28 Mai 2010 | Windhoek

Enjoy a visit to the National Botanic Garden in Windhoek

As you travel from Hosea Kutako Airport along Sam Nujoma Drive towards the centre of Windhoek, you drive right past the Botanic Garden, which is situated to your right on the slopes of the hill separating the eastern suburbs from the city centre. A striking feature of these slopes is the large number of tree aloes (Aloe littoralis) standing at attention among the mountain savanna vegetation.
The entrance to the garden is situated at Orban Str 8. Take the turn-off from Sam Nujoma Ave a little way up-hill from its crossing with Robert Mugabe Ave into Hügel Str. and then turn right along Orban Str until you reach a green building with iron gates decorated with plant motifs. In the foyer of the National Botanical Institute on your left as you enter the premises you can obtain an illustrated map and a list of all the species to be found in the garden.

Namibia is the driest country south of the Sahara. Therefore, do not expect a "green" Botanic Garden except during the rainy season from December to April. At other times, enjoy the subtle shades of brown, beige, straw and russet as well as muted olive tones, greys and blacks of the highland savanna vegetation of which Namibians dream when they live in greener pastures. The garden mainly represents the natural vegetation typical of the surroundings of Windhoek. However, it strives to protect and promote the sustainable utilisation of the Namibian flora and to function as an educational and recreational nature facility for Namibians and visitors alike. Therefore species representative of other parts of the country are being added on an on-going basis. The Mountain Kirkia (Kirkia acuminata) so typical of the mountainous areas of northern and north-western Namibia can be seen here as well as the Sausage Tree (Kigelia africana) otherwise only found in the far northeast. Several Star chestnuts (Sterculia africana) can be seen along the eastern-most walk while a special Cyphostemma-walk featuring three of the four Butter Tree species found in Namibia branches off to the left about halfway up the hill. A young baobab tree (Adansonia digitata) is thriving close to the full grown Euphorbia virosa right on top of the eastern hillside. Most perennial as well a some annual plants are labelled.
As you walk along the building towards the steps leading down into the garden proper, two tall Moringa or Phantom trees (Moringa ovalifolia) with thick white trunks and gracefully drooping foliage will draw your attention. You will meet these trees again at the edge of the Namib and in the so-called "Sprokieswoud" in Etosha National Park and be surprised that there they have much shorter, more bulging trunks to which the Afrikaans name "meelsakboom"or 'flour bag tree' aptly refers.

Having descended the steps, the entrance to the Desert House is on your right. It was opened during 2007 and displays a variety of succulents from one of Namibia's hotspots of botanical interest, namely the southern Sperrgebiet and also has a section for succulents from the central Namib. Many of these plants are endemic to Namibia and you will find some of them flowering at almost any time of the year, since some come from the winter rainfall area and others from the summer rainfall area. However, the best time to view the Desert House is on a winter afternoon, since many of the flowers only open around noon, an adaptation to their habitat where fog from the Atlantic often shrouds the inland in the mornings. Being adapted to survive under very harsh conditions, they cannot waste energy and only open their bright flowers under circumstances when pollinating insects are likely to fly. The variety of shapes and adaptations these plants present is amazing. The adjacent nursery house currently provides a temporary home for many succulents rescued by employees of the Institute from mining development sites in southern Namibia. Some of these fascinating succulents are also displayed in oval ceramic trays along the entrance to the Institute.

The Rockery opposite the Desert House displays several kinds of stem succulents. Among these are Butter Trees (Cyphostemma spp), of the same family as the grape, (a fact you will probably only believe once you have seen its bunches of bright red fruit) and some small trees with beautiful pink flowers in the rainy season. These are called Bushman Poison (Adenium boehmianum), for the San hunters used to press the juice out of the roots of these trees, reduce it to a sticky consistency by boiling and put it on their arrows. The cactus-like Euphorbia plants contain a sticky, white latex, which is so poisonous that even its fumes set one's eyes watering, while the juice itself causes blistering when coming into contact with the skin. Yet rhino seem to find them quite palatable.

The Botanic Garden was proclaimed a game reserve in 1969. Basic development such as the construction of paths and the planting of some succulents began in 1973. Systematic development only started in 1993, after the National Botanical Research Institute found a permanent home in the building at the entrance to the premises and was entrusted with the custody of the garden by the Directorate of Nature Conservation. Since then various trees, succulents and bulbs have been planted in the garden to make it more representative of the country. Traditionally, anyone who has worked for the NBRI upon leaving plants a tree of his or her choice in the garden. That is why you will find "Henk's tree" or "Sabine's tree".

Some highlights in the eastern half of the garden are the fully grown Euphorbia virosa plants and the Bottle Tree (Pachypodium lealii) with lovely white flowers in spring. The western part of the garden contains a sizeable number of Quiver Trees (Aloe dichotoma), which were planted in the early 1970's. They flower in June or July as do several smaller aloes in that part of the garden. The Wild Pear Tree (Dombeya rotundifolia) shows off its sweetly scented balls of white flowers from April to May. Later in the season their fruit, supported by the flowerlike calyx, still create the impression of cinnamon brown flowers.

Acacias are a dominant feature of much of the Namibian vegetation. Seven of the twenty-four acacias occurring in Namibia are found in the garden, some of them only right at its lowest end. In general, they can be recognised by having feathery leaves and straight or hooked thorns arranged in pairs as well as pod-like fruit of various shapes.
Namibia is savanna country. So towards the end of the rainy season - March to May - many different grass species in flower are a lovely sight. The rainy season also brings forth a variety of flowering herbs and shrubs as well as some ferns and even some mosses.

In the western part of the garden a path leads to a shady spot with some tables and benches where one can enjoy a self-catered meal. Throughout the garden benches placed at idyllic spots invite the visitor to pause and to watch the many different birds attracted to the natural vegetation and to the water in the birdbaths.
Small, rotund, brownish-black furry animals darting into rock crevices at your approach are rock hyraxes, entertaining to watch but most unwelcome to the garden management on account of their great appetite for young succulent plants.

The Botanic Garden is open to visitors Monday to Friday from 8h00 until 17h00 - entrance is free. A guided tour of the garden is conducted by members of the Botanical Society every first Saturday of the month at 8:00. (No tours during Dec & Jan). The entrance fee for non-members is N$10. Refreshments are served after the tour, which takes about two hours. These tours variously focus on trees and shrubs, grasses, flowering plants, autumn colours and occasionally also on bird or insect life in the garden. Remember to bring binoculars and bird books. After these guided tours and during the annual Open Day in October various indigenous trees and flowering plants are for sale and advice on their cultivation is available. Being situated on a number of hill slopes the garden is unfortunately not negotiable by wheelchairs or prams.

Open Mon - Fri, 8h00 - 17h00. Entrance is free
Contact telephone numbers: +264-61-2022011 or +264 61 2029111
e-mail-adress of the National Botanical Research Institute which is in charge of the Botanic Garden: [email protected]

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