Oasis in Windhoek - the national botanical garden - News - Gondwana Collection


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Oasis in Windhoek - the national botanical garden

Avatar of inke inke - 24. May 2019 - Tourism

The National Botanical Research Institute in Windhoek. Photo by Brigitte Weidlich

Brigitte Weidlich

The only botanical garden in Namibia is located in Windhoek and is less known than the Zoo Garden in Independence Avenue or the Parliament Garden below the Tintenpalast (Ink Palace). It lies just a few hundred metres further south hidden on a hill in the direction of Klein Windhoek.

A visit to the national botanical garden is definitely worth it. A patch of wilderness in the middle of the capital can be found here, with hiking trails and benches with beautiful views. The twelve-hectare site also houses the building of Namibia's National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI).

Those who enjoy walking can reach the botanical garden by passing the Alte Feste and the Windhoek High School, then turn left up the hill into Hügelstraße (also known as Orbanstraße). Continue past some buildings on the right until you reach the green-white building and its wrought iron gate with plant motifs.

Admission is free and visitors can explore the various hiking trails Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm with sturdy shoes, as well as every first Saturday of the month from 8:00 to 11:00. Only plants native to Namibia are to be found. The quiver tree forest and the various bottle trees offer beautiful photo opportunities.

There is also a "desert house" to visit where, with much effort, rare and endangered indigenous succulents and desert plants were planted in sand specially brought from the desert.
In such an environment as the botanical garden, many species of birds and insects feel at home, as well as various harmless lizards and the agile dassies.

In the building of the NBRI itself there is a literary jewel - an extensive botanical library.

A wide path invites visitors to explore the botanic garden in Windhoek. Photo by Brigitte Weidlich

Botanical beginnings in Namibia

The development of the national botanical garden is interwoven with the beginnings of the herbarium in Windhoek that emerged from this botanical research institute at a later stage.

As early as 1897, the botanist and gardener Kurt Dinter, originally from Bautzen, Germany, came to Namibia, which at that time was called German-South West Africa. He was commissioned by the German Colonial Society to collect plant samples and to carry out planting experiments. Dinter set up an experimental garden about 90 km east of Swakopmund, in the Swakop River near Salem. One year later he started his own business and collected plants for botanists in Europe. The German colonial government appointed Dinter in 1900 as the first forest official and official botanist. By 1914, Dinter had been involved in the establishment of nurseries for future forestry, the study of grasslands for pastoralism and the detection of the country's poisonous plants. After the First World War, Dinter collected Namibian plants for South African herbaria and discovered during his long stay in this country many unknown species. In 1925 he returned to Germany.

A year later, the then 16-year-old Willy Giess emigrated from Frankfurt with his parents to Namibia. Giess became the first curator of the newly established national herbarium of Namibia in 1953. Giess was highly respected - also internationally - for his services to the botany of the country. He died in 2000 in Swakopmund. Botany was not his main interest at first. In 1928 he was one of the first students of the Neudamm Agricultural College east of Windhoek, as he wanted to become a farmer. He practiced this profession until the Second World War. Then he was - like many other German-speaking men, among them many academics - interned in a camp in South Africa. Many internees used the captivity to educate themselves. These courses were even officially recognised after 1945. Giess studied botany with the interned scientist Professor Otto Heinrich Volk in the camp. In 1946 Giess was hired as a botanical collector for the University of Stellenbosch. Back in Namibia, Giess farmed for the time being.

The herbarium is founded in 1953

There were private initiatives to set up a herbarium in Namibia. The South African apartheid government in the country wanted to establish a botanical department under the agricultural authority. In 1953 Giess was appointed temporary curator of the developing national herbarium in Windhoek. He travelled back and forth between his farm and Windhoek for several years. The basis for the herbarium was a private plant collection with about 2,000 specimen (dried plants), donated by Professor Heinrich Walter of the Technical University of Hohenheim.

In 1957 Giess became a full-time curator of the herbarium until his retirement in 1975. Already in 1971 he published the first vegetation map of Namibia and in 1989 the first botanical bibliography of the country. His successor was Michiel "Mike" Müller from South Africa. Giess worked together with Müller for another five years. From 1968 to 1991 Giess published the botanical journal "Dinteria", named after Kurt Dinter.

Müller managed the institution until 1991. He was the initiator of various natural history exhibitions to strengthen public awareness of the importance and uniqueness of the Namibian flora. During his tenure, the herbarium moved to the top of the hill in 1990 - in the year of Namibian independence - next to a natural, undeveloped bush landscape, the present national botanical garden. The name of S.W.A. Herbarium was changed at the National Botanical Research Institute.

The Desert House at the NBRI. Photo by Brigitte Weidlich

The botanical garden is being designed

There was an opportunity to include the bush landscape next to the new NBRI home. As early as 1969, the city council of Windhoek had provided the land to the nature conservation authority, as a nature reserve was to be created. The first hiking trails were laid out, a fence was built, and the first bottle trees and plants from other areas of Namibia were planted. Further developments were discontinued due to lack of funds.

The NBRI started negotiations with the Ministry of Environment and Tourism shortly after the move and in February 1993 received permission to convert the twelve-hectare site into a botanical garden. Only a very small part is artificially created, otherwise the area consists of natural vegetation.

In 1996, at the entrance to the garden, a new building was completed for the institute The half round to the garden side houses the valuable botanical library, named M.A.N. (Mike) Müller Library. The herbarium is located in the annex building.

Collect, research and preserve

The NBRI cooperates at regional and international level with its seed bank, particularly since Namibia's 2004 ratification of the 'International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture'. It has registered 4,463 species. Plants are thus protected from extinction and the threat of climate change. There are about 700 endemic plants in Namibia.

"The NBRI is also working on the Millennium Seed Partnership to collect and conserve endemic, rare and endangered species," says Esmerialda Strauss, who heads NBRI since March 2015.

The Botanical Society of Namibia also cooperates with the NBRI and organises, among others, guided tours of the botanical garden.

If you are interested in plants in general or want to take a "green" and relaxing walk in a protected environment in the middle of Windhoek, you should definitely visit Namibia's only botanical garden.

The botanic garden offers views of Windhoek. Photo by Brigitte Weidlich

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