When in Romania...

Join Dr. Mile for a guided tour around one of Europe 's less well-known Botanic Gardens.
Dr. Felician Micle, Senior Researcher, Botanical Garden, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Chamaerops No. 10, published online 23-09-2002

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The entrance gates (above) to one of Europe's lesser known Botanic Gardens, at Cluj-Napoca, Romania, where, against a background of Pandanus, Cordylines and palms, the Amazon Water Lily - Victoria regia - can be seen in all it's glory (below) in one of the tropical glass houses.

The Botanical Garden of the University of Cluj (Romania) was founded by Professor Alexandru Borza in 1920. With a surface of 14 hectares, it has areas and microclimates suitable for the cultivation of a great variety of plant species from every continent. We have about 10,000 species in total. It was created mainly for study and research purposes for biology students, but is also a place where the general public is encouraged and taught to love and respect nature.

The garden is divided into several sectors: ornamental, phyto-geographical, sytematical, economical and medicinal. In the phyto-geographical sector the Asiatic flora is well represented by a beautiful Japanese garden, also the flora of the Alps and Pyrenees, of North America, the Balkans and the Mediterranean region. Needless to say, the vegetation of Romania itself is well represented by plants from all botanical regions of the country.

An interesting exhibit is the Roman Garden in which species cultivated many centuries ago in the gardens of the Roman patricians are to be found, with names still used in the Romanian language.

We have two greenhouses with a total area of 3,500 square metres in which tropical and subtropical plants are cultivated. The houses are 25m long and 15m high, and they have a minimum temperature of between 16C and 20C, year round, together with a relative humidity of between 60% and 95%, depending on the time of year and the weather. Every day at 2pm during the summer, the plants are watered with an overhead sprinkler system for 15 minutes. Some of the palms are placed outside in the open air for the summer.

Within the garden, there is also the Institute of Botany with two fields: the Botanical Museum and the Herbarium. In the museum there are about 7,600 specimens to be found, representing the most interesting of the Romanian and exotic plants. The Herbarium has about 650,000 herbarium sheets with botanical material from all over the world, but mainly from Romania.

The Botanical Garden of the University publishes the following journals: 'Botanical Contributions', 'The Seed Catalogue' and 'Flora Romaniae Exsiccata' which provide an exchange programme of plant material and scientific magazines with over 450 similar institutes in 80 countries.

Today in the garden there are over 80 palm species of widely differing ages and sizes. They have mainly come from seeds exchanged with other Botanic gardens all over the world, but especially Bogor (Indonesia), Peradineya (Sri Lanka), Havana (Cuba), Sydney (Australia), Berlin-Dahlem (Germany), Oxford-Kew (England) and Antibes (France). The average age of our palm trees is between 30 and 40 years, but there are also some that are much older. We have a Phoenix canariensis of 120 years, which is 15m high, a Howea forsteriana of 60 years that is l0m and a Chamaerops humilis, which is 65 years old, and 8m high. Among the very young palms there are Rhopalostylis sapida of just 3 years old, Calamus cambojensis of 4 years old, and a 2-year-old specimen of Sabal havanensis.

The seeds, which we get from other botanical institutions, are sown in a propagating greenhouse at a temperature of 25-28C in terracotta pots. The length of time for germination differs with the species. With some it is just a few weeks, others take 4-5 months or even a year. In order to accelerate this process some seeds are scarified. Once germinated the young plants are grown on in a mixture of garden loam, compost and sand. Most are grown in wooden crates, which have to be replaced every 2/3 years. They are top-dressed every year to provide nutrients.

Some of the palms are growing directly in the ground in the greenhouse: Cocos nucifera, Phoenix canariensis, Elaeis guineensis, Caryota mitis and Washingtonia robusta. Although the soil in the greenhouses is poor, and solid clay below l.5m depth, those species mentioned seem to grow well enough. As a general rule we do not apply additional fertilizers to the palms cultivated in our garden.

All in all, we consider that we have a very interesting collection of palms, with widely differing geographical origins, shapes and aspects; a good representation of the 'family Palmae'. The Botanic Garden of the University of Cluj will try to enrich its palm collection to the benefit of all those who love and want to know more about the wonderful world of plants.

* * *

With his article, Dr. Micle was kind enough to send a list of the more than 80 species of palms growing in the garden. I'd be happy to send a copy to anyone who would like one. M.G.

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