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Popham Arboretum Sri Lanka

Popham Arboretum Sri Lanka

Founded in 1963 by British tea planter and dendrologist Sam Popham, this is the only dry-zone arboretum in Sri Lanka located in Dambulla. When Popham bought this abandoned piece of land, it was covered with scrub. After clearing the vegetation, he noticed that the indigenous trees, which were unable to grow previously due to the dense scrub cover, were starting to thrive. Following this observation, he developed the “Popham Method”, an experiment in reforesting that involved selectively clearing a scrub jungle so that native trees could seed and grow.

Spread over an area of 14 ha (35 acres), the arboretum has around 200 species of trees and shrubs, including many endemic ones. Among the topical trees here are satinwood, ebony, tamarind and ironwood, which in turn provide habitat for a variety of birds such as the endemic Sri Lankan jungle fowl, the grey hornbill and blue-tailed bee eater, in addition to small mammals.

Designed by Geoffrey Bawa, the visitor centre of the arboretum used to be Popham’s home before he left Sri Lanka in the 1980s and headed back to the UK. An album containing photographs of what the arboretum looked like in its early years, and of the mud hut that was Popham’s first home, is available on request.

There are three color-coded trails that meander through the arboretum grounds. Visitors can explore these trails independently, or arrange for a guided walk; all trails begin from the visitors centre. It is also possible to come for an evening walk when there is a chance of sighting a slender loris, a spotted deer or a pangolin.