It’s startling to observe how quickly things grow in Ubud. The combination of fertile volcanic soil, regular rainfall and warm weather produces a rich flora of great beauty. Apart from the ancient rice paddies, there’s an abundance of tall, tropical trees, orchids growing on their branches, bamboo and a profusion of fruits and flowers.
Ubud is teeming with wildlife too, though none of it is particularly dangerous. Part of the joy of staying here is being surrounded by animals – chickens, frogs, monkeys, dogs and geckos. If staying slightly outside the town centre you’ll see a host of butterflies and dragonflies by day, and fireflies by night.
The Balinese have an incredible knowledge of the plants around them – they can cite any plant’s edible, medicinal and other practical properties without a second thought. Ubud also tends to attracts green-minded foreigners, and there’s a high number of environmental NGO’s and other fascinating green projects based here.
The Balinese associate rice with spiritual and community life (see Culture > Rice Culture). Several kinds of tree are also intertwined with spiritual beliefs, such as the magical Banyan tree, the Majegan, which is used in the construction of shrines, the Berigin, used in cremation ceremonies, and the Pule Bandak, used to make masks though never cut down or damaged for the wood.Then there are the ubiquitous palm trees, largely banana and coconut, and different varieties of bamboo which flourish particularly along the banks of rivers.
The Balinese love flowers and use them daily in their offerings; most common varieties are the acacia, frangipani, hibiscus, jasmine, water lily, orchid and bougainvillea. Flowers are to be seen wherever you turn in Ubud.
Fruits and vegetables also grow prolifically, some of the most common being water spinach, cassava and a variety of beans, papaya, cocoa beans, jackfruit, snakefruit, pineapple, mango and rambutan.
In the 1970s the Indonesian government introduced a rice-growing policy known as the Green Revolution. This relied upon only one kind of rice that was dependent on chemical fertilisers. Although it was intended to reduce hunger because it could yield three harvests a year instead of two, and was successful on this level, the chemicals slowly destroyed the natural fertility of the soil, and many heritage rices fell out of use. Nowadays however, there’s a demand for organic rice and different varieties as well. Slowly, old organic farming methods are being revived, as are a lot of the heritage rices which are delicious and nutritious.
Rice-growing is still a key part of the Ubud economy, social and community life, even religious life. It’s eaten several times a day and no Balinese meal is complete without rice in some form. For more information on rice and the rice paddies, see Rice Culture.
Although Ubud is losing some of its wild places because of its great popularity as a tourist destination, and also because of chemical farming, a surprising number of wild species still thrive here including monkeys and hundreds of different kinds of birds. At a domestic level you’ll live surrounded by chickens, ducks, pigs, cows, geckos and other lizards, bats and the Bali dog. At night you’ll hear crickets and frogs, so loud sometimes you’ll have trouble getting to sleep, and whether you’re in the town centre or further out, you’re likely to be woken by the crow of a cockerel.
The last tiger was seen in Bali in 1937 and although the riversides in particular are the habitat for beautiful birds such as kingfishers, fantails and orioles, a number of birds are now facing extinction too. Some of the rarer birds can be seen at the Bali Bird Park including the highly endangered Bali Starling; if you’re lucky you might spot some rare bird-life on a bird-walk tour as well.