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Author(s) of the publication: Alexander DEMIDOV, Vladimir SHATKO

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by Alexander DEMIDOV, Dr. Sc. (Biol.), director of the N.V. Tsitsin Chief Botanical Gardens of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Vladimir SHATKO, Cand. Sc. (Biol.), chief researcher

About half a million people visit each year a lovely place in Moscow's northeast, the N.V. Tsitsin Chief Botanical Gardens (CBG) occupying an area of 331.5 ha (828 a). Set up by the national Academy of Sciences, the gardens boast of unique collections of more than 17,000 plant spieces, varieties and forms.

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Compared with the St. Petersburg and the Moscow University botanical gardens (both nearly 300 years old), we are still rather young. Our official birthday is April 14, 1945, and the decision to lay the gardens out was adopted at the fag end of the Great Patriotic War, with fierce battles still being fought on, and with towns and villages in ruins. The sponsor of the project was the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

The cream of the nation's landscape architects, biologists and gardeners was engaged, who gave of their know-how and experience, and of their heart and soul, too. Small wonder that in these fifty years this place has become what it was meant to be-the nation's Chief Botanical Gardens, Research Institute of Experimental Botany, and largest plant museum, all in one.

Now let's make a tour of this floral kingdom. Entering through the posh gateway, we get into a different world and forget all about the huge megalopolis, Moscow, beyond the fence- with its countless residential blocks, traffic, hubhub and commotion... The CBG is a placid and serene haunt for our guests, its quiet accentuated by the singing of birds and the soughing of leaves. The pure, fresh air is redolent of forestland, it is fragrant with the aroma of green plants and flowers.

Crossing the main parterre, we approach a cascade of three small ponds, their waters reflecting the trees of an arboretum close by. First comes a birch grove. The birch is a tree glorified in verses and in prose, it has become Russia's symbol. But there are birches and birches. Along with the usual, white-trunk variety, there are birches having a black bark (Betula dahurica), a brown (B. gleminii) or a pink silky bark (elmleaved birch). Our exposition of these slim beauties lists around 30 species and varieties, including the famed Karelian birch (B. pendula f. carelicd) valued for its wood with intricate design; the miniature dwarf birch (B. nana); the paper birch (B. papyriferd); and the cherry birch (B. lenta) - the latter two coming from North America.

Our arboretum, 75 ha (187 a.) large, was designed as a landscape park that has a great many plants brought from all over the world and growing under the canopy of a natural forest of oak, birch, fir and pine. Its collection numbers something like 2,000 varieties, to make it one of the best in Europe, and Russia's largest. Trees and bushes are grouped in keeping with the systemic principle, that is plants of one and the same kind grow

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in orderly clusters on separate plots. The native forest protects them from cold in winter, and from heat and winds in summertime.

It took many trees and shrubs quite some time to acclimate in Moscow.

So hardy varieties of bastard (white) acacia, Japanese quince, hornbeam, yew and many other plants had to be selected; they are faring quite well and producing seed. Introduction (transplantation) and acclimation of trees and related arboreal plants is laborious and routine work that takes a lot of knowledge, patience and time. For instance, our experts transplanted the native of North American woods, the catalpa (Catalpa bignonioides), something like seventy times until they could sort out a sturdy specimen. Today these trees are ten meters tall, they are in lush bloom every year, and they fructify.

Strolling about our arboretum, you kind of visit all continents-now North America and southern Europe, now deserts of Central Asia and woods of the Far East. You see the North American thuya side by side with the Far Eastern aralia, the Moscow birch next to the tamarisk (Tamarix) of Central Asia, and the Caucasian yew rubbing shoulders with the Canadian (white) spruce. A wonderland, indeed!

