By STEVEN HOWELL Press-Republican
---- — MONTREAL — While it’s the season to put your garden to bed, there’s one green space nearby that’s going out in a blaze of illuminated glory.
The Montreal Botanical Garden presents its 21st edition of the Magic of Lanterns, the annual fall festival of lights. This year’s theme, “Living Treasures of Xishuangbanna,” aims to bring the fragile biodiversity of China to light.
“We wanted to highlight the biodiversity of China this year because there’s so much richness to it,” Magic of Lanterns designer My Quynh Duong said. Duong has designed the space for more than a decade.
The theme journeys to Southern China and the Yunnan Province in particular, which is home to Xishuangbanna, China’s largest rainforest now considered “a global biodiversity hotspot.” Sixteen percent of all China’s plants — more than 5,000 species in all — and nearly one in four of its animals can be found there, according to a news release.
“We wanted to show the richness, but also explain the region’s concerns,” Duong said. “A lot of the animals and plants found here are in danger now. With China’s growing population, many of these regions are facing a biodiversity crisis.”
Many of the natural habitats are disappearing, Duong added. Since 1950, the forest area of Xishuangbanna has shrunk by half.
This biodiversity tale is best told on Dream Lake, the Chinese Garden’s centerpiece pond which plays home to many large lanterns. Among them are a zoological treasure trove recreated in the form of water buffalo, known for use as a farm plow animal and its milk as a food source; the Asian elephant, a prominent figure in Buddhist mythology; and the majestic Indochinese Tiger, which is now facing extinction.
Also displayed are four figures to illustrate the Dai and the Hani, two of Xishuangbanna’s native peoples.
“The Dai and Hani nationalities not only live there and use the forest resources, they protect the forest as well,” Duong said. “They believe that all things have a soul and that even a forest deserves to be preserved.”
Duong said there’s a lot of work to be done to protect the region. She says that in 1958 China established the Xishuangbanna National Nature Reserve, which hopes to preserve this shrinking natural treasure.
“It’s still a beautiful region, but it’s very important to tell this story,” Duong said.
In all almost 1,000 large and small silk lanterns are on display. In addition, the neighboring Japanese Garden stays open at night with a new illuminated space dubbed “Gardens of Light.” The main greenhouses and the Insectarium remain open during the evening hours as well.
The Magic of Lanterns and Gardens of Light continues through Nov. 3.
The Montreal Botanical Garden is at 4101 Sherbrooke St. E. Magic of Lanterns hours are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Admission costs $18.75 for adults, $17.50 for seniors, $14 for students, $9.50 for youths 5 to 17, and $52.50 for a family of four. Call (514) 872-1400 or visit www.espacepourlavie.ca.