Venezuela’s Botanical Guardian
The Garden of Caracas’ Crucial Role in Research and Preservation
Venezuela’s Botanical Garden of Caracas— containing a 170-acre garden, the National Herbarium, and the Henri Pittier Library— was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000 in recognition of its historical, scientific, and cultural significance. Situated on the Central University of Venezuela’s campus, the garden is a highlight of the country’s oldest and most prestigious academy.
The botanical garden was founded in 1945 and opened to the public in 1958. Located on the most biodiverse continent in the world, the Garden honors and safeguards a variety of earth’s flora. In its time, the Garden has contained over 2,500 species of plants from dozens of countries from around the world.
The site’s herbarium consists of over 450,000 samples, containing a vast array of incredibly rare and unique specimens. According to Dr. Avendaño, a curator and the herbarium’s director, the herbarium’s samples have a “historical, genetic, and scientific importance” and are referenced by a variety of professionals ranging from chefs to botanists.
Over 500 of the samples are deemed historical and are preserved from the 17th century. Furthermore, many of the specimens are instrumental to plant taxonomy, the practice of classifying species. The institution is in possession of 750 type and paratype samples, which are involved in characterizing taxon and deriving the scientific names for plant species.
Also located on the grounds is the Henri Pittier Library, named for the Swiss botanist who was instrumental in the creation of the Venezuelan national parks. The library shelves some 10,000 titles, a portion of which date back to the 18th century.
In addition to containing the works of Dr. Pittier, the library also houses invaluable documents contributed by other renowned scientists. Pittier’s Library remains a significant reference source for botanists from all over the world.
For the past few years, however, a host of issues have threatened the Garden’s ability to protect and maintain its grounds and facilities. Long periods of droughts have impacted water availability and, thus, irrigation costs and capabilities. Furthermore, there has been a slew of thefts in recent years that have robbed the garden of necessary and expensive equipment— such as computers, electrical wiring, and air conditioners.
This, a compromised water supply, and a drastically reduced budget have jeopardized the future of this heritage site and necessitated volunteer action to keep the space operational. One volunteer movement involved crowdfunding to purchase 200 cisterns to aid in the irrigation crisis. In recent years, the Garden’s upkeep has been largely sustained by donations.
These three sectors of the Caracas’ Botanical Garden— the herbarium, the library, and, of course, the gardens themselves— are not only important for modern-day research and biodiversity conservation, but also represent the century-old efforts of conservation in Venezuela. The survival of these institutions is crucial and their historical, scientific, and academic value cannot be understated.
Sophia Turcot is a sophomore undergraduate student at the University of California San Diego pursuing a major in International Relations: Political Science with a minor in Climate Change Sciences. She’s from Los Angeles, CA and was raised in a coastal town where she gained an interest in conservation and ecology, specifically in ocean ecosystems. She believes education plays a vital role in mitigating global climate issues and is excited to be working with Latina Republic to tell the stories of individuals and communities in Latin America and their mission to preserve some of the most biodiverse and beautiful regions in the world.