Friday, January 27, 2017

Trip Report: Gulele Botanic Garden in Ethiopia

Christie and I spent the month of July last year in Ethiopia, while we were finalizing the adoption of our son, Merek.

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Yep, he's adorable!
A while back I heard about a botanic garden in Addis Ababa and I was excited about visiting during our time in Ethiopia.  There is very little information on the internet about this place and no one seems to know about it around town.  (There is a new website that has some good information here.)  At the time the best I could do was find a phone number and called and talked to someone, who seemed a little surprised that we wanted to come and visit.

We hired a taxi to drive us to the area near the garden and when we got close the driver started asking people along the street if they knew where we should go.  I brought the phone number with me and had the taxi driver call and talk to the people at the garden.  He brought me to an office building and Christie, Merek, and I went inside to meet some of the garden staff.

We visited for a short time in their office and then the Director of Education (I think his name was Solomon) got in a separate car and asked us to follow him to the garden in our taxi.  We drove up the mountain a little distance and pulled in the gate, where a staff of 5 or 6 people were tending to the garden.

Solomon was very happy to show me around the garden.  He told me about their vision for the place, which has been developing slowly over the last 5 years.  They envision this being a place where people come to go walking or jogging or just to enjoy nature.  (It was a good area for birding!  I recorded my 500th life bird while here: Rufous-breasted Sparrowhawk)  They aim to collect plant species from throughout the country and grow them on site, as well as to sponsor conservation efforts throughout Ethiopia.  They have rows of plants arranged almost like crops and two nice greenhouses.  The greenhouses are sectioned into rooms coming off of a main corridor that runs down the middle.  We ventured inside and talked about the various plants they are growing.  Many of the plants are native to Ethiopia, but not all.  Solomon said it is challenging to meet the growing conditions of all of these plants from the many different climates across Ethiopia, so they are trying to simulate different climates in different rooms.

I told Solomon that I grow a lot of tropical plants, primarily Aroids and Orchids.  He wasn't very familiar with the Aroid (Araceae) family, so I tried to give him some examples.  Finally we came across one aroid in his greenhouses, which looked like a Sauromatum.  He showed me a group of native orchids, but they were not in bloom and I would have never guessed they were orchids.  Their leaves looked similar to the leaves of a day lily.  The orchid family is quite diverse and I remembered that my Field Guide to Ethiopian Orchids had a lot of genera that I was not familiar with before reading that book.

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Boys swimming in an artificial pool formed around a natural waterfall flowing by the side of the path up the mountain.
After touring the greenhouses we went outside and found Christie, who had been walking around with Merek, taking pictures of birds for me.  We walked up the hill even farther and ventured to some other parts of the garden that I would not have guessed were the same property.  Along the way we passed several different habitats that the staff has been working to create, including a marshy area formed by damming up a natural creek that flows down the hillside.

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Solomon pointing out the rough property line of the botanic garden
Near the top of the hill there was a flatter area and a path that led to a lookout tower.  We stood on top and took in the view of the countryside and city below us.  Merek slept in his carrier for a little bit, but when he woke up he was kind of ready to get out and do something else.

I regret that I didn't get a good picture of the garden as a whole, showing the rows of plants and such.  I was focused on individual birds and plants.  I did get a picture of Solomon in front of the greenhouses, though.

Gulele Botanic Garden
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