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A walk along the Main Path ( MAP )

Starting at the footbridge at the northern end of the car park, the Main Path crosses the Tasmanian Rainforest Gully. The floor of the Gully is dominated by tree-ferns, Dicksonia antarctica, with mature trees of Blackwood, Acacia melanoxylon. The Gully also contains examples of uniquely Tasmanian plants such as Leatherwood, Eucryphia lucida, and the Huon Pine, Lagarostrobos franklinii.

The Path passes Floresco in the Gardens Cafe and a lawn area where visitors can enjoy jazz concerts in the summer months. On the left is the Ellis Rowan Building, named in honour of the prolific wildflower painter from the early part of this century. The office and lounge of the Friends of the ANBG are located here. Diagonally across the lawn are the two buildings of the Gardens Education Service, specialising in environmental education and horticultural training.

Leaving the cluster of buildings the Path crosses a bitumen road and enters the Myrtaceae sections. The family Myrtaceae dominates the Australian vegetation with about 1700 species, and includes such prominent plant groups as the eucalypts, the bottle-brushes (Callistemon species), and the tea-trees and paperbarks (Melaleuca species). Most members of this family have oil glands and the foliage has a strong smell when crushed.

Where the Path crosses an unsealed road, visitors can branch off on a more specialised walk looking at plants used by Australian Aboriginal peoples.

The Path passes a small planting of the family Myoporaceae on the left. Most members of this family are confined to Australia with two genera (Myoporum and Eremophila) containing about 250 species.

photo monocot sectionThere is a noticeable change in plant form as the Path passes through a section of Monocotyledons. These plants usually have strap-like leaves and are one of the two major divisions in the classification of the flowering plants. The Monocotyledons include grasses, lilies, irises and rushes. Here visitors can see the uniquely Australian grasstrees (Xanthorrhoea species) and the huge Gymea Lily, Doryanthes excelsa, which in summer produces a flower spike up to five metres tall, topped by a cluster of large crimson flowers.

The Path soon leads visitors through the family Proteaceae, one of our largest and most decorative plant families. It contains about 900 species in about 45 genera including such well known genera as Grevillea, Banksia and Hakea, and such familiar plants as the NSW Waratah, Telopea speciosissima. This family has also been the focus of a lot of plant breeding, and scattered along the path you will see a range of cultivars with labels showing their cultivar name (in single quotation marks) following the botanical name.

The Path again crosses a road, and passes beneath a large Wonga Wonga Vine, Pandorea pandorana, climbing high into the eucalypts. Beyond this a range of different Grevillea species displays the diversity of plant form and leaf shape in this genus of about 360 species.

The Path crosses another road, and passes beneath another dense clump of Wonga Wonga Vine, before crossing the road into the newly planted area devoted to the Flora of the Sydney Region. Many of these plants are quite young, but will make a spectacular splash of spring colour in a few years time. In the gully to the right can be seen more mature plantings from this rich floristic region, especially the beautiful trunks of the Smooth-barked Apple, Angophora costata, a close relative of the eucalypts.

Included in the wall of the first viewing area is a selection of 250-million-year-old fossils from the Sydney Basin, with leaves of the fossil seed-fern Glossopteris being quite prominent.

From the Sydney Basin there is the option to visit the Display Glasshouse at the sign, then returning to the Main Path.

The Path zig-zags up the hill at a gentle incline, with no slopes greater than 1 in 14, to provide access for those in wheelchairs or pushing prams. Some construction work continues at the top of the Sydney Flora gully as the Gardens further develops the plantings of this region. Flannel Flowers, Actinotus helianthi, are a familiar feature near the upper viewing area for many months of the year.

photo eucalypt lawnThe Path crosses a road once again and enters the Eucalypt Lawn, an ideal spot for a picnic. The genus Eucalyptus, with about 800 species, dominates most of the Australian flora in the non-desert regions. Only a couple of species extend beyond our shores to the islands to the north. There is a controversial move among some botanists to divide the genus into several genera, but in these Gardens they are all labelled as Eucalyptus.

After winding across the Eucalypt Lawn the Path fringes the Gardens' several Acacia sections. Acacias are popularly known as wattles and, with about 1000 species, Acacia is the largest genus in Australia. They range from tall trees to prostrate shrubs, and are characterised by fluffy balls or spikes of yellow flowers. Acacia trees or shrubs dominate the vegetation in much of arid Australia. Wattles are generally recognised as our national flower, Wattle Day is 1 September, and the Golden Wattle, Acacia pycnantha, is our National Floral Emblem.

Crossing another road, the Path passes plantings of the genus Hakea, many of which are called needle-bushes because of their prickly foliage. The genus contains about 150 species and they are closely related to Grevillea in the family Proteaceae.

The path passes across a small lawn, and ahead on the right can be seen the armillary sphere sundial donated by the Friends of the ANBG in 1999.

After crossing this lawn the Path passes beneath some huge eucalypts. These are some of the oldest plantings, dating back to the 1940s when Lindsay Pryor, then Director of Parks and Gardens in the ACT, was establishing the Botanic Gardens.

photo rock gardenThe Rock Garden on the right deserves some special time to explore its treasures. The special soil mixtures and garden beds raised among rocks for added drainage allow many smaller plants to be grown. Notice at the edge of the pool the four-leafed-clover fern, Nardoo (Marsilea drummondii), which played a role in sustaining Burke and Wills in the last days of their fateful expedition across Australia.

Beyond the Rock Garden there is a cluster of native conifers. These include cypress pines (Callitris species) and the Hoop Pine, Araucaria cunninghamii. A short loop path on the right allows visitors to see a wider range of native conifers and cycads.

photo rainforest gullyCrossing another road the Path enters the Rainforest Gully. Visitors get a small but spectacular taste of the Gully from the Main Path, it takes much longer to explore the board-walks along the floor of the Gully and appreciate its full extent. The Gully is planted to represent rainforest regions along the east coast of Australia, with Tasmanian rainforest plants in the lowest part and north Queensland plants in the upper part. The environment has been dramatically changed over the years allowing a wide range of rainforest species, including palms, to be grown in Canberra's harsh climate.

The recently completed tree-top walkways, designed to provide better access through the Gully, give visitors an alternative view to the densely shaded floor of the rainforest. Look out for the delicate flowers of the Sassafras, Doryphora sassafras, and the occasional epiphytic orchid perched in the branches of the trees.

photo visitor centreFinally the Path brings visitors through a cutting displaying unusual and colourful plants, many of them cultivars, to the bust of Joseph Banks next to the Visitor Centre. Banks is often seen as 'the father of Australian botany' for his support for early botanical exploration in this country. Banks faces a two storey building housing the Gardens Library and part of the Australian National Herbarium (not open to the public).

The left-hand entrance to the Visitor Centre contains changing exhibitions, an information desk, and the Botanical Bookshop selling a wide range of botanical and horticultural books and souvenirs. There is also a public reference herbarium and public computer with access to the internet and botanical identification tools. Through the right-hand entrance is a theatrette and public toilets.


Updated May 9, 2012 , Murray Fagg (anbg-info@anbg.gov.au)