About the gardens
The concept of a Botanical Garden was initially started in 1983 when one-and-a-half hectares of the Agricultural Faculty lawn was fenced off and developed to start a facility for botanical teaching and research. Initially some greenhouses, tunnels and a well equipped potting shed and workshop were installed. In 1987 funding was made available and further major developments were undertaken to improve the facility. Three new shade houses and three more greenhouses were built. The area of the Garden was increased to include a perennial stream along the western boundary. Permanent features, such as bridges, ponds and roadways were built into the design of the Garden. In 1999 the boundary fence was repositioned and extended, increasing the Garden to its present size of three hectares. Then it finally became an Agricultural Faculty facility and was restructured as the University Botanical Garden.
What we do
The Garden has been designed with the main objective being to accommodate teaching and research interests. Care has been taken to make the garden inexpensive to maintain, as well as interesting and attractive to the university and local community, and to enable them to use the garden as a reference collection. Every care is taken to ensure that environmentally sound principles are practiced to attract and protect the local bird and other animal populations.
The Garden has several impressive plant collections used for teaching and research including Carnivorous Plants, Ferns and Zulu Medicinal Plants. There are also other small “feature gardens” such as an Economical garden and an Evolutionary garden. They are maintained by the Garden staff consisting of a horticulturist, Alison Young, and three assistants, Merriman Maphumulo, Justice Ncgobo and Mduduze Nene.
An area below the wooden deck has been set aside as an “Evolutionary Garden”. It enables members of staff to demonstrate to students, school pupils and other interested people, the evolutionary route that plants have taken over the ages. There is a display of the different rock types found in South Africa laid out in chronological order of formation. The display shows how plants start out as simple mosses and over time became more complex through tree ferns and cycads to simple dicotyledonous plants such as Magnolias. This portion of the Botanical Garden is particularly popular with classes of younger school children, who are fascinated with the “jungle” atmosphere and “dinosaur footprints”.
Medicinal Plant Garden
The Medicinal Plant Garden is an area designated to growing a variety of indigenous plants which are specifically used for medicinal purposes. The garden has a variety of uses, including:
- Teaching and research by staff and students
- Assistance with identification of commonly used plants
- A testing ground for successfully propagated plants
- A source of material for plants needed in extractions
- A source of material for plant propagation
Many of the most popular medicinal plants which are sold at “muthi-markets” in South Africa, can be seen in the Medicinal Garden, as well as a variety of other interesting species.
Wetland and Ponds
This area was developed as a growing area for aquatic alien invaders and other aquatic plants that are needed in the various teaching and research programs. The overflows are designed to prevent any overspill of these plants thereby preventing contamination of the stream. No fresh or clean water is used to top up these ponds. Instead, the waste water from the water distillation units and incubators in the Research Centre laboratories is collected and piped down to the ponds. As in other areas of the garden, every effort is made to try to ensure that ecologically friendly systems are set in place.
The original natural veld was mowed by the University grounds maintenance for many years. In 2003 mowing was stopped with the intention of creating an area which would become a deposit for a wide range of plants from the KZN grasslands. Slowly such plants are being introduced. However just not mowing the area has allowed many of the original bulbs and forbs to re-emerge. In spring 2008 manyTulbarghia acutiloba flowered for the first time in decades. The grassland is alternatively burned or mowed each year in August.