Special Collections

Most Botanic Gardens choose one or several different plant groups as a collection. This showcases the many varieties possible within that plant group, such as orchids, tree ferns and so forth. This also makes it easier to know what to accept or plant in your garden.

Special collections serve to further knowledge and specialist requirements. As a sub-tropical garden, the plants that are covered below grow in suitable climates to our own. In our hot, humid climate it is easier to heat artificial growing structures than to keep them cool.


The Orchid collection in the Durban Botanic Gardens is one of the few that is held by a Municipal botanic garden in South Africa.

The Ernest Thorpe orchid display house was established in 1962 and receives around 16 000 visitors per month. The 6 000 orchids, including 75 genera, are grown in the nearby shade houses. These orchids are needed to constantly replenish the display house as different orchids flower at different times of the year, creating a wonderland of colour, vibrancy and perfumes all year round.

The orchids are overseen by Hendrelien Peters, who has worked with orchids for over 30 years in various capacities. The collection is mainly exotic, to supply the tropical ‘wow factor’, but also includes some indigenous orchids which are being grown as part of our conservation initiative.

Combined with the orchids are bromeliads and other tropical indoor plants, which add to the atmosphere and provide a constant background of foliage and colour.


The Durban Botanic Gardens is proud of its Palm collection, which punctuates the landscape with an array of trees.

Palms hail from the tropical regions of the world, with most occurring between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

They belong to the family of Monocotyledons related to reeds and grasses. South Africa has only five different indigenous palm trees that naturally occur in our country.

The oldest surviving palm in the garden was planted in 1873 behind the Tea kiosk – Hyphaene coriacea [Lalla Palm]. The other old palms make up part of the Palm Avenue found inside the fence but along Edith Benson Road. The tallest palms were planted around 1889 and the remainder over the years that followed.

Edith Benson Road was constructed in 1935 and the Syagrus palms were planted along the road. Many of these were replaced in 1986 with Washingtonia robusta palms due to the high vehicle accident rate and many palms being damaged.


These are some of the oldest living plants, dating back from the Mesozoic up to the Jurassic period, around 160 million years ago. Our indigenous cycads come from the genera Encephalartos and Stangeria, and are all protected under strict Nature Conservation laws which require permits to possess, sell, donate or move them.

The collection covers cycads from South Africa, Africa, Australia, Asia and Central America.

Our rarest cycad is the Encephalartos woodii which can be seen on each of the four corners of the steps leading up towards the herb garden, near Edith Benson Road.

The first of this species was discovered in 1895 in the wild Ngoye forest in Zululand by the then Curator, John Medley Wood. In 1903 some of these stems were brought back to the Gardens by his assistant, James Wylie. This protected cycad species is now extinct in the wild.

The most impressive feature for the Gardens is the very rare Encephalartos woodii cycad – (READ WOODIANA EDITION 2 | Page 6)

Butterfly Habitat Garden

This garden was established in 2015 by Dr Americo Bonkewitzz, a butterfly specialist. This replaced the original COP-17 Beehive project.

The garden was specially designed using plants that provide nectar (food) to attract many different local butterflies, to supply host plants where they can lay their eggs, and where the caterpillars that hatch can eat the correct plants in order to develop into butterflies.

The information boards inside the dome show the life cycle and some of the butterfly species that occur there.

Most of the plants are Indigenous with a few exceptions such as the red Pentas.

Insect surveys are carried out by the Durban Natural History Museum in summer and in winter.

Butterfly courses are run by Americo and details can be obtained from the Information Office or on his website.

Trees / Arboretum

The trees form the back bone and the beauty of the Gardens. Many are over 100 years old and these are named “Centenary Trees”. We have around 90 centenary trees listed, with the age of more being verified.

The majority of the old trees are exotics. Many years ago, settlers were interested in growing plants from distant shores for economic purposes such as tea, coffee and rubber, as well as being influenced by the trend of the Victorian Plant Collecting frenzy at the time.

The Gardens boasts a beautiful old indigenous tree: Ziziphus muconata [Buffalo Thorn / uMphafa].

This is the last remaining tree that would have been part of the original coastal forest, which occurred before emerging development of houses and roads destroyed the surrounding bush and forest. This tree, we hope, will be recognised as a Heritage Tree by the Department of Agriculture and Forestry. This can be found at the top of the Garden above the old water reservoir.