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African rondavel unveiled to celebrate the Botanic Garden's South Africa collection

The Botanic Garden's African rondavel Botanic Garden

Press release issued: 22 May 2019

An African rondavel will be unveiled at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden tomorrow [Thursday 23 May] to celebrate the Garden's African heritage and its South Africa display in the Mediterranean climatic region. The thatched African-style hut will be officially opened by Beryl Ferguson, Board Chairperson of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI).

The rondavel has been built to provide a unique environment to learn about plants and its South Africa display in the Mediterranean collection; to show the architecture and building materials of a traditional rondavel;  focus on the traditional medicinal use of the South African flora and highlight the issue of non-sustainable collection and the need to develop sustainable cultivation techniques for long-term use of traditional herbs.

Nick Wray, Curator of the Botanic Garden, said: "The thatched African rondavel has been built to celebrate African heritage. In Southern African countries millions of people, particularly in rural areas, live in these structures which date back thousands of years. The building materials used would be collected within a few kilometres of where they were built.

"Our rondavel is based on those found in the Western Cape of South Africa, home to the Cape Floral Kingdom. Many of the plants found in this region are growing around our African-style hut. One particular plant, the Cape Thatching Reed (Elegia tectorum) has been sustainably sourced from the Albertinia region of South Africa to thatch the roof.  A living specimen can be seen growing in the plant display surrounding the rondavel.

"The importance of plants such as African Daisies, Pelargoniums, Ericas, Aloes, Felicias, Agapanthus, Birds of Paris and the Bloodroot or Marsh Butterfly lily, from South Africa to UK gardens cannot be over-emphasised and our glasshouses display exotic South African plants."

South African flora feature in many stories about pollination by Cape sunbirds, sugarbirds, insects and rodents. Many plants have also evolved to be dependent on bush fires for germination.

The thatching has been done by Somerset Master Thatcher, John Harman. The construction wood has all been sourced from plantations growing in the UK.  The floor, joists and the door are European Larch, roof eaves Norway Spruce and wall lathes and staves are Douglas Fir.

In the future, information boards in the rondavel will explain the construction process and properties of materials, together with the evolutionary biology and phytogeography of the plants in the display, which form one of the unique collections at the Botanic Garden.

The African rondavel at the University of Bristol Botanic Garden at The Holmes, Stoke Park Road, Bristol, BS9 1JG, will be unveiled on Thursday 23 May 2019 at 11.45 am.

The event is open to all and no prior booking is needed.  Entry will be £6.00 (£6.60 with Gift Aid) Free entry for Friends, children, ALL students and university staff.

Further information

About the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI)
The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) contributes to South Africa's sustainable development by facilitating access to biodiversity data, generating information and knowledge, building capacity, providing policy advice, showcasing and conserving biodiversity in its national botanical and zoological gardens.

About Nick Wray, Curator of the Botanic Garden
Nick Wray is an expert of South African flora and is responsible for curating the Botanic Garden's plant collections and promoting them as an educational and conservation resource. Nick has spent years studying plants in the Western Cape of South Africa and leading tours to this biodiverse part of the world. He was the South African plant consultant at the Eden Project from 1998 to 2002, where he developed the ideas for and design of the South African zone of the Mediterranean Climatic Biome. 

About the University of Bristol Botanic Garden
The Botanic Garden has a strong evolutionary theme and cultivates over 5,000 plant species forming four core collections that illustrate plant evolution, plants from Mediterranean climates, useful plants (including Chinese and Western herb gardens) and rare and threatened native plants to the Bristol area. 

Star attractions include an amazing dell demonstrating the evolution of land plants including the dinosaurs' favourite plants: ginkgos, cycads, tree ferns, monkey puzzles and the Wollemi Pine.  Other delights include glasshouses, home to giant Amazon water lilies, tropical fruit and medicinal plants, orchids, cacti and a unique sacred lotus collection. 

Normal admission and opening times
The Botanic Garden is open from 10 am until 4.30 pm or dusk in the winter (except during weekends in February and March when opening times change to 10.30 am until 3 pm).

The Garden is open Monday to Friday and closed at weekends from December until the end of January.

From February until the end of November the Garden is open for seven days a week including bank holidays.

Admission is £6.60 (Gift Aid payment)* or £6 (non - Gift Aid payment); free to University staff and retired staff, Friends of the Botanic Garden, students and children under 18.

*The adult gate entry fee of £6.60 includes a 60p voluntary donation which UK taxpayers' can pay, allowing the Botanic Garden to benefit from a 25 per cent refund of tax from the government on each adult ticket.

Dogs (except registered disability assistance dogs) are not permitted in the Botanic Garden.

The garden is accessible for wheelchairs and mobility scooters with a designated path leading around the garden and glasshouses. Disabled toilet facilities are available on site and a wheelchair is available upon request from the Welcome Lodge.

Pre-booked guided tours of the garden for groups of ten upwards are available seven days a week.  Please contact the garden for further information.  There is a charge for the guide of £8 per person.

Directions to the Botanic Garden 
From the city centre go to the top of Whiteladies Road, at the junction and traffic lights go straight ahead across Durdham Down towards Stoke Bishop. At the traffic lights go straight ahead and take the first turning on the right into Stoke Park Road, the Botanic Garden at the Holmes is 150 metres on the right.

Members of the public wishing to support the work of the Botanic Garden should join the Friends of the Garden. For more information go to the Friends of the Botanic Garden or contact Sue Beech, The Membership Secretary, email:

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