Where to find the world's rarest plants

Tamara Hinson

Spring is just around the corner, but if you've already had your fill of sunflowers, tulips and other standard garden fare, why not head to one of these weird and wonderful botanical gardens?

Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden, Tromsø, Norway

Visit the world’s northernmost botanical gardens and you’ll find a breathtaking collection of plants from the world’s polar and mountainous regions including, in the Himalaya section, the rare giant Tibetan blue poppy, with its huge flowers and metre-high stem.

You'll also see the Wilander buttercup, which can only be found in the notoriously harsh environs of Svalbard’s unforgiving icy archipelago. Talk about flower power.


Conservatory & Botanical Gardens at The Bellagio Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, US

Who knew gambling and gardening made such perfect partners? The world's most unusual botanical garden is given a spectacular makeover every season, thanks to a permanent team of 140 horticulturalists.

Early 2018 saw the unveiling of the Chinese Spring Garden, complete with traditional Chinese fishermen made out of flowers, a tree made from golden coins and flowerbeds based around China's luckiest colour—red.

Head there soon to see the Japanese Spring Garden, with its cherry blossoms, potted bonsai trees and 25-foot Torii Gates adorned with pink and white flowers. Only in Las Vegas.


Butchart Gardens, British Columbia, Canada

One of the rarest flowers you'll find at Butchart Gardens is the Meconopsis, otherwise known as the Tibetan Blue Poppy.

The gardens’ founder, Jennie Butchart, started growing the plant in the early 1900s and was one of the first people to do so. The most spectacular blooms can be found in the borders, where you’ll find over one million bedding plants. And although the gardens are famous for their perennials, 300,000 spring-flowering bulbs are planted every year, and over 900 varieties of plants are grown for the summer gardens alone.


Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado, US

Our favourite species at Denver Botanic Gardens? The ice plants.

Once native to South Africa, these oddly-named blooms are famously drought-hardy, making them perfect for this part of North America.

This garden is one of the few to focus on drought-tolerant plants from Colorado and the steppe regions of Africa, Mongolia and Argentina. In fact, Colorado is home to nine species of endangered plant, and several can be found here.

Every year, their measurements are taken—in 2015, over 48,000 measurements were logged by a team of gardeners. And you thought deadheading was hard work.


Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Cape Town, South Africa

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is one of a handful of botanic gardens to grow only indigenous plants. Some of the most popular varieties include the king protea (protea cynaroides), which produces enormous flowers between autumn and summer, and the rare silver tree, a silky-leaved plant, which experts believe could become extinct in the next 50 years.

We’re also smitten with the garden's sheer diversity—there’s a fragrance garden, medicinal garden, protea garden, Braille trail and cycad amphitheatre.


Kew Gardens, Richmond, UK

Head to Kew to admire the rare Encephalartos woodii, a cycad now extinct in the wild. The one at Kew is enormous, weighing almost a ton and standing three metres tall—making that super-sized sunflower you grew last summer look rather small.

Another reason to visit this year? May 5 saw the reopening of Kew’s glasshouse (the world’s largest), following a five-year restoration project. Head to this super-sized greenhouse and you’ll find 10,000 plants, including the rare Dombeya mauritiana, a tree thought to be extinct until Kew botanist Carlos Magdalena found one growing in the Mauritian highlands and successfully transplanted cuttings.


Lotusland, Montecito, California, US

It probably won't come as much of a surprise that lotuses rule the roost at this next botanic garden, which was purchased in 1941 by Polish opera singer Ganna Walska and her sixth husband.

The original plan (orchestrated by her other half) was to create a refuge for Tibetan monks and name it Tibetland, but after Walska ditched her hubby she renamed it Lotusland.

Rare varieties of the species have actually been grown here since 1882, when British plant-lover Kinton Stevens founded a small nursery, relying mainly on exotic plant cuttings brought to him by ships' officers arriving at the local port.


Jindai Botanical Garden, Tokyo, Japan

Home to one of the largest rose gardens in the world (there are over 5,000 plants), the Jindai Botanical Garden started life as a nursery for the trees which lined Tokyo’s streets.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, cherry blossom rules the roost here—visit in March to see the 750 cherry trees burst into life. The gardens are of huge historical interest, and many of the 100,000 trees and 4,500 species of plant are varieties found in Tokyo’s finest gardens during the Edo period (1603 to 1868).


Moorten Botanical Garden, Palm Springs, US

The father of Clark Moorten, this gardens’ founder, was known as "Cactus Slim" Moorten, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this Palm Springs paradise is a tribute to all things prickly.

The rarest species can be found in what Clark describes as the world's first cactarium, an enormous greenhouse where sunken gardens allow visitors to admire the gardens’ cacti and succulents without bending down.