January 19, 2010: Africa’s Oldest Surviving Botanical Garden

The city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal province is in a sub-tropical region, as we saw from the deep green plants surrounding us as we drove to our destination for the day.

Upon arrival at Durban Botanic Gardens, we met Chris Dalzell, the Curator (we’ve noticed that a curator plays a director’s role in South Africa) and Martin Clement, the Education Officer. Of course tea and cookies were waiting for us to enjoy as Chris and Martin presented an overview of the Durban Botanic Gardens.

Lovely view from the entrance

The Garden tour with Chris started after lunch. Established in 1849 for experimental economic plants such as coffee, tea, and sugar, the Garden’s current focus is its collections of cycads, palms, orchids, and bromeliads.

Inside the orchid house

The Garden is especially well known for its cycad collection; the Wood’s cycad (Encephalartos woodii) is considered extinct in the wild. The biggest E. woodii at the Garden was found in the wild in 1895 and is about 250 years old. Longwood’s much younger specimen in the East Conservatory was a pup from this same plant.

Chris and IEers in front of Papa E. woodii

Durban’s trees impressed us quite a bit. Many were in flower or fruit during our visit, and Chris introduced us to many exotic (to us) species. The cannon-ball tree (Conroupita guianensis), rose of Venezuela (Brownea grandiceps), elephant apple (Dillenia indica), and rainbow eucalyptus (Eucalyptus deglupta) were all admired and excessively photographed.

Conroupita guianensis


Nice color combo

Among the tropicals

Chris talked throughout the tour about some of the renovations that have occurred recently. The new Sunken Garden is used for many events, an amphitheater has been renovated for children’s plays, and the new Garden of the Senses has a very modern feel.

Garden of the Senses

Our Garden tour was concluded by a visit to the permaculture garden, maintained by Gabriel Mngouna. Permaculture, short for “permanent agriculture” is a type of sustainable food gardening based on natural systems, traditional farming, and modern practices. This new area has been very popular with classes for all ages, even though it has only been operational for about 11 months.

Sunken Garden

At the end of our visit, Chris treated us to tea and scones with clotted cream–a first for quite a few of us (not Zoe, of course!) We really enjoyed visiting the Durban Botanic Gardens, and hope to have a reason to visit again soon.

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