But let's go ahead with our tour. On either side of the central alley of our arboretum grow rowan-trees, or mountain ashes-as many as 82 species. These deciduous trees or else large shrubs from the Rosaceae family are just as known and loved here as the birches. Besides the mountain ash common to central Russia (Sorbus aucuparid), you can see its Colchis counterpart (S. colchicd) with thick- skin elliptical leaves, the Sudeten bushy variety (S.Sudetica) widespread in central Europe's mountains as well as the bigbloom (S.latifolid) that grows in North America, Asia Minor and Western Europe. By the way, we have a good many of the rowan's hybrids developed by the famous Russian biologist and selectionist Ivan Michurin (1855 - 1935), elected honorary member of the USSR Academy of Sciences. We might as well name the Likyornaya ("liquor flavor") strain and its black sweet berries; "Medny zhar" ("copperfire", a Dutch strain with orange berry clusters); Rozovaya Koroleva ("pink queen"), a monumental tree yielding tasty fruit of pink, rosy color.

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Our exposition of bright magnolias is sure to catch your eye in the early spring. This nice flower appeared on earth long ago, as far back as 140 mln years, to be get many present-day varieties of magnolia plants. We know of about 80 native species, though have but one deciduous species, the silver magnolia (Magnolia obovata), found in this country, in the Kuriles, and now entered in the Red Data Book. However, three magnolia species are grown in our gardens (deciduous species, too): the M.cobus hailing from Japan, the M.acuminatafrom North America, and the hybrid M.x soulangeana. Early in the spring, the still leafless shoots of the cobus are out in slender pink blooms of fine fragrance. The North American M.acuminata produces yellow-green flowers with as good as no odor at all and looking like tulips; they come out after the host plant is in leaf.

Our arboretum boasts a unique tree, often spoken of as a "living fossil" since it comes of the Jurassic period when our planet was still inhabited by dinosaurs. This is the ginkgo (Ginkgo bilobd), a dioecious * tree with a remarkable pattern of branching and nice bilobate leaves just like a small fan. In its native parts, in the mountains of southeastern China, this tree grows in a warm and humid climate, rising as high as 1,500 m above sea level. The regular ginkgo is 40 m tall and measures 4.5 m in diameter. But it feels rather uncomfortable in Moscow, being just slightly above two meters in height at age 20. It is frosted over every winter. And yet this relict species is quite hardy in urban conditions what with the smoke, dust and gases. That is why it was long evolved into an urbanite culture and thus is often found in European parks or in North American cities.

But let's go on. Close to the ginkgo is a colony of shrubs with ornate, bifid leaves; these are the dendritic, or Chinese, peonies grown as decorative plants. You can see two wild species: the Paeonia delavayi remarkable for red-orange flowers, and the yellow peony, P.lutea, with golden-and-yellow blooms. They are out in June and July, and their ornamental, openwork leaves of dark green endure tin the first autumn frosts in an effective contrast to the yellow-russet backdrop of the garden.

Various fir species and forms rise along the periphery of one of the glades. Next to the tall adult spruce firs (Picea abies) well known to residents of Central Russia, are its decorative varieties. The dwarf fir is among them, it resembles a miniature pyramid, with a weeping crown upside down. Close by is a serpen-


* Dioecious-plants that have male and female blossoms on different individuals. -Ed

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tine fir-tree distinguished for over-long branches and larger needles, something that imparts peculiar charm to it. Finding it in a forest near Moscow, we brought it to CBG. This tree is feeling fine, it has grown tall and broad.

Our northern fringe is flanked by picturesque glades surrounded by venerable oaks and copses of alien species of the hawthorn, maple, nut, barberry and euonymus. This haunt is quite a pleasure to stoll about in the fall, at the "carnival of trees", with its dazzling rave of color.

The collections of our arboretum, however, are not only meant to enlighten one on the wealth of the plant kingdom. They enable research into the morphology, anatomy, physiology and biochemistry of plants. After years and years of painstaking research, our experts could recommend as many as 600 types of trees and shrubs for Moscow's squares, parks and gardens.

