Wroclaw Botanic Garden, April 2017

Suddenly it was spring – but not as we are used to in Ireland, with a gradual warming of days, and the sun getting stronger.

In early April whilst attending a zoo design conference in Wroclaw, Poland, I squeezed in an afternoon trip to the nearby botanic garden with a colleague. Excellent collection, but still end of winter and not much happening, plus of course this is much more central Europe, colder winters, so a different range of plants grown, more conifers. It was an overcast and chilly day, not conducive to taking pictures.

One thing I had noticed immediately, even in the taxi from the airport, was the amount of mistletoe Viscum album in the trees. Large numbers of plants, but also in a different range of trees, I’m more used to seeing it in apples and poplars (and in National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin even on Davidia), here it was in maples and willows too.

Mistletoe Viscum album on Acer saccharum Wroclaw Botanic Garden


Pre and post conference tours had been arranged, and I was looking forward to seeing the Muskauer Park in particular, a park of some 830 hectares described as one of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in the world, with the greater part of the park situated in Poland with a portion running over the border to Germany. It is the largest 19th century English-style park in central Europe with a tropical greenhouse, castle, the River Neise and a canal very carefully integrated into the design. Unfortunately, it was not to be as travel times had been longer than expected. I was surrounded by zoo directors rather than horticulturalists so it’s a case of “next time perhaps!”

Though we missed out on Muskauer Park we spent a few happy hours in Gorlitz Zoo which had a small natural woodland area showing the first hints of spring, a meadow of yellow flowers that at first distant glance I took to be Cowslips, Primula veris, but once nearer the lighter colour and slightly different form said Oxlip Primula elatior, I had not seen so many in one place before, lovely.

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Primula elatior at Gorlitz Zoo

The spring appearance at Gorlitz Zoo made me decide to look at Wroclaw Botanic Garden again. It was now 6 days after the first visit and I was filling in time waiting for a flight much later that evening. After the visit to the garden I planned to finish with a walk around the historic cathedral area which was lovingly rebuilt after the city was largely destroyed during World War II.

What a difference those six days had made! The sun was out, the day was warmer but not hot, and the garden had come to life, with flowers popping up everywhere, particularly through the woodland areas, and the rock garden.

The photographs and their captions will give you a flavour of the gardens.

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Walsteinia geoides in large masses with other woodland plants. 


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Corydalis solida, Anemone nemerosa with leaves bulbs gone out of flower
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In the centre of the pond a curious bundle of bubble wrap protected something precious perhap?     It turned out to be Gunnera manicata, not hardy in Wroclaw without protection! We do not appreciate our temperate climate in Ireland!
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Ribes aureum which has a sweetly clove scented fragrance. I could not see the difference between this and R. odoratum
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This I could not figure out – and with no English speaking staff I was at a loss – a padlocked frame cover for Sempervivum and Sedum.
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Jeffersonia dubia (here still labelled Plagioreghma dubium)

Wroclaw is at the centre of the Silesian Mountain range, with great deposits of coal, minerals – and fossils. One of our conference tours was to a dinosaur exhibit, more a museum, with life size reconstructions around an old clay quarry, masses of fossils. The botanic garden had a display on this too. The round ‘stones’ are in fact fossilised tree or tree fern trunk sections, you can still see the bark impression.

Signage explaining the rock formation behind, and the associated plants, ferns and horsetail Equisetum.

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The carefully constructed rockwork showing the folding visible today, and all used for alpine plants


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Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Rode Klokke’ – dare I assume ‘Red Cloak’?
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Too early to see this beauty in flower – Rosa pendulina, the alpine rose, native to central European mountains.
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Maples may not be regarded as flowering trees by some, but this Acer negundo var. californicum was looking great. This was obviously a male tree, maybe deliberately, as Acer negundo is invasive, and poisonous – I’ve seen it in Hungary as rampant as Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus in Ireland, and no animal will eat it, so be careful!
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The most unusual display, for me, was this greenhouse devoted entirely to cultivars of ivy Hedera helix.

One aspect of the botanic garden that intrigued me was the labelling. A lot of the scientific names were very old – ‘used to be called’ – and many had the Polish name too, I’d imagine they would be the equivalent of our use of a common name, but sometimes the specific name was given a Polish name which was sometimes a combination of a very old name, and a specific common name!


And lastly,, I must double check against the Irish Heritage Plant list for Cryptomeria japonica ‘Kilmacurragh’ which looks very like Cryptomeria japonica ‘Cristata’ below!

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Stephen Butler

Note: Stephen is the Director of Horticulture at the Zoological Gardens, Phoenix Park, Dublin. He has been a long time member of the IGPS, has been Chairperson of the Leinster region, and leads our work on Irish heritage plants.

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