University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Step into the vivid world of the University of California Botanical Garden
Botanical Garden

Succulents soaking in sunshine at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Photo: Janet Fazio

Established in 1890, the UC Botanical Garden is home to 13,000 different kinds of plants from nearly every continent. The 34 acre garden, located on a hillside above the UC Berkeley Campus, is primarily divided into geographic regions, including Asia, Australasia, California, Eastern North America, Mediterranean, Mexico and Central America, New World Desert, South America and Southern Africa. The Garden holds one of the largest and most diverse collections in the United States, including a corpse plant, which attracts thousands of visitors from all over to witness its rare, “whenever it feels like it” blooming.

Docent-led tours leave from the garden’s main patio on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30pm. If this is your first visit to the garden, a tour is a great way to get an overview of the different regions as well as learn about the history of the garden. If you can’t make a tour, self-guided tour brochures will help you navigate your
way around.

With so many different species of plants, it’s impossible to see everything in one visit. Highlights of my trip included the New World Desert Collection, home to all sorts of different varieties of cacti (some of which looked like gingerbread men with hats), the Herb Garden, and the Edible Garden used for teaching children
about growing vegetables.

If you like roses, you’ll appreciate the Garden of Old Roses. The term “old roses” refers to hybrids developed prior to 1867, mainly in Asia. It is by far the most fragrant area of the garden.

The Tropical House is a must see. Step inside to be transported into a lush (and oh so humid) rainforest where plants grow in four distinct layers: the giant emergent trees, the towering canopy of broadleaf evergreen trees, the lower canopy trees that play host to gorgeous vines and blooming shrubs and the shady forest floor. Here you can see a pineapple plant, a cocoa tree, and a coffee tree
among others.

Orchid fans will enjoy The Orchid, Fern, and Carnivorous Plant House where dozens of tiny, delicate orchids thrive. If you’re thinking Little Shop of Horrors, you’ll be disappointed in the size of the carnivorous plants, although these highly adapted plants that entice then trap insects as a nutritional source are a bit creepy.

Despite the fact that a team of horticulturists tend to the garden daily, Mother Nature is firmly in charge, creating a new garden experience for visitors approximately every two weeks, so if you’ve been before, it’s pretty much a sure bet that you’ll be treated to something different.

The UC Botanical Garden is located at 200 Centennial Drive in Berkeley. and is open daily from 9am to 5pm (no entry after 4:30pm) and closed the first Tuesday of every month. Admission is $2-$10. Admission is free the first Wednesday of the month. Parking is available across the street from the entrance for $1 per hour. Wear good walking shoes and bring layers. Due to its hillside location, I wouldn’t recommend the trip for people with limited mobility. Visit Botanicalgarden.berkeley.edu or call 510.643.2755 for more information.

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