The Katse Botanical Garden has its origins in the building of the Katse Dam, part of the Lesotho Highlands Water Project. A botanical garden was not initially planned for the area, but following the plant rescue mission in 1995 and 1996 before the inundation of the Katse reservoir, the garden was created to accommodate the rescued plants.
With the increasing loss of biodiversity in Lesotho through over-exploitation, the Katse Botanical Garden provides a unique natural and semi-natural setting to expose a wider audience to the floristic beauty of the indigenous plants of Lesotho.
Katse Botanical Garden strives to promote a better knowledge and understanding of the alpine flora of Lesotho through propagation, cultivation, and conservation of indigenous plants. It serves as an educational centre for local communities, as well as for scientists, students, and the visiting public.
The mountain vegetation of Lesotho is predominantly grassland, with shrub communities occurring in specialised habitats. The region has shallow fertile soils and steep slopes, and a cold and harsh climate in winter. Of all the plant species occurring in the mountains of Lesotho and the adjoining Natal Drakensberg, the greatest number belong to the Asteraceae, including genera, such as Helichrysum, Senecio, and Felicia. Grasses are also abundant and make up the largest proportion (65%) of the herbaceous cover.
Many of the species occurring in the high-lying alpine area are endemic to the region. Although the vegetation of Lesotho Mountains has floristic links with vegetation elsewhere in Africa, it is unique in composition and structure. The dwarf Erica-Helichrysum heathland, and the dense, mat-like vegetation of the mountain wetlands, occur nowhere else in southern or central Africa. This is the most likely consequence of the particular combination of climatic and soil conditions occurring in the mountains of Lesotho. The garden is a representative centre for alpine flora in the southern African region.
The Garden has a representative collection of the flora found in the four regions of Lesotho—lowlands, foothills, Senqu River Valley, and the mountains. The lowlands and foothills collections are adapting slowly to the conditions in the garden; they only started flowering a year or two after transplanting. The following families are represented in the garden:
Asteraceae, Orchidaceae, Scrophulariaceae, Caryophyllaceae, Achariaceae, Mesembryanthemaceae, Hypoxidaceae, Velloziaceae, Araceae, Alliaceae, Anthericaceae, Ranunculaceae, Fumaraceae, Geraniaceae, Polygalaceae, Ericaceae, Apiaceae, Dipsacaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Lamiaceae, Ranunculaceae, Brassicaceae, Crassulaceae, Rubiaceae, and Periplocaceae
With nine genera, the Orchidaceae is the second largest family in the garden. Flowering starts in December and remains visible until March, mainly in river valleys in the mountain area. The genera represented are:
Satyrium , , , , , , .
Of all the orchids in the collection, the most beautiful is the Disa, followed by Eulophia. These have potential for propagation as pot plants and cut flowers. The collection is kept under a 50% shade net; a proper structure is planned.
Wetland Collection , ,
Most of the alpine wetlands have high sediment and nutrient loads. The wetland collection is made up of Anagalis huttonii
This area has three small, shallow water features, designed to accommodate the aquatic species. Over and above the water features available, a wetland and riparian theme garden to accommodate representative plants from the wetland habitats is planned.
Collection , , , and
The ericas are the most attractive shrubs on the rocky mountain outcrops when in flower. In Lesotho, they have the potential of being attractive garden shrubs and cut flowers. These are most challenging plants to propagate in the garden, as they require very intensive care. The collection consists of the species Erica dominans
—by Bongani Ntloko
SABONET News 6.2: 100