The collections of the Botanical Garden include over 5,500 plant types from around the world. They are used actively in education, outreach and research at the museum. The plants are both grown in green houses and in different thematic gardens outside. The Botanical Garden conveys knowledge about the diversity of the plant kingdom and the importance of conserving it. Norwegian plants that are considered threatened and vulnerable are also kept in the garden. The Botanical Garden serves as an important recreational area in Oslo.
An Arboretum is a collection of trees and bushes. The arboretum covers most of the Garden’s grounds, and surrounds all the other exhibited plant collections. In every season, you will find something beautiful to see and contemplate among the Garden’s trees and bushes.
The arboretum contains more than 900 different species, subspecies and cultivars, and there are more than 1200 trees altogether. Ever since the Garden was established 200 years ago, the trees have been planted according to a certain system. Trees in the same family are usually found near each other, although with many exceptions.
Strolling through the arboretum, you may find trees in spectacular bloom, each to its season. There are cherry trees, yellowwood, dove trees, robinias, catalpa, linden, elder and mock orange – and last but not least, the magnolia trees, some of which open their large white flowers in early spring before their leaves unfold.
On the western slopes you find the conifers. The walnut trees with their huge, pinnate leaves contribute an exotic look to the area, and the Garden’s only white mulberry tree is also found here. One of the unusual trees you’ll find in the Garden is the Temple Tree, Ginkgo biloba, native to East Asia. Ginkgo is a solitary survivor of an ancient kind of trees, it has no close relatives on Earth. The specimen next to the Victoria House was planted in 1870. Another “living fossil” is the dawn redwood, Metasequoia glyptostroboides. The whole genus was assumed to be extinct, until this one species was found alive and well in a secluded valley in China in 1946.
The Victoria House
The Victoria House is a veritable time capsule from the 1800s. At the time, most European botanical gardens wanted to grow and show the gigantic water lily from the Amazon. This was long before ordinary people had the opportunity to travel and experience exotic flowers in their natural setting – or see them on TV. The Victoria House here in our botanical garden opened in 1876.
The water lily pool is found in the central room. The climate is warm and humid. We usually grow the species Victoria cruziana. If you are lucky, you may also find the sacred lotus in bloom in the pool. Around the pool there are many commonly used and familiar tropical plants. That is, the useful parts of the plants are familiar from your kitchen cupboard, but you may not know what the whole ginger plant, the coffee bush or the cinnamon tree actually look like in nature.
The room to the right is devoted to African plants, many with medicinal properties.
The room to the left shows a selection of the plant life found high up in the tree canopy of a tropical rain forest. Most of these plants are epiphytes, which means that they grow on the trunks and branches of trees or other plants. The best known family in this group of plants is the orchid family. In a bed along one of the walls, you will also find a collection of carnivorous plants.
The Palm House
The Palm House opened in 1868 and has three rooms. The center room is a living exhibit of the evolution of plants through millions of years. There are several cycads, ancient seed plants which were abundant on Earth before flowering plants evolved. You can also see a Wollemia nobilis, a conifer long thought to be extinct, but found alive and well in an Australian national park in 1994. A 50 million year old red sandstone from Svalbard with fossilized leaves is also on display. The leaves are remarkably similar to those found on today’s deciduous trees.
The room to the right is the Mediterranean room. Among many other interesting plants, you may find camellias and orange trees in full bloom in the middle of winter.
The room to the left contains cacti and other succulent plants from many parts of the world. The climate here is always dry, but may be cold at night and very hot in the afternoons.
The Palm House is too low for palms. But it once housed one famous palm, which grew here from 1815 to 2000. It was known as “Smith’s Palm”, grown from a seed collected on the Canary Islands by the Garden’s first director Christen Smith. It eventually grew so tall that several emergency measures were taken to make room for it, including raising the roof. Smith’s Palm was well known and a major attraction in the Garden for 185 years.
The Rock Garden
The Rock Garden is a miniature mountain landscape, with rocky ridges and hillsides surrounded by grass-covered valleys and slopes. Terrain, water and plants together create a vivid impression of the great diversity of plants found in mountainous areas all over the world.
The peak blooming season is spring/early summer, but there are always some plants in bloom or fruit throughout the season.
Practically all the plants are grown from seeds collected in the wild. All are perennials and are not moved indoors in winter. You will usually find between 1500 and 1700 different kinds of plants here.
The Rock Garden opened in 1989. Inspired by alpine garden in the Alps, it is divided into geographical areas. Plants from the same parts of the world are located together, with Europe at the bottom, Asia in the middle, and America at the top. The creek is artificial with circulating water. It ends in a small waterfall cascading into the bottom pond.
The Rock Garden is in continuous development and expansion. Plants are tested here every year, and not all of them make it; the plant selection is adjusted accordingly.
The Scandinavian Ridge
On the Scandinavian ridge, we do not only show plants growing in Scandinavian mountains – we show you the mountain itself. Different rocks create different soils, and therefore different types of vegetation. Some plants prefer granite, others shale. The rocks have been brought here from many different places in Norway.
