirs, settlements, logging, and illegal and unchecked harvesting of medicinal products.

Protecting the semi-evergreen monsoon dry forests and the trees that grow there is thus a very important task and the Arboretum has a role to play in this work. It is a haven for over 70 species of evergreen and deciduous trees.

Walking along the trails in the Arboretum you will see some of the finest trees of Sri Lanka's dry zone forests including the world's only true Ebony, Diospyros ebenum, the Arboretum's icon tree Satinwood or Buruta ( Chloroxylon swietenia ), Palu ( Manilkara hexandra ), Tamarind (Tamarindus indica ) and Helamba ( Mitragyna parvifolia ).

Walking through the Arboretum and woodlands you will see many of the trees and shrubs for which Sri Lanka's dry zone is famous and which unfortunately are now rare in the wilds. The forest is made up of hardwood timber trees, trees and shrubs of medicinal value, fruiting and flowering trees and shrubs.

The hardwood timbers which have been the prize of the dry zone forest through the years have also been its downfall and have resulted in the decimation of these forests for their timber. Here in the Arboretum the Ebony ( Diospyros ebenum ), Satinwood (Chloroxylon swietenia) and Palu (Manilkara hexandra) 3 of the best known timber trees are abundant even though they are now rare in the wilds. Other trees that yield valuable timber are also found here and include Milla (Vitex altissima ), Halmilla (Berrya cordifolia ), Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) and Ceylon Oak (Schleichera oleosa ).

The Neem ( Azadirachta indica ), Goda Kaduru ( Strychnos nux vomica ) and Weliwenna ( Dimorphocalyx glabellus ) are some of the trees of medicinal value found in these grounds. It is often difficult to classify these trees and shrubs into one category such as medicinal plants since often the plants have multiple uses. Bauhinia tomentosa commonly known as Kaha Petan is widely used as an ornamental plant because of its attractive yellow flowers with a purple blotch at the base. However the whole plant has medicinal value. The root bark for example is used in treating hepatitis. Another plant of great beauty and renowned for its ornamental value is the Bonfire Tree which comes ablaze during the months of June and July.

The Heen karamba ( Carissa spinarum ) is a shrub found typically in undergrowth in secondary forest in the dry zone and is another good example of a plant with multiple uses. It has jasmine like white flowers, edible fruits and the oil extracted from the leaves is used for wounds and for relieving skin irritations such as itchiness. A fence made from the branches of this shrub are said to be a deterrent even to an elephant.

The trees and shrubs described above provide the habitat necessary for many species of mammals, birds, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians to flourish in the Arboretum. As you walk quietly through the forest keep your eyes peeled to catch a glimpse of a mouse deer tiptoeing through the trees; or a giant squirrel asleep in a tree above you; or toque monkeys frolicking all around. If you're lucky you might even see an elephant walking majestically through the forest.

The Arboretum is home to many bird species and also provides a good stop over point for many birds residing in nearby forests and tanks. The endemic Jungle Fowl and Grey Hornbill can be seen here regularly as can the Brown headed Barbet, White browed Bulbul and the Blue tailed Bee eater. Keep your ears to hear the song of the White rumped Shama, the songster of the Sri Lankan jungles.

There are many reptiles at the Arboretum, some harmful, some not, so tread carefully and be ever watchful. The Green vine snake ( Ahaetulla nasutas ), Common bronze back ( Dendrelaphis pristis ), Rat snake ( Pytas mucosus ), Green lizard ( Calotes calotes ) and the Garden lizard (Calotes versicolor ) are some of the harmless reptiles you will see around. The Cobra ( Naja naja ), Russell's Viper ( Vipera russelli ) and the Indian Rock Python ( Python molurus ) are the harmful ones.

Since the management of the Arboretum has been handed over to Ruk Rakaganno in May 2005 more walking trails have been established and have been colour coded for easy reference. Trees throughout the property have been labeled with scientific, common, Sinhala and Tamil names.

Guides have been employed and trained so that visitors can be accompanied on their walk through the Arboretum. The guides employed include young people from the surrounding areas so that some benefit from the Arboretum flows directly to the community.

A visitor centre has been set up in the cottage built by Mr. Sam Popham and interesting and informative displays are being developed. These include seed collections and leaf and timber displays. Ruk Rakaganno is making use of the Arboretum for research purposes. Currently all the shrubs in the property are being classified by the resident botanist. Other research proposals are being developed by Ruk Rakaganno in conjunction with the IFS. The possibility of conducting research into seed germination rates and propagation methods for various dry zone species is being investigated. This research has not been done for many of these species and is vital for their continued protection and propagation.

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