The Sunday Mail
THE sound of birds singing sweetly is enough to make just about anyone fall in love with nature.
Behold, you are at the Zimbabwe National Herbarium and Botanic Garden, a 68-hectare oasis just 4km from Harare’s Central Business District.
It is home to a variety of trees, making it haven for tree huggers and picnic enthusiasts.
“The garden is home to at least 95 percent of all plants species that are found in Zimbabwe,” says Mr Antony Mapaura, the Garden’s principal research officer.
“Since trees are scientifically proven to provide oxygen which is inhaled by human beings while taking the carbon dioxide which is exhaled by human beings, the garden was nicknamed ‘Lungs of Harare’ after Zimbabwe’s Independence in 1980.”
According to the Department of Researches and Specialist Services in the Ministry of Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development, there are at least 6 000 plant species and 1 300 woody species in the garden.
Mr Mapaura says that before 1954, the place was known as the Commonage.
During this era, horses were the main means of transport and whenever people travelled to town, they would leave their horses at the Commonage area.
With time, the place was developed into a parking zone as horses gave way to cars.
During the same period, the land became city council property and was named Alexander Park.
In 1962, Alexander Park was given back to the Rhodesian government and developed into a Botanic Garden.
“The idea of creating a Botanic Garden was influenced by the need to have an area where plants could be kept and history could be passed on from one generation to another,” says Mr Mapaura.
“Thomas Mueller was the brains behind the project and the man who planted the first exotic trees that we have here.”
Trees such as the munondo and musasa among other indigenous varieties grew naturally, adds Mr Mapaura.
“There are 75 different types of trees in the garden that are from South America and most of them were imported from Brazil,” he reveals. “We also have the Australian section that has 75 to 100 different types of trees. In the African section we have trees that are not commonly found in Zimbabwe and they are presently 15 such species.
“The Asian section has more or less than 15 trees mainly because the climate in the Far East is not exactly the same with ours. The section is still under development and we are closely working with experts from that region to see how best we can make the trees survive our climatic conditions.”
Trees imported from South America and Australia can easily adapt to Zimbabwean conditions.
Visitors to the garden have to pay their way in but it doesn’t cost much with entry fees for adults pegged at US$2 while children pay US$1.
Those who fancy taking their dogs for a walk in the park have to pay a dollar for each pet they bring along.