South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) is currently managing what is scheduled to become South Africa’s 11th national botanical garden, currently known as the Thohoyandou Botanical Garden, in Thohoyandou in the far northeastern corner of the Limpopo Province. The 89ha urban garden, comprised mainly of Soutpansberg Mountain Bushveld vegetation, will be the first national botanical garden to be established in the Limpopo Province.
The site is in the major urban centre of Thohoyandou, the seat of the Vhembe District Municipality and the Thulamela Local Municipality, and ideally placed close to an area of high biodiversity value, namely the Soutpansberg Mountain Range, South Africa’s northernmost mountain range. The Soutpansberg is a mountainous region spanning 210 km from Vivo in the west to Pafuri in the Kruger National Park in the east, encompassing an area of approximately 6,800 km2 in the Limpopo Province. The Garden is located in the Soutpansberg Centre of Endemism and Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. Some of the plants endemic to the Soutpansberg range include Aloe soutpansbergensis, Aloe vossii, Huernia nouhuysii, Stapelia clavicorona and Vangueria soutpansbergensis.
The Thohoyandou Botanical Garden is a welcome addition to South Africa’s national network of biodiversity centres. This new Garden contributes to the implementation of SANBI’s Gardens Expansion Strategy (2016 to 2030), approved by the SANBI Board in 2016, which aims to have a national botanical garden established in every province of South Africa by 2030. The Garden is currently managed by SANBI (a Garden Curator and three other SANBI staff have so far been appointed) with the support of several staff members employed by the provincial conservation authority, the Limpopo Province’s Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET).
Prior to SANBI taking over the management of the Garden from LEDET in July 2017, the garden was managed by Eric Netshiungani (now retired), a legendary ethnobotanist and plant collector from the region, having established the Venda Herbarium (VENDA) in the Garden, holding about 5,000 plant specimens, in 1976.
SANBI and LEDET have been working closely together on this collaborative project for the past five years, and their relationship is governed by a formal Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) signed between SANBI and LEDET in 2016, as well as a Services Agreement signed between the same two institutions in 2017 for the management and operation of the Garden.
The proposed Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden will be classified under the international definitions of botanical gardens as a ‘conservation garden’, which will contain, or have associated areas of, natural savanna woodland vegetation in addition to cultivated collections of indigenous plants unique to the Limpopo Province. It is envisaged that the garden will be able to attract and host thousands of visitors to appreciate the beauty of this portion of the Limpopo Province.
The Garden will provide an additional nature-based and scientific tourism attraction for the Limpopo Province and play a significant role in promoting biodiversity education to surrounding schools and communities. The Garden will also contribute to the area’s socio-economic development, and enhance tourism in the area by linking with local and regional tourism initiatives, and SANBI’s network of national and international partners.
The Garden will serve as a biodiversity centre for the Limpopo Province and include traditional botanical garden infrastructure as well as biodiversity research facilities.
SANBI will work closely with the staff and students of the nearby University of Venda (with whom it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2013) as well as the University of Limpopo.
SANBI envisages that the plan for the Thohoyandou Garden, previously managed by LEDET, will increase its educational value, financial viability and the interest and support of visitors, tourists and the local community. It is envisaged to design a garden where the choice of species represents multiple values of plants to people, communicated in highly innovative, yet culturally appropriate ways. This means that the botanical garden will have sections of plants used for food, African arts, medicine, traditional architecture, horticulture and agriculture, and serve to increase the connection between people and plants.
Research conducted will be of benefit to the Limpopo Province and the Garden will provide a ‘window’ into the unique traditional biodiversity practices and cultural diversity of the Limpopo Province. Species representative of vegetation types from the Soutpansberg mountain range, an area of South Africa renowned for its phytogeographical complexity, diverse mosaic of habitats and variety of endemic plants, will be represented in demonstration gardens and interpreted within the cultivated section of the Garden.
SANBI looks forward to working with the Botanical Society of South Africa, as a long-standing and trusted partner for more than 100 years, as we start to champion the exploration, conservation, sustainable use, appreciation and enjoyment of South Africa’s exceptionally rich biodiversity for all people from our new home in the Limpopo Province.
SANBI is currently working closely with representatives from the national Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) and several national and provincial government departments to have the Thohoyandou Botanical Garden gazetted as a national botanical garden by the DEA Minister as soon as possible.