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Splendid estate-turned-botanical garden is home to a wealth of exotic plants and artistic landscaping

Asian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), the namesake flower of Lotusland

A few weeks ago we visited a Southern California paradise that many have not heard of.  Lotusland, a majestic estate boasting an extensive collection of exotic plants, is located in the foothills of Santa Barbara.  The estate was purchased in 1941 by well-known Polish opera singer and socialite, Madame Ganna Walska, who began transforming the property into a lush and flamboyant plant haven.  After Walska’s death in 1984, Lotusland became a nonprofit botanical garden and opened to the public in 1993.

The estate is situated on thirty-seven acres, and is composed of several different themed gardens.  The water garden was the original estate swimming pool, and is now home to the estate’s namesake flower, the Asian Lotus.  Several species and cultivars of the Asian Lotus float idyllically throughout the pool, which was built in the early 1920’s.

Asian Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) with its seed cup

The cycad garden houses over half of the world’s known species of these cone-bearing plants that were common during the time of the dinosaurs.  Many species of cycad are endangered, with several extinct in the wild.  Lotusland’s collection of cycads is regarded as being the most complete in any American public garden.

In the cacti and euphorbia garden, we viewed a multitude of charismatic succulents. 

Cone of a female cycad (Encephalartos species)

Euphorbias, the fourth-largest genus of flowering plants, are woody shrubs or trees with corrosive and poisonous milky sap.  The Cacti and Euphorbia garden at Lotusland contains succulent euphorbias from the Old World, including the distinct Candelabra Euphorbia (Euphorbia ingens) from drier regions of Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Australian garden contains a collection of relatively unknown plants, all native to the continent.  One such plant is the Bunya-Bunya Tree, or Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), a large evergreen conifer native to Queensland in northeast Australia.  This curious tree can reach heights of 98 – 147 feet.  Despite its name, it is not actually a pine (or member of the Pinus genus), but is closely related to the Monkey Puzzle Tree.  Kernels from the cones of the Bunya-Bunya tree are edible, and can be roasted with a taste similar to that of a

Candelabra Euhorbia (Euphorbia ingens), a distinct succulent plant native to dry regions of Sub-Saharan Africa

chestnut.  Indigenous Australians eat the kernels both raw and cooked.  “Bunya nuts” are sold as a regular food item in grocery stalls and street-side stalls around rural southern Queensland.

Trunk of the Bunya-Bunya Tree (Araucaria bidwillii)

In addition to providing visitors with a picturesque and serene botanical paradise, Lotusland is dedicated to worldwide plant conservation.  According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest and most important conservation network, as many as one in every eight species of the world’s plants is threatened with extinction.  Botanic gardens such as Lotusland play an important role in preserving these plants, and also serve as educational resources to foster increased knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of the importance of plants worldwide.  Lotusland is home to over 950 plant species that are vulnerable to habitat loss or over-collecting in the wild, and serves as a stronghold to preserve

Trunk of the Bunya-Bunya Tree (Araucaria bidwillii)

these species for the future.

Click here to obtain additional information about Lotusland.

One of the ponds at the estate

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