The National Botanic Garden of Belgium is located in the Bouchout domain in Meise, near Brussels. At present it covers 92 ha. It consists of the neighboring grounds of Meise castle and Bouchout castle that King Leopold II had merged for his sister Charlotte, Empress of Mexico. In 1939, the first buildings and greenhouses were set up and the first plants were moved from Brussels to Meise.
The Bouchout domain © TT
It is one of the largest botanical gardens in the world with an extensive collection of living plants in addition to a herbarium of over three million specimens. The current garden was established in 1958 after it moved from the centre of Brussels; the former site is now the Botanical Garden of Brussels. Researchers at the garden conduct research particularly on Belgian and African plants.
The living collections of the National Botanic Garden comprise about 18,000 different kinds of plants. The various glasshouses hold around 10,000 kinds and the arboreta, gardens and collection areas in open air hold approximately 8,000.
Balat greenhouse © TT
Several rare and threatened plant species can be seen, like the titan arum (Amorphophallus titanum) which produces an inflorescence of 2 meter high. Of some species, like the Laurent cycad (Encephalartos laurentianus), Meise probably holds the genetically most diverse collection of plants. Several orchids species like the Emerson lady slipper (Paphiopedilium emersonii) are on the brink of extinction.
The Plant Palace
The Plant Palace consists of 13 interconnecting glasshouses. Eleven of which simulate the climate of a different region of the world. The remaining two, the Evolution house and Mabundu have a thematic approach. In 2009 the renovation of the roof of the 13 large glasshouses of the Plant Palace was finished.
Visitors look at the waterlilies © TT
The Victoria House © TT
The Victoria House is the most humid of all the glasshouses. Here in summer you can discover the world’s biggest water lilies along with marshloving plants, carnivorous plants and papyrus.
Babies can be put on leaves of the giant waterlily Victoria crusiana in an event exclusively for under one year olds.
In recent years the botanical garden attracted the attention of the media due to legal, political and community complications. In April 2000 according to the Lambermont Agreement (i.e. the fifth state reform) it was decided that the garden, as it is located in the Flemish-Brabant municipality of Meise, should be placed under the jurisdiction of the Flemish Community. The French-speaking Community was allowed only to appoint scientists to work in Meise and had to cover the costs of their fees.
The entrance of the Plant Palace © TT
However, the situation ended up in a stalemate, owing to rows about how to interpret the agreement. The botanical garden’s joint scientific council had to reach a decision about sharing out the scientific heritage. The impossibility of making a full inventory of the huge collection meant relying on a panel of international experts to develop a method to decide the owner of the various parts of the collection.
The orangery needs reparation © TT
The language issue has also given rise to a controversy. If the botanical garden is a federal institution, a balance has to be struck between the number of Dutch and French-speaking employees, which is not the case at present. Nor is an equal linguistic composition on the cards, in view of the transfer to the Flemish Community and an agreement with the French-speaking Community.
Consequently the botanical garden has been shrouded in a kind of “administrative vacuum’ over the years. The federal government’s investments in the garden and grounds has failed to materialise, so that the infrastructure and operations have come under increasing pressure owing to the community tensions.
At the instigation of the Flemish Authorities, acting in the capacity of caretaker manager, the necessary maintenance work got underway in 2006, along with a complete refurbishment of certain facilities.