The Penang Botanic Gardens also known as the “Waterfall Gardens” because of the cascading waterfall nearby, is a public park situated in a valley along Jalan Kebun Bunga. The Penang Botanical Garden are about five km from Georgetown. It is a well landscaped place that contains a huge variety of indigenous and exotic plant species.
Set up by the British in 1884 by Charles Curtis of the Gardens & Forests Departments Straits Settlements, it used to be an old quarry site and is divided into 12 sections: the Formal Garden, Lily Pond, Perdana Plant House, Tropical Rainforest Jungle Track, Fern House, Fern Rockery, Aroid Walkaway, Cactus House, Orchidarium, Horticulture Centre, Nursery and Quarry Recreational Park. It was engaged mainly in the cultivation of commercial plants, inspecting crops and advising the planting community. When the work connected with economic crops and forestry were taken over by the Agriculture and Forestry Departments, Curtis made himself responsible for the layout of the Botanic Gardens and their transformation from an old granite quarry site.
The Gardens’ main objectives include “conservation programmes, provision of a clean, safe and conducive public recreation environment, education and raising of public awareness in the appreciation of nature and gardening”. The Gardens continue some research in the development and implementation of botanical and ecological research programmes both nationally and internationally.
Amongst the flora in the gardens are the cannon ball tree (Couroupita guianensis) and the large buttress roots of the sengkuang tree (Dracontomelon dao). There is also the pinang palm (Areca catechu) that lent its name to the island of Penang, and the black lily (Tacca integrifolia) with its unique purplish-black coloured flowers. Some of the more interesting plants at the gardens are kept under lock and key, and are only open to visitors from 8am-4pm.
The garden fauna include long-tailed macaques, dusky leaf monkeys, black giant squirrels as well as many insects and butterflies. Penang Botanical garden is also favourite place for bird watcher and photographer.
The path around the Lily Pond offers access to tropical rainforest, a short distance from the Botanic Gardens gate. The walk from the Lower Circular Road passes two prominent groups of palms and bamboo clusters along the Waterfall River. Two orchid houses provide a comparison between cultivated hybrids and wild orchid species. The best time to admire the flowering trees is during the dry season, from February to April, when the Thai bungor (Lagerstroemia loudonii), the Javanese cassia (Cassia javanica) and the rosy trumpet (Tabebuia rosea) are in full flower.
From the Lily Pond path there is a climb to the site of Charles Curtis’ former house, although only a few bricks can still be seen. Various hiking paths lead from the Botanic Gardens, to Penang Hill and to Mount Olivia at the north. Mount Olivia was the site of the Raffles’ home and was named after Raffles’ wife, Olivia.
The waterfall and reservoir are private property although they can be visited by arrangement with the Penang Water Authority (Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang). The Friends of the Penang Botanic Gardens, a non-governmental organisation, organises monthly visits to the waterfall. The Penang waterfall was closed off to the public as a safety measure during the confrontation between the newly independent Malaysia and Indonesia in the 1960s.
The waterfall was an important source of water for ships calling at Penang port in the early part of the 19th century. In 1804, the first water treatment plant in Malaysia was set up here, to supply the needs of 10,000 people in Penang. In 1805, an aqueduct was constructed to channel water from the fall via Pulau Tikus to a reservoir near the port. The quality of the water, filtered through the aged rocks of Penang Hill, was very high, and was described by the early sailors as “sweet”.
Its lush greenery and tranquil setting makes it a favourite park and a popular tourist destination. It is Penang’s unique natural heritage, being the only garden of its kind in Malaysia. As well as being a repository of flora and fauna, unique to the country and to the region, it serves as a “green lung” for metropolitan Penang. As such, the garden is a popular family outing and recreational spot; some of the recreational activities include jogging, walking, jungle trekking, tai chi and aerobics.
The Penang Botanical Garden open at 6am-8pm for visitor.