By now you would have heard that our very own 74-hectare (about 103 football fields) Botanic Gardens is officially a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It officially joins the ranks of picturesque, historically valuable sites around the world (we’re in the good company of Italy’s Cinque Terre, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and the Great Wall of China). But before you go and brag about it to anyone and everyone who'll listen, here are some fun facts about the gardens to earn you some extra cool points:
1) For the history buffs, look out for a brick staircase at the plant house. Australian prisoners of war were ordered to build it during World War II and as an act of rebellion against their Japanese captors, they carved arrows into the bricks to show that the staircases belonged to the state instead of the soldiers. The story has a happy ending – the prisoners survived the war and were elated to find the staircase intact.
2) It’s one of Singapore’s cheapest tourist spots, and also the world’s – it’s the only botanical garden on the planet that’s free for entry (apart from the National Orchid Garden).
3) You can find insects, some reptiles and the occasional swan there today, but the garden was actually a full-fledged zoo back in the late 1880s. It was home to animals like a sloth bear, wallabies, kangaroos and even orang utans, but the zoo was sadly closed in 1903 because of rising costs.
4) Someone should've sent the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, a memo not to terrorise animals: when he visited the gardens in 2014, he tried to catch a lizard by its tail. Thankfully, it managed to escape unscathed, but the poor thing's probably traumatised.
5) The granite ball lying on the Swiss Granite Fountain weighs a whopping 700kg and is kept spinning by very strong water pressure and a three tonne basal block. Don’t even attempt to knock it over. Unless you’re Thor.
6) If you can’t catch your favourite celeb in the flesh, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you can see their namesake in the VIP Orchid Garden in the National Orchid Garden. With over 200 orchids named after heads of state and celebrities, look out for species like the Dendrobium Jackie Chan or the Vanda William Catherine, which was presented to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge during their visit here in 2012. Ong Huiqi