Sunday, February 8, 2015

Botanical Research Park

If you've done you're homework before visiting Yakushima, then you know that biodiversity and particularly the "vertical distribution" of plants was one of the major reasons Yakushima earned World Heritage status. With over 1500 species of vascular plants in a space of about 500 square kilometers, it's a botanist's paradise.

With this in mind, there are several gardens around the island that were created with botanically inclined visitors in mind, or were at least created by fellow plant lovers. These include the Fruit Garden (an "agro-forest") in Nakama, the Rhododendron Park in Kurio, the Comprehensive Nature Park (I think a better translation would be "Nature and Horiculture Gardens") in Miyanoura, and the Botanical Research Park in Mugio, which I will focus on in this entry.

According to general local knowledge (i.e. hearsay), the Botanical Research Park used to be a thriving attraction where busloads of tourists would regularly stop and motorized carts would wait to carry older citizens around the vast grounds before lunch in the now defunct dining room. While the Park's heyday may be over, it still earns it's place on the map, and even though I visited the park in winter, when only a few plants were blooming or fruiting, I still enjoyed my trip.

After purchasing an entrance ticket for 500 yen (Half the price of tickets a few years back! Kids get in for 250 yen.) and receiving a rather cryptic map, a visit begins with the towering green houses visible from the main road. Check out the wood support frame for this structure!

The inside is a bit austere, but depending on the season, you may be greeted by trees bearing mangoes, guavas, star fruits, sea grapes, bread fruits and others that I've never seen before!

The second greenhouse focuses more on flower plants, and includes both exotic and local species, such as sakura azaleas. However, their is a dearth of signs that is only going to become more apparent until--if you don't read Japanese-- you just throw up your hands and just run around the park and have fun.

From fruit trees to an artificial brook lined with flowers.

Next is the pineapple field:

Can you spot a pineapple? (Hint: front left)
And then, it depends what direction you take. Coffee, bananas, lychee, tangerines, monstellas, a passion fruit vineyard, both an "edible flower garden" and an herb garden, subtropical trees, hibiscuses and hydrangeas promise to make for beautiful scenery for visitors in the spring and summer. I was happy to see that quite a few scientific names are posted, but don't expect any signs or explanations in English.

Nasturtiums in the Edible Flower Garden, Mocchomu Dake rising behind
a tankan orange grove, and passion fruit vines.

Smack in the middle of the grounds in the three-story observation tower, which will give you a lovely view of the ocean in the south and Mt. Mocchomu to the northwest.

From the tower I spotted a fruiting Hawaiian screw pine (Click for a close-up)...

...and the view was as great as I expected!
Once you've found gotten your bearings again, head to the southwest corner of the park, following these signs:
They will guide you to a viewing platform for the Torohki Waterfall. In fact, this used to be the best way to view the waterfall until a public walk was built just down the street from the Botanical Research Park.

Torohki Waterfall is an unusual waterfall
that empties directly into the sea. The Botanical
Research Park offers one of two views available to
land-bound tourists.

A walk around the park can easily take over an hour, but if you've brought a lunch with you, you'll find that there are several small shelters with benches scattered around the park, or you can head back to the main building and eat in the gift shop, where your long walk will be rewarded by a small plate of seasonal fruit.

Location: Mugio 896, at the Botanical Research Park bus stop. (30.25174,130.5933)
Entrance: 500 yen, half price for children under 12.
Hours: 8am to 5pm*

*Hours of business may change, so please check or call ahead.

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