Yesterday I visited Durban’s subtropical botanical garden – one of the world’s most beautiful for the eyes and nose! A guide, Krishna, educated me about the trees, plants, and birds. Many of the “proper” names are long, so I took photos and most are uncaptioned. The exquisite plants take your breath away and divine fragrances fill the air – orchid, lemongrass, jasmine….
“Durban Botanic Gardens maintains indigenous plant collections from the subtropics, characterized by majestic trees.”
Africa’s oldest surviving botanic garden and Durban’s oldest public institution, the Durban Botanic Gardens cover 30 lush acres. The Gardens are famous for a collection of rare South African Cycads. Cycads are some of the “oldest living plants, dating back from the Mesozoic Era up to the Jurassic Period, around 160 million years ago”. South Africa’s indigenous cycads come from the genera Encephalartos and Stangeria. They’re “protected under Nature Conservation laws which require permits to possess, sell, donate, or move them”. Protected cycad species are now extinct in the wild.
History and Background
British Colonists originally developed the Gardens in 1849 as a “botanic station for agricultural crops”. Today, they’re part of an international botanic garden network focusing on “biodiversity, education, heritage, research, horticultural, and green innovation“. One focus is threatened plant conservation, including cycads and palms.
The Gardens are home to the “original specimen of a Cycad widely acknowledged as the rarest plant in the world”.
Highlights and Collections
The main plant collections are orchids, bromeliads, cycads, and palms. The orchid collection is displayed in the Ernest Thorpe orchid display house. It contains 6,000 orchids replenished with varieties that flower at different times of the year, “creating a constant wonderland of color, vibrancy, and perfumes”.
The list of collections at Durban Botanic Gardens includes:
- Orchid House – “naturalistic” orchid collection of Cattleya, Dendrobium, Vanda, Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, Miltonia
- Indigenous Cycads and Palms – rarest collection in the world
- Natal Herbarium – specimens of dried, pressed, and cataloged plants
- Charity Tea Garden – teas and refreshments for visitors
- Sensory Garden for the Blind
- Heritage Trees – rare majestic species over 100 years old
- Education – permaculture courses, lectures, horticultural library
- Botanical Research Unit – researching indigenous flora
- Durban University Horticulture Department – work with students
- Green Innovation – Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC)
On the way home I discovered Château Gâteaux, a South African pâtisserie with great espresso and outrageously tempting sweets. The fudge-picasso white chocolate mousse is ;o)!