“Welcome to the paradise of biodiversity,” screams the brochure cover of Calicut University Botanical Garden (CUBG). Step into the garden and take a leisurely walk through the 45-acre lush green zone, and rest assured of a journey through a mini paradise of biodiversity.

A haven for students, teachers, researchers and others interested in Indian and exotic flora, Calicut University's botanical garden stands on top among the university gardens in the country. “It is the largest and most diverse among the gardens maintained by the universities in the country,” testifies Dr. M. Sabu, officer in charge of the CUBG.

Even when catering to the needs of plant researchers and teachers, the garden conserves a large number of endemic and endangered plants. It has more than 250 species of endemic plants and over 40 species of endangered plants. Species such as Syzigium travancoricum, Curcuma bhatii, Plagiostachys nicobarica are among the endangered plants. The perspicacity of its founder Prof. B.K. Nayar, who opened it in 1971, is manifest in the design of the garden. The garden grew in size and diversity since its inauguration in 1972 by Prof. R.E. Holttum, former director of the Singapore Botanical Garden.

The curiosity of a visitor starts right away with a pair of Krishna's buttercup trees (Ficus krishnae) at the entrance on the western side, and is retained till the tour winds up at the elephant apple tree.Catch hold of Dr. Sabu or Dr. A.K. Pradeep, curator of Calicut University Herbarium, and your sylvan trip is made fruitful with their interesting tips, comments and explanations.

Signboards are plenty across the garden especially to indicate large trees of curiosity. All plants in the garden have been labelled, with botanical names given in large black letters in yellow background, followed by common names, family names, and distribution of the plant. “That will be enough for a curious visitor to identify the plant,” says Dr. Sabu.

Walk a few minutes into the garden, and a surprise jungle gateway called Jungle Path opens before the visitor. Carefully planned to simulate a jungle trek, the trek path through the garden will give the visitor an eerie feeling of adventure through a deep, evergreen jungle with creepers, climbers and lianas spun across. Large artificially created ant houses and caves are added attractions of the trek path. “It was designed recently to tell the visitors how sensitive a trek through a region of bio-diversity would be like,” says Dr. Sabu.

The Kerala government has granted Rs.50 lakh for the development of the CUBG. Infrastructural extension work is currently on. The natural pond within the garden, which is visible even in the Google Map, will soon be renovated. A waterfall with plenty of flora and two artificial crocs is being constructed. A plant museum meant for students to see the biodiversity is also on the anvil. The university recently allotted nearly 35 acres of natural wooded land adjacent to the botanical garden for an arboretum. Visitors are not permitted to the arboretum for fear of disturbing the natural vegetation. Try to wheedle the garden authorities into taking you to the magnificent Maravuri tree (Antiaris toxicaria) and the large banyan tree (Ficus benghalensis) with its prop roots spread widely across in the evergreen arboretum, which is home to plenty of epiphytic plants and arboreal animals. The CUBG boasts the largest ginger collection in the country.

The Ginger House, Ginger Villa and Spices House in the ginger zone of the garden have most varieties of gingers from across the world. “It is the third largest collection in the world with 210 species and over 2,000 accessions,” says Dr. Sabu, who is an authority on Indian Zingibers.The garden maintains nearly all Indian ginger species except those available on the Himalayas. “We can't maintain those high-altitude species; but we have their dry collection,” says Dr. Sabu. A major attraction of the Green House in the garden is a large collection of wild and ornamental aroids. Over 60 varieties of Indian and exotic taros are on display. Some of them are rare, endangered and threatened (RET). Another attraction of the garden is the large variety of ferns. Known for their exquisite and magnificent leaf architecture, some rare and endangered ferns reported in Jurassic periods are preserved in the garden. “We have all South Indian species,” says Dr. Sabu, showing the fern collection, the largest among the Indian universities.

The Medicinal Plants section has more than 250 species. A fairly good collection of plants used in Ayurveda are preserved in the Medicinal Plant House. Among them are Gulgulu (Commiphora wightii), Aswagandha (Withania somnifera), Arogyapacha (Trichopus zeylanica), Sweet basil (Stervia rebaudiana), Biriyani plant (Pandarus amaryllifolius), and Ekanayakam (Salacia chinensis). The rare Maramanjhal (Cosciniumfenestratum) is also found here.

About 30 aquatic plant species of Kerala are maintained in tanks. Submerged plants like Vallisneria, Blyxa, Hydrilla, and Cabomba are on display in the garden. The garden is also remarkable for high diversity of mushrooms and other macro fungi. The orchidarium has a large collection of wild, endemic as well as ornamental orchids. Ornamental orchids like Dancing girl (Oncidium), Dove orchid (Peristeria), Soniya (Dendrobium), and Spider orchid (Arachnis) are some of the attractions.The garden has one of the oldest vanilla plantations. “We cultivated vanilla here years before the plant became popular in Kerala,” says Dr. Sabu.

Trees like black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg are grown in the garden.Exotic fruit trees like Rambutan, Durian, Salaca, and Mangostein are maintained with care. There are cashew, coconut palm, jack fruit, sapota, guava, and jamba growing in plenty. Timber plants like Irul, Mahogani, Maruth, Rosewood, and Teak are also seen in the garden. But the curiosity of African Baobab tree never escapes a visitor.

The garden tour is best done on foot between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. on working days.