During a recent trip to Amsterdam (the Netherlands that is) last November I had occasion to visit the Hortus Botanic gardens, situated on 1.2 hectares in the heart of the city, close to the Amstel River. It was founded in 1638 as Hortus Medicus for the purpose of growing medicinal herbs and where pharmacists and physicians could be trained in their use. Its collections expanded in 1682 and the name shortened to Hortus Botanicus, though everyone in the city just calls it the Hortus.
Today the gardens are home to more than 4,000 plant species from across all continents, or about 2% of all species growing on Earth. It specializes in cycads, South African plants, palms, conservatory plants, and carnivorous plants. Of much pride to the Hortus is a 300-year-old Eastern Cape giant cycad, said to be one of the world’s oldest potted plants. And how about the giant water lily (Victoria amazonica) that has been much admired at the Hortus since 1859? These and many others were brought to Amsterdam by the Dutch East India Company, which sailed the world trading in many goods, including herbs and spices.
Also of interest is the systematic Semicircle garden, in which DNA, rather than external characteristics, determines the relationships among plants.
At first blush it wouldn’t seem many plants in this vast collection would survive in the Northern Rocky Mountain region, but on closer inspection, that is not the case. Representing seven climates, there are plants and trees in the Hortus from just about every corner of the Earth, including some that will grow in North American zone 4.
The Hortus is located within walking distance from the city center, just across the Amstel River. Cost of admission is 7 euros. There’s a pleasant little café on the premises, as well as restrooms.