Botanical gardens

The last of their kind

“The earth laughs in flowers.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

In Switzerland almost half of natural habitats and a third of the flora are in danger. Preserving biodiversity in the long term will require a range of measures, with botanical gardens playing an important role.

Botanical gardens not only preserve nature and species but do PR work: the priority of the “Last of their Kind” project is to promote and increase awareness of endangered plant species and inform people of the issue via a culture of debate. Ten botanical gardens are each taking on two specific plants.

Botanical garden at the University of Zurich

Around 9,000 species are on display over 5.6 hectares at the botanical garden at the University of Zurich. The garden’s responsibilities include research, education, public relations and the protection of species.

Image: Botanical Garden at the University of Zurich

(Left) The Gallic Rose (Rosa gallica), a shrub with pink-crimson blossoms, is severely endangered in Switzerland and only grows in a few regions.

(Right) The One-Flowered Broomrape (Orobanche purpurea) is severely endangered as a result of intensive grazing, overfertilisation, the encroachment of scrub onto low-fertility meadows and overbuilding.

Images: (Left) Alex Bernhard; (right) Konrad Lauber, Flora Helvetica, Haupt publishers

Botanical Garden, Neuchâtel

The Botanical Garden at Neuchâtel is at the edge of a forest, above the city, in the picturesque Vallon de l’Ermitage. Some 3,600 types of plant grow in a variety of habitats, including low-fertility meadows, oak forests and shrubbery.

Image: Botanical Garden, Neuchâtel

(Left) The Venus Hair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) grows thickly on moist tuff and limestone rocks or by waterfalls and springs.

(Right) The Woodland Tulip (Tulipa sylvestris) is a bulbous plant in the lily family and grows to 50cm high. It loves chalky clay.

Images: (Left) Muriel Bendel,; (right) Adrian Möhl,

Botanical garden at the University of Basel

The botanical garden at the University of Basel is the oldest in Switzerland and was founded in 1589 by Caspar Bauhin. The diverse plant collection of some 7,000 species is used for research, education and species protection.

Image: Botanical garden at the University of Basel

(Left) The Fringed Pink (Dianthus superbus) is a perennial blossoming plant found in extensively used meadows and pastures. Drainage systems and intensive farming have almost wiped the species out.

(Right) Reddish Stonecrop (Sedum rubens) is a thermophilic plant (it likes high temperatures) and comes originally from the Mediterranean region. Since 1994 the botanical garden in Basel has produced seeds for other botanical gardens and living roofs.

Images: (Left and right) Konrad Lauber, Flora Helvetica, Haupt publishers

Botanical Garden, Pont-de-Nant

The “La Thomasia” botanical garden in Lausanne lies at the heart of the Vaud Alps at 1,260 metres and is home to around 2,000 mountain plant species from around the world. In 2016 it is celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Image: La Thomasia botanical garden, Pont-de-Nant

(Left) The Marsh Saxifrage (Saxifraga hirculus) grows on upland moors and marshy ditches. It grows to 30cm high and has golden yellow blossoms. Only one habitat is known in Switzerland.

(Right) With its sky-blue to purplish blossoms, which can grow to 8cm, the Alpine Columbine (Aqulegia alpine) is unmistakable. Switzerland, home to a significant part of the flower’s natural habitat, carries a large responsibility for its preservation.

Images: (Left) Adrian Möhl,; (right) Konrad Lauber, Flora Helvetica, Haupt publishers

Botanical Garden, Porrentruy

In the middle of the Old Town, surrounded by a Jesuit college, lies JURASSICA, the Botanical Garden at Porrentruy. Six hundred local plant species from the Jura region are featured. The 70 types of roses and 180 varieties of irises turn the garden into a huge sea of colour when it’s time for the flowers to bloom.

Image: JURASSICA, the Botanical Garden at Porrentruy

(Left) The Small Pheasant’s Eye (Narcissus radiiflorus) grows to be 40cm tall. In Switzerland it particularly flourishes in the western pre-Alps and the Jura. The once common plant has nearly disappeared today due to extensive grazing and picking.

(Right) The Snake’s Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris) is a bulb plant from the lily family. It grows to 20cm to 30cm high and has a bell-shaped hanging blossom. It grows in wet meadows, especially along the Doubs river. The construction of hydroelectric power plants and flower-picking have driven it almost to extinction.

Images: (Left) JURASSICA, the Botanical Garden at Porrentruy; (right) Konrad Lauber, Flora Helvetica, Haupt publishers

Botanical Garden of canton Ticino

The Botanical Garden of canton Ticino is located on the island of San Pancrazio in the Lake Maggiore. Thanks to mild temperatures and abundant rainfall, subtropical plants from five Mediterranean regions are able to thrive there.