Just in the heart of CBG is our holy of holies, they oak-grove reserve. Since oaks like that do not occur north of our latitudes, we set off part of the famous Ostankino oak- grove, now within our CBG. The English oak (Quercus robur) holds pride of place. The average age of the trees tops 150 years, though two-century-olds occur here and there. Aside from the mohicans are also aspens, birches and rowans. Well preserved is the underwood of hazel, honeysuckle, alder buckthorn, wartybark euonymus, among others. One oak-grove of northern Russia trees is off limits to visitors-only our staff workers can enter its grounds for study and observations. A patch of native forestland within a megalopolis is an out-of-the-way phenomenon in the practice of landscape architecture.

The forbidden-zone regime allows to monitor the forestland under the conditions of controlled anthropogenic action. Apart from research, such strict regulations open up new prospects for a strategy and tactics in the protection of natural ecosystems. Needless to say, it is hardly possible to optimize the environment of an oak-grove like ours just by planting trees and shrubs around. Only large tracts of forestland can improve the urban climate and atmosphere as a biofilter of sorts, and thus protect inner-city bodies of water. The oak-grove preserve of ours is a kind of testing ground for urban ecology of the future.

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The eastern part of our compound is under peerless expositions of natural flora with about 2,500 species. The plants are arranged by the botanic-geographical and ecological principle to feature the major floristic areas: "European steppe-lands", "Caucasia", "Siberia", "Central Asia", "Far East"... Varied landscapes and natural zones-from southern deserts to taiga woods and tundra plains-are exhibited in a nice blend on this tract, 30 ha (75 a) large. Early in the spring, with the snow still on in the forested part of our gardens, the first blooms come up here: sky-blue mercuries and chionodoxae, snow-white galanthi and snowdrops, along with crocuses of yellow and violet color. The month of May is the climax of the blooming season. Against the backdrop of silvery feather-grass is a parade of poppies crimson in the sun, and the countless blue inflorescences of sage set off against the clusters of yellow cow's lungwort...

Next to the steppeland patch is a Central Asia hillock with an assembly of plants of its own, in a flashing display of the archa, or local juniper, of the alycha damson, glary tulips, numerous grasses, and lots of other flowering plants. Here you come upon a family of onions, Maximovich rhubarbs, and a constellation of tamarisks adorned with pink blooming clusters... The Far Eastern plot displays the aboriginal sylvan species, such as the Korean cedar, or pine (Pinus komiensis), the Amoor cork tree (Phellodendron amurense), the Manchurian nut (Juglans mandshurica), the many maple species, aralia, lianes; or like the actinidia, schizan-dra, aristolochia, vine (Vitis). Standouts among grass plants are the graceful ferns as well as the high grasses-the Sakhalin buckwheat, the Kamchatka meadowsweet, and the Sakhalin angelica, as tall as three meters.

One of our most exquisite-and exotic!-sights is the Japanese Garden created to the design of the landscape architect K. Nakajima in 1987 in keeping with the national traditions of the Land of the Rising Sun. Everything-stone, water, plants and elements of architecture-blend nicely. Owing to the rough and hilly terrain, several ponds dug up here form a cascade of waterfalls and rapids; a network of streams interconnects these lakes. Overhanging the water mirror are juniper branches, and quite nearby, amongst boulders, grow bushes of the rhododendron and spiraea, or meadowsweet. Footbridges of wood span the picturesque ponds. A stunted pine sits on a miniature islet, with irises rising proudly from shallow waters next by. Elements of the Japanese architecture harmonize with the gardenscape:

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stone lanterns, a 19th - century stone pagoda in thirteen tiers, a teahouse and a small pergola.

Brought in from the island of Hokkaido were lots of things: the Japanese sakura, or cherry (Prunus sp.), the maple (Acer mono), the iris (Iris kaempferi), the elm (Ulmus davidii), the Japanese rhododendron (Rhododendron japonicum), and so forth. This is the site of tea parties, bonsai and ikebana exhibits, and oriental single-combat contests. Actors of the Japanese theater Noh once gave a show here.

