New butterfly exhibit flutters into Durban Botanical Garden

Gardens staff, Peter Cronje and Sindisiwe Khanyi with Martin Clement and Janet Gates by the new butterfly habitat garden.

THERE’S a new attraction in Durban that, if he were alive today, may well have inspired 19th centrury American novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, when he wrote:

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you. The beautiful new indigenous butterfly habitat garden at Durban Botanic Gardens is a living, colourful spot of pure happiness, where, if you do sit quietly for a minute or two, you’re bound to have a butterfly alight upon you.” 

The new garden, which was seven years in the making, opened officially to the public on 4 April in the umPhafa Garden which was created as part of the conversion of what was the Living Beehive built at the Durban Botanic Gardens to showcase local biodiversity, innovative engineering and local indigenous knowledge during COP17 in 2011.

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The largely experimental garden exhibit was converted into a butterfly garden while still retaining a local biodiversity and people-plants-culture focus.

The project was supported with initial funding provided by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Durban Botanic Gardens Trust.

The garden is a new garden concept accrued from knowledge gathered by local entomologist and indigenous butterfly specialist, Dr Americo Bonkewitzz, who, with the support of the African Conservation Trust, developed several community-based butterfly domes at various sites in KwaZulu-Natal.



Dr Bonkewitzz began work on the butterfly habitat gardenin July 2015, together with Janet Gates, senior horticulturist at the Gardens and her collections team.

The initial idea was to build an enclosed butterfly dome, but after careful consideration the plan was changed to create an open habitat garden for local butterflies laid out in different garden types according to specific butterfly groups.

The dome structure served as a support for butterfly attracting climbers and creepers which, in turn, will provide a comfortable shaded structure for interpreting the value of butterflies to visitors.



Curator of the Gardens, Martin Clement, said the indigenous butterfly habitat garden, which is effectively a number of combined garden spaces with specific indigenous plants, extends the concept of wildlife gardening to a new level, allowing specific butterflies to be more readily located, observed and interpreted in their natural state.

“The indigenous plant species choice and siting in the landscape has been designed to match specific groups of butterflies that will be attracted to specific host and nectar plants and thus support the educational and interpretation activities of the garden. The idea is to create a suitable garden environment that will attract and sustain the butterflies,” he said.

He said the main purpose of the garden is to remind us how gardens can contribute to the ecological infrastructure of the city.

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“The education programme associated with the butterfly habitat garden serves to promote the creation of further butterfly gardens in our City as well as to assist people with information and access to indigenous butterfly plants. Opportunities for the local butterfly or lepidopterist society abound and ongoing research programmes in the natural sciences such as entomology, ornithology and botany exist, fitting in well with the conservation and education mandate of the Durban Botanic Gardens”

“The garden is also a major tourist attraction acknowledging that there is a growing interest in butterfly tourism in South Africa,” said Martin.

Clement said the indigenous butterfly habitat garden is also a response to the concern that children growing up, particularly in urban areas, are often disconnected from the natural world about them.


Curator, Martin Clement, Gardens staff, Peter Cronje and Sindisiwe Khanyi and Janet Gates inside the new butterfly habitat garden.


To date, 157 species of indigenous plants have been planted that have in turn attracted 54 different recorded species of butterfly at the butterfly garden.

“The diversity of the species is sure to increase, and we are seeing some butterflies we have never seen before,” he said.

The signage at the garden, donated by Goodrickes Attorneys, supplies pertinent information about butterflies including what a butterfly is, as well as the life-cycle of the butterfly and common butterflies found in Durban.

People are encouraged to donate to the Gardens for more labels to be added in the butterfly garden, and to have brochures printed which learners and other visitors can take away with them after a visit.

“We would also appreciate anyone who is interested in volunteering to assist with taking groups of international tourists around the garden,” he said.

If anyone is interested in making a donation or volunteering, call Kerry on 031 309 9244 or email: [email protected]

Lauren Walford

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