Image: Botanical Garden of canton Ticino

(Left) The European Water Clover (Marsilea quadrifolia) resembles a four-leaf clover. The leaves float on the water’s surface. The plant is found in swamps, ponds and floodplains in mild regions.

(Right) The Sage-Leaved Rock Rose (Cistus salviifolius) has wrinkled, shrivelled leaves and an aromatic scent. The shrub grows to a maximum of 1m high. In Switzerland the plant is found only in canton Ticino and is cultivated on the Brissago Islands.

Image: (Left and right) Konrad Lauber, Flora Helvetica, Haupt publishers

Botanical Garden of the University of Fribourg

The Botanical Garden of the University of Fribourg, founded in 1937, was first used primarily to educate physicians and pharmacists about medicinal, natural and water plants. As time passed, tropical greenhouses, geophytes and protected plants were added. Today the collection comprises around 5,000 species.

Image: Botanical Garden of the University of Fribourg

(Left) The Dwarf Water Lily (Nuphar pumila) is a perennial aquatic plant. It settles in still, nutrient-poor bodies of water. Pollution, swimmers and boats have especially impinged on the plants and they are seen only rarely.

(Right) Scurvy Grass, also known as Spoonwort (Cochlearia pyrenaica), grows to a height of 30cm. It grows in lime-rich springs, at the edges of streams, and in wet meadows. Today the plant grows only in the Gantrisch region.

Images: (Left) Gregor Kozlowski; (right) Konrad Lauber, Flora Helvetica, Haupt publishers

Erschmatt’s Botanic Reserve

Erschmatt’s Botanic Reserve in canton Valais lies in a terraced landscape above the village. It offers a home for cultivated plants which are only rarely grown.

Image: Erschmatt’s Botanic Reserve

(Left) The Black Bread Weed (Nigella arvensis) is an annual plant. It grows to 30cm high, almost exclusively in grain fields, and is found in Switzerland predominantly in canton Valais. Herbicides and intensive farming have been bad for the plant.

(Right) The seeds of the Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis flammea), an annual plant, germinate in autumn or early the following year. In Switzerland the plant is found almost exclusively in canton Valais, and only in locations where extensive grain cultivation has been practised.

Images: (Left) Erschmatt’s Botanic Reserve; (right) Adrian Möhl, 

Botanical Garden Alpinum Schatzalp, Davos

The first Botanical Garden on the Schatzalp above Davos was created in 1907. It’s attached to the art nouveau Hotel Schatzalp, which was used as a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients at the time, then rebuilt as a hotel in the 1950s. The botanical garden today contains more than 5,000 types of plants from all over the world.

Image: Botanical Garden Alpinum Schatzalp, Davos 

(Left) The Blue Star Sea Holly (Eryngium alpinum) grows to a height of 70cm. It’s considered a vulnerable species, and can be found in a number of isolated areas in Switzerland, especially in the pre-Alps. The Schatzalp botanical garden has mature plants but can also cultivate seedlings, which are suitable for reintroduction.

(Right) The Swiss Dwarf Delphinium (Delphinium elatum subsp. helveticum) is a subspecies of the high larkspur and can grow to a height of 2m. It is prevalent only in the western Alps of France, Italy and Switzerland. The stock has been greatly diminished in recent decades.

Images: (Left and right) Botanical Garden Alpinum Schatzalp, Davos

Botanical Garden of the University of Bern

The Botanical Garden of the University of Bern was created in 1860 in the Altenbergrain section of the Swiss capital. Today the garden comprises some 5,500 plant varieties on around 2.5 hectares of land. Besides its 150-year-old trees, the Alpine garden, a garden with medicinal plants, and a greenhouse containing prairie flowers are especially interesting.

Image: Botanical Garden of the University of Bern

(Left) The Flecked Marsh Orchid (Dactylorhiza cruenta) belongs to the orchid family and colonises the subalpine fenlands. The only place the plant is found north of the Alps is near the town of Kandersteg. From this population, seeds were collected and cultivated in the botanical garden. So far, 2,000 individual plants have grown. These will be returned to their place of origin in 2017.

(Right) The goal of this project is to rescue not only a threatened flower – the Star Gentian (Gentiana cruciata) – but also a threatened butterfly, the Mountain Alcon Blue (Phengaris rebeli). The butterfly is entirely dependent on Gentiana cruciata. In 2015, seeds were sown for planting in Bern’s Jura mountains in 2016.

Images: (Left and right) Konrad Lauber, Flora Helvetica, Haupt publishers


Rolf Amiet
Felipe Schärer Diem