Now some more of the sights. Way over across the Likhoborka stream lie patches showing a wealth of cultivated plants in all the variety of strains. Their origin and evolutionary pathways are keynoted by this very exposition. Here you find a lot of folk selection strains and those of rare occurrence; there are hybrid cultures as well as medicinal and volatile-oil-bearing plants. Featured here are pear/rowan and pear/cotoneaster hybrids, raspberry/strawberry hybrids, along with the cranberry, bog bilberry, honeysuckle, vine, lavender, thyme, melissa, mint, and so on. Our botanists have picked many oil-plant strains that are as productive as down south, their traditional cultivation area.

Now, what we call the "Garden of Nonstop Florescence" lies on a spacious glade bordering on the oak-grove on one side, and on the ponds separating CBG from the grounds of the All-Russia Exhibition Center, on the other. The beauty of this place is emphasized by giant oaks, by a multi-trunk specimen of the Manchuriannut, and by slender firs and jumpers. The idea of this rather unusual display is to recreate a living calendar of blooming, something to feast your eyes on from early spring to late autumn. The riot of color is fantastic indeed. Coppices of trees and shrubbery alternate with bright patches of blooming perennials. Coming one after the other in this kaleidoscope are the crocuses, primroses, lilac, phloxes, chrysanthemums, peonies, irises, poppies, camomiles, colchicum blooms, and what not! In all, nearly 200 taxa of arboreal plants and 35 herb taxa are on display.

Our stock greenhouse, 5,000 sq. m large, keeps a rich collection of tropical and subtropical cultures, over 4,000 species all told. But altogether we have tested more than 700 species of heat-loving plants, most of them grown from seed we got by exchange

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with other botanical gardens. A good deal is due to our botanists who have collected a multitude of species during their trips to India, Vietnam, Madagascar, USA, Cuba and other countries.

What makes our warmhouse collection remarkable is that it contains rare sets of large groups of plants. It has over 1,000 species of succulents (cactuses, spurges, agaves, etc.), as many as 400 Bromeliaceae (pineapple) species, over 100 Proteaceae species, as well as about 1,200 orchid species and strains. And so forth. Five largest sections of our hothouse feature plant landscapes of the tropics and subtropics, with both typical and rare species on. You can see plants whose fruit is known to everyone: the banana, coffee, and feijoa trees, the melon and mango trees. The variety of orchids is staggering indeed- these plants are dubbed "the aristocracy of the plant kingdom" for their exquisite blooms and foliage. Hence the names given to their strains: "butterfly orchid", "dove orchid", "white nun", "swan orchid"...

Early in the spring azaleas put forth blossoms. A fascinating sight to leave no one cold!

The warmhouse's aquatic section is just as varied, with nearly 200 species and varieties represented, such as the beautiful water lily (Nymphaea), the wonderful crinum, and the like. Here you find a rare collection of arboreal plants of the Proteaceae family. These stunted trees and bushes with their lovely blossoms are not known in the Northern Hemisphere, native as they are to Australia and South Africa. Now what is most unusual about them are inflorescences composed of hundreds and even thousands of small tubular blossoms of dazzling color, often of fine and pleasant fragrance. We cannot name all the wonders of the tropics and subtropics shown in our warm-house, like the rosettes of the Bromeliaceae family, now in the shape of bowls or vases, now hanging in silvery garlands from tree trunks and branches. The spectacular parade of cactuses-spheroid, columnar or pancake-flat-is certainly an eye-catcher.

Our Chief Botanical Gardens, the CBG, are a unique open-air museum, this country's national heritage. Its collections embody the work of several generations of our botanists and gardeners. The CBG exhibits are just as precious as masterpieces of fine arts and architecture, and they need just as great care and attention (even more so!) to charm the generations to come.


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Alexander DEMIDOV, Vladimir SHATKO, FLORAL KINGDOM // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 14.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/FLORAL-KINGDOM (date of access: 28.11.2021).

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