Indonesia lies within the botanical region of Melanesia, covering the Malay peninsula south of the Isthmus of Kra, the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Province of Papua, with the exception of the Solomon islands. For the most part, this region is covered with the luxuriant growth of the characteristic rain forest vegetation, a type of ever-wet vegetation containing a large number of timber species and harboring various kinds of epiphytes, saprophytes and lianas. These characteristic features and the high number of species endemic to this region make the flora of Indonesia different from that of neighboring continental Asia and Australia, as well as from the flora of other tropical areas in the world.
The richness of the Melanesian region, of which Indonesia represents a major portion, is reflected in the accommodation of close to 40,000 species of plants, or about 10 to 12% of the estimated number of plant species of the whole world. Moreover, the flora making up the Indonesian vegetation abounds in timber species. Approximately 6,000 species of Indonesian plants are used by the people as a source of raw material for the making of traditional herbal medicines or as an indispensable part of traditional rituals and ceremonies.
The mast common form of the traditional Indonesian private garden, the so called pekarangan, differs considerably from that familiar to the West. Still found in its old form mainly in rural areas, this type of garden usually grows fruit, medical herbs and other useful plants such as bamboo. It is often marked off from neighboring lots by low hedges or bamboo fences but seldom entirely enclosed for privacy. Closer to the conventional eastern concept of a garden and of greater interest aesthetically, is the big pelataran garden which surrounds the homes of the aristocracy and other members of the social elite in Java. Usually covered with carefully brushed river sand and shaded by tall cinnamon trees, these aristocratic gardens exhume an air of quiet dignity and bear a character all their own.
Unlike the small common gardens, they are normally entirely surrounded by high walls to provide complete privacy. Similar in concept to the pelataran is the alun-alun, the traditional town square which usually found in front of the ruling royal or princely house, or the highest local government administrator, the bupati. Western influence has to a certain extent pushed aside the old traditional concept and nowadays most town gardens and all parks apart from the alun-alun are more, or entirely, a realization of the modern western concept. A further development has been the establishment of national and tourist parks for the purpose of conservation, research and recreation in many parts of the country.
The Bogor Botanic Gardens
The most renowned of public gardens and one which has won international acclaim, is the Bogor Botanic Gardens, 60 kilometers south of Jakarta.
Laid out initially at the orders of the British Lieutenant Governor Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles with the help of experts from the Kew Gardens, the Bogor Botanic Gardens were inaugurated in 1817, after the end of the five-year British interregnum, by Dutch Governor General Van Der Capellen. It covers an area of 87 hectares (about 217,5 acres) and has a collection of more than 15,000 native and foreign plant species, including orchids and the giant Rafflesia which blooms only once a year.
Affiliated with the Botanic Gardens are the Herbarium Bogoriense containing preserved plant species, the Zoological Museum and the Treub Laboratory. Branches of the Bogor gardens are the Cibodas Mountain Garden, the Purwodadi Gardens in East Java and the Eka Karya Garden in Bali.
The Cibodas Mountain Garden
Founded in 1862 for the study of mountain flora and fauna, it covers an area of about 80 hectares at an elevation of 1,200 meters on the slope of the Gede volcano, West Java. Attached to this garden is a forest reserve of more than 1,200 hectares 13,000 acres) extending up to the summit of Mount Pangrango 13,000 m) and the crater of Mount Gede, east of Bogor. The Cibodas collection includes imports from a number of sub-tropical countries.
The Purwodadi Garden
This garden in East Java was founded in 1914 for the study of plants growing under relatively dry climatic conditions. It is situated on the lower slopes of Mount Arjuna at an altitude of about 3000 m and covers an area of 85 hectares (212.5 acres).
The Eka Karya Garden
Founded in 1959 for the study of the mountain flora of West Nusa Tenggara (The western part of the Lesser Sunda Islands). Located at Candi Kuning on the slopes of Mount Pohen in Bali, it covers an area of 50 hectares l 125 acres) at an altitude ranging from 1,250 to 1,450 m above sea-level. Attached to the garden are three tracts of nature reserve covering an area of about 1,600 hectares 14,000 acres.
The Sibolangit Garden
This North Sumatra garden was founded in 1974 and is situated at Sibolangit on the slopes of the volcano Sibayak at an altitude of about 500 m, it covers an area of 20 hectares 150 acres) and has a forest reserve of about 100 hectares 1250 acres) with an altitude of between 300 and 550 m. Though historically falling under the jurisdiction of the Bogor Botanic Gardens, the Sibolangit Garden has for practical reasons, been given an independent status.
The Setia Mulia Garden
Founded in 1955 at Padangtinggi on the slopes of the Bukit Barisan mountain range in West Sumatra. It covers an area of 60 hectares (150 acres) at an elevation of 350 to 900 m. Attached to it is a nature reserve of about 3,000 hectares 17,500 acres).
Apart from those in the Bogor Botanic Gardens, which serve a mainly scientific and experimental purpose, commercial orchid gardens are found in Jakarta at Slipi and in the Taman Mini Indonesia Park produce some of the most exotic orchid species, including the black orchid (bualagna pandurata) which grows in the Kersik Luway reserve of East Kalimantan.