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The costs of establishing a botanical garden

The costs of establishing a botanical garden

The Sacred Seeds Botanical Garden at La Pedregoza is dedicated to planting traditional medicinal and alimentary plants of the Orinoco River basin of Colombia, with the support of Tree-Nation. The knowledge about their uses is being lost in the modern world, yet many of them are essential for a healthy planet, for biodiversity and as natural ingredients in modern medicines.

Unfortunately, many of these important species are endangered, vulnerable, over exploited or being destroyed to make way for urban expansion or agricultural activities. This means that we face several obstacles in our work as a botanical garden.

Sacred Seeds Botanical Garden

The Sacred Seeds Botanical Garden site in the white outline inside the Reserva Natural La Pedregoza, as seen from the air. The La Pedregoza tree cultivations are to the right, the Rio el Bita along the bottom.

Lately, there have been several questions regarding the higher cost of trees in the Sacred Seeds Botanical Garden project. I thought it important to explain the reason for this. Those higher costs were not picked out of the air, but rather are based on some very real everyday problems.

The first issue is the sourcing of seeds. There are no dealers or suppliers of seeds for the majority of native trees. This means that someone has to go into the rainforest to collect the seeds, which makes the process expensive. Sometimes, one visits a hopeful-looking tree in the correct season to find it is male, and will not give seeds. Other trees bear seeds during the rainy season, when it can become difficult or dangerous to enter the forest.

Seed collecting

Francisco Castro, our indigenous botanist, working with a native tree species.

The second issue involves tree nursery operations for specialized medicinal and alimentary trees. These are practical problems that can cause our costs to be much higher than with known tree types, as losses may be greater and material requirements larger. At times, seeds come to the nurseries with little information about the species of tree they come from, or the correct treatment of the seeds to encourage germination.

The third issue is planting the specialized trees in the botanical garden, and planting surplus trees in an appropriate area outside of the botanical garden. The usual plantation style processes simply don’t work, because the numbers are much smaller. There is a big difference between planting 10 medicinal trees as opposed to 4,000 plantation trees. This process is therefore, once again, much more expensive than standard tree planting. The soil in which trees must be planted should be as close to forest soil as possible, so specialized methods are necessary. In addition, many trees require extensive maintenance after being planted, such as being watered and spreading organic material.

Dexter Dombro

Dexter Dombro of our environmental NGO, the Corporación Ambiental La Pedregoza, reviewing site selection at the Sacred Seeds Botanical Garden site.

The final issue is simply the fact that we are creating and running a very specialized botanical garden, which implies costs that are considerably higher than in other tree planting activities. Of course there is the cost of paths, plans for visitors, fencing, irrigation and other infrastructure, but it is the ethnobotanical costs I would like to mention here. In addition to planting and caring for trees, we are also seeking to record and share traditional knowledge about these tree species with the world. This requires the involvement of anthropologists and ethnobotanists, not typical in many botanical gardens. However, we hope that this will turn the Sacred Seeds Botanical Garden into a repository for traditional knowledge and seeds.

I hope this explains why the trees in the Sacred Seeds Botanical Garden project on Tree-Nation are more expensive than other trees in other projects. You are helping to fund a lot more than just another tree in the ground, with species that have special issues and problems not commonly encountered in other plantations using more common tree species. This is a labor of love for all involved and for all who are helping to make it a reality, so thank you for your generous support!

This is a shortened version of a longer article published by Dexter Dombro for Tree-Nation. You can download the original, longer article here.

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