Whilst on holiday in Sri Lanka in March 2016 I visited the very impressive Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya, not far from Kandy. The history of the gardens dates back to 1371 however the existing site was chosen in 1821 and it has since undergone several transformations over the decades to now be considered amongst the best botanic gardens in the sub-continental region.
The founders of this impressive site of some 60 hectares had great vision for the future as many indigenous and exotic trees were planted way back then. These are now amongst the most outstanding and magnificent trees you will see anywhere on your travels. It truly is breathtaking walking beneath these towering giants.
There is so much to see including the incredible Coco de Mer palm (Lodoicea maldivica) heavy with fruit, groves of giant bamboo (Dendrocalamus giganteus), the largest in the world and the very linear Royal Palm Avenue flanked on either side by huge Roystonia Regia palms. Nice to see forward planning with young palms planted in between the ‘old fellas.’
However….it was the astonishing Cannonball Tree that stole the show for me. Originating from the southern Caribbean and northern South American regions, Couroupita guianensis is a show stopper when in flower and fruit. It has a range of names including the delightful Dutch word of Kanonskogelboom and the French Arbre a boulet de Canon. Obviously so named as the fruit are large and spherical measuring about 15-20 cm in diameter and being very heavy. You wouldn’t want to stand beneath the tree when the ‘cannonballs’ are falling!
The Cannonball Tree is in the family of Lecythidaceae and has the Brazil Nut Tree as a relative. The specimen in the Peradenyia gardens was about 15 metres tall with a girth of about one metre. From the trunk emerge snake-like aerial roots that produce copious quantities of the exotic sweetly scented flowers and then amongst all this tangle of vines and flowers are clusters of the fruit. These, on falling and opening have an unpleasant scent and the insides appear as a gelatinous mess akin to the pulp of a passion fruit.
These Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya should be on every plant lover’s list of ‘must see’ attractions whilst in this gem of an island. Allow yourself at least 2-3 hours to amble around – it’s too hot and humid to rush!
[You can often see a cannonball tree in botanic gardens in tropical areas. While they grow readily from seed, don’t plant one in your own garden unless you can give it a very wide berth!]