The gardens were founded in 1821 primarily to introduce coffee trees and various other tropical plants of economic importance to the region. Even after it took on a more botanical emphasis in the 1840s, the garden remained a center for horticultural activities. Under the directorship of the botanist George H.K. Thwaites, the garden played a pivotal role in establishing the country’s flourishing tea industry in the late 1870s. Thwaites also brought in and cultivated the Brazilian rubber tree, which became a crop producer vital to Sri Lanka’s economy. The botanical collection has developed into one of the finest in the region.

Thwaites was succeeded by Dr Henry Trimen, under whose rule and capable management the beauty and usefulness of the Gardens were very considerably advanced. He established the Museum of Economic Botany, opened branch Gardens at Badulla and Anuradhapura and began the publication of his work, "The Flora of Ceylon" which however was finished by Sir Joseph D. Hooker after Trimen's death in 1896. In 1896 Trimen was succeeded by Dr J.C. Willis and from that date a new extension of scientific work took place. In the early years work was mainly directed towards the introduction and acclimatization of useful and ornamental plants but in later years activities developed towards Economic, Botany and Agriculture and led to the development of the Department of Agriculture in 1912.

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Peradeniya Botanic Gardens, botanical garden in Peradeniya, near Kandy, Sri Lanka, noted for its rich and varied collections of tropical woody plants. Occupying 59 hectares (146 acres), it has about 4,000 species of plants. The most important specimens of the garden include palms, some of which are planted in impressive avenues. Significant, too, are the collections of orchids, gymnosperms, and flowering trees.