At Gampaha, just 27 kilometers (17 miles) inland and northeast of Colombo, the lowland Henarathgoda Botanic Gardens fondly display the ruins of Sri Lanka’s first rubber tree, planted in 1876. The country’s rubber industry was the fruit of seeds originally smuggled out of the tree’s native Brazil, in bales of cotton on a dugout boat running the rivers, it is said. Although the tree was reduced to a mere ring of wood on the ground by a huge storm, there is something quite moving about its continued presence in these historic gardens.
The Gampaha gardens also showcase about 1,500 types of other plants. Here is the place to view the Kithul palm that supplies Sri Lanka’s rich brown raw sugar, jaggery, and alcoholic toddy. Tall Mahogany and Satinwood trees abound, as well as Figs and even some Eucalypts. The orchid house is also worth a visit to marvel at the variety of colours and forms that these exquisite flowers can take, from pink to blue, brown and green.