Popham’s Arboretum Tree Garden


Popham's Arboretum, located in the Dambulla, Matale District of Sri Lanka, is a captivating tree garden that serves as a greenhouse dedicated to growing trees for study and display. Covering an area of 7.5 acres, this unique Arboretum was established over five decades ago on abandoned 'Chena' land and thorny scrub jungle in Dambulla, at the island's geographical centre. It is a place where history and culture blend harmoniously with a natural landscape of water and mountains, creating an idyllic setting to observe various plant and animal species. This writing will delve into the fascinating story of Popham's Arboretum and explore its rich biodiversity, the founder's vision, and how to access this hidden gem.

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Flora and Fauna

Popham's Arboretum is a sanctuary for an incredible array of plant and animal species native to Sri Lanka's dry zone. Within its boundaries, visitors can observe remarkable varieties of trees, including Valikukula, Alu Kadaththa, Kaballawa, and Unhapuluwa. Besides the diverse plant life, the arboretum has a thriving wildlife population. Nature enthusiasts can spot 25 mammal species, 83 immigrant bird species, 75 butterfly species, and 12 species of Bathkuru spices, making it a biodiversity hotspot worth exploring.

The Founder's Vision

The arboretum's establishment is attributed to Mr F.H. (Sam) Popham, a man passionate about trees and preserving the natural beauty of Sri Lanka's dry zone. Born in England on February 29, 1923, he first arrived in Sri Lanka during World War II as a British Naval Officer. Enchanted by the forest vegetation along the Dambulla-Bakamuna road, Popham returned to Sri Lanka after the war as a Tea Planter.

However, his love for trees led him to give up tea planting and join the Smithsonian Institute's 'Flora of Ceylon' project as the Principal Field Officer. In 1963, he purchased seven and a half acres of abandoned 'Chena' land in Dambulla, where he began his life's most significant work—restoring wasteland to its natural state and conserving the unique biological diversity of Sri Lanka's dry zone. His dedication and passion laid the foundation for what is now known as Popham's Arboretum.

How to Reach the Arboretum

Located just 2.5km from Dambulla on the Dambulla-Kandalama road, Popham's Arboretum is easily accessible. Visitors can take a short ride from Dambulla to arrive at this verdant oasis amidst the dry zone landscape.

Embrace Nature's Beauty

As you enter Popham's Arboretum, prepare to be captivated by the stunning array of trees and the vibrant tapestry of wildlife that calls this place home. Take leisurely walks along designated paths, allowing yourself to immerse yourself in the serene atmosphere and marvel at the wonders of nature.

Guided Tours and Educational Programs

The Arboretum offers guided tours conducted by experts who provide valuable insights into the diverse flora and fauna within its borders. Educational programs are also available, making it an ideal destination for students and nature enthusiasts seeking to expand their knowledge of Sri Lanka's dry zone ecosystem.

Popham's Arboretum stands as a testament to the passion and dedication of Mr F.H. (Sam) Popham, a man who transformed abandoned land into a thriving tree garden and conservation haven. This lush oasis in the heart of Sri Lanka's dry zone is a must-visit for those seeking to reconnect with nature and witness the rich biodiversity in this region.


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