The ridge is a cooperative project between the Natural History Museum’s botanists, geologists and gardeners. We want to provide insight into the underlying conditions which create different habitats. There are marshy areas as well as areas dominated by sand and gravel. Such differences are important for the development of biological diversity.
Alpine plants grow slowly. Our Oslo location is not optimal for species like the pyramidal saxifrage, but we have very skillful gardeners who do their utmost to make them thrive. You also find mountain plants like alpine sagewort, rockfoil and the small fleawort Tephroseris integrifolia, which has only been found in a single location in Norway.
The Flora of Oslo
On the Oslo Ridge, you find perennials from the coastal landscapes and islands of the inner Oslo fjord. The fjord and the protected location make the Oslo area a little warmer in spring and fall than the rest of the region.
Blooming in the spring are liverleaf (blue Hepatica), small pasque flower, wood anemone, buttercup anemone, cowslip and lilyofthevalley. Colorful eyecatchers in June/July are purple bloody crane’sbills, blue dragonheads, yellow willowleaved inulas and creamy white dropworts. Aromatic herbs like wild onion, thyme and oregano are also found here. Some of the around 100 species on the Oslo Ridge are threatened in nature due to afforestation and human wear and tear.
The preservation of viable populations of these threatened species is one of the most important tasks of the Botanical Garden. We serve as a living gene bank for dwarf thistle, rock cinquefoil, pea vetch, mountain clover, dragonhead and several other local, rare species.
A rare butterfly on the Oslo Ridge you also find licorice milkvetch. A very rare blue butterfly, Reverdin’s blue, is totally dependent on this plant – its larvae live only on this milkvetch. At present, it is uncertain whether there are any of these butterflies left, or if it is extinct in Norway.
The Herb Garden
All the plants in the Herb Garden have been utilized by people, for a variety of purposes: Flavor and spice, medicine, fiber and dyeing. Culinary herbs stimulate appetite and aid digestion. Most culinary herbs have also been used as medicinal plants.
Many herbs are native to the Mediterranean and were brought north by monks in the Middle Ages. They taught people how to grow and use both medicinal and culinary herbs. Some of the plants escaped the confines of gardens and became established as wild plants in Norway.
A monastery garden of useful plants. Around the gazebo you will find American species, fiber plants, plants for dyeing and poisonous plants. The middle section is modelled after monastic cross-form gardens, and the plants here were common in European monastery and pothecary gardens.
At the low end of the Herb Garden there are raised beds with old species of food plants. The Herb Garden is at its best in late summer.
The Aromatic Garden
This small hexagonal garden is a delight for your nose – all the plants here are fragrant. Some have fragrant flowers, others aromatic leaves. Feel free to touch the plants in this garden! They are planted in raised beds, easily accessible for wheelchairbound visitors or for the visually impaired.
Some aromatic plant constituents, like menthol from mint and thymol from thyme, are used in manufacturing. They are used as additives for flavor and aroma in candy, confectionary, liquors, soaps, toothpaste and cough syrup.
Many of the plants in the Aromatic Garden are familiar culinary herbs such as basil, rosemary, oregano, summer savory and marjoram. The aromatic constituents are primarily volatile essential oils which easily evaporate. Plants with high contents of such oils often have other ingredients with physiological effects as well, and many of the plants in this garden are traditional medicinal herbs.
Great-granny’s garden is both a therapeutic garden and a living gene bank. The plants are traditional perennials, once very popular but rarely found in the horticultural trade today. They have been moved here from old gardens all over southeastern Norway. To be considered for
inclusion in this plant collection, the plants must have a known history going back to the 1950s or earlier.
These old perennials have great biological value. They have adapted to the local climate over a long time, and have qualities that may be missing in modern varieties. Great-granny’s garden is facilitated for visitors in wheelchairs, and also for visitors suffering from dementia.
The central area is shielded with shrubs, a low fence, and small gates, so visitors can safely stroll around on their own even if they have some problems with orientation. There are old fashioned benches and a small gazebo. The combination of visual impressions and fragrances familiar since childhood can awaken dormant memories and be a starting point for rewarding conversations.
The perennials are grouped according to geographical origin. Among many others, you will find primroses and cowslips, irises, daylilies, peonies, phlox and asters. Outside the picket fence you’ll find old varieties of fruit trees, hops and roses.
Primroses and other primulas
In the spring you’ll see a great display of primroses in Great-granny’s Garden, in many colors and shapes. The Primula genus has more than 500 wild species, and has been extensively cultivated and hybridized. They are very hardy and have long been very popular in Norwegian gardens,even in the tough climate of northern Norway.
Fresh fragrance by the cowshed
Southernwood has a strong camphor-like odor and was historically used as an air freshener or strewing herb. It has been cultivated in Norway since the 1600s. It was often planted by the door to the cowshed. Lightly rubbing your hands through the bush is an easy way to get rid of the cowshed odor.