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Ethnobotanical Garden
(Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca)



Officially opened in 1998, the Jardín Etnobotánico de Oaxaca (or ethnobotanic garden), was designed by Oaxacan artist Francisco Toledo as an alternative to the government’s plan to develop theDominican Monastery site into a luxury hotel and car park. Located behind the Santo Domingo Cultural Centre the garden was originally part of the church grounds until it was occupied by the Mexican army and used as both a rubbish dump and shooting range. In 1994 the army was finally ousted and the site was excavated and developed according to Toledo’s plan. The garden was officially opened in 1988.

The result is a beautiful garden that showcases the diverse range of flora that is native to Oaxaca, the most bio-diverse region in Mexico. Called an ethnobotanical garden because of the focus on the relationship between the people and the plants, all the trees and plants featured in the garden are from Oaxaca and were specially brought in from other sites around the city. Each one has a story. There is a ‘rescue’ area where you can see agave and cactus that have been saved from development projects in other parts of Oaxaca, a collection of medicinal plants, and a variety of traditional foods.

The garden is deliberately void of signage as Toledo did not want to ruin the aesthetic of the garden. As a result, in order to fully enjoy and understand the gardens access is by guided tour only.



We were quite surprised as we entered the garden for the "English" language tour, as there was a huge queue of people and access was limited to 50. We were fortunate in that we got tickets 43 to 45at 100 pesos each and just crept in. Our tour guie was Carol, a very knowledgeable lady and resident of Oaxaca. She spent the first 5 minutes explaining the Do'd and Dont's whilst in the gardens. They do not allow people to roam willy nilly, and in fact there was a supervisor who followed at the rear of our party. These restrictions proved too much for several people in the party, and they bailed out after only a few minutes!

The garden covers 6 acres and is divided into several zones. In the first section we saw example sof squash, beans and corn. Squash was a staple diet until maise was developed in Mexico in 6,000 years ago. Maise is a member of the grass family, but it is a developed crop and cannot seed and replant itself. It has to be planted by man







Tejate is a non-alcoholic maize and cacao beverage traditionally made in Oaxaca, Mexico, originating from pre-Hispanic times. It remains very popular among the indigenous Mixtec and Zapotec peoples, especially in rural areas. It is also very popular in Oaxaca and the surrounding regions. Principal ingredients include toasted maize, fermented cacao beans, toasted mamey pits (pixtle) and flor de cacao (also known as rosita de cacao). These are finely ground into a paste. The paste is mixed with water, usually by hand, and when it is ready, the flor de cacao rises to the top to form a pasty foam. It can be served as-is or with some sugar syrup to sweeten it. The drink is served cold. It is often for sale at roadside stands and is served in brightly coloured dishes.




We next moved to a section with humid tropical forrest trees. The first example was a Kapok tree. As the tree grows it developes spikes on its trunk and the root area becomes buttressed. The branches grow away from the trunk at right angles and the seed pods gives a material like cotton wool called "kapok". The fibres are too short to spin, but kapok makes good paper and is an excellent natural material for stuufing cushions etc. The kapok tree was sacred to the Maya.

Kapok tree


Nearby was a Shaving Brush tree, or Pseudobombax ellipticum to give it it's correct name. It is a tree that can reach 18 m (60 ft) in height and 1.3 m (4 ft) d.b.h. It is a deciduous tree with succulent stems, and provides a good wood for carving. It flowers in the dry season.



Frequent rest stops in the shade were required during the 2-hour tour.
Sue and Jacques at the second rest stop!

Bursera glabrifolia is a Mexican species of trees native to central Mexico (Guerrero, Morelos, Michoacán, México State, Puebla, Oaxaca). Bursera glabrifolia is one of two species commonly referred to as copal. Copal is the wood most commonly used by the woodcarvers in Oaxaca, Mexico. The woodcarvers refer to Bursera glabrifolia as "macho" or male copal, which they like less than Bursera bipinnata, which they refer to as "Hembra" or female copal. Copal incense gives off clouds of smoke.


Tree cactii, especially abundant in Northern Oaxaca


Agaves are succulents with a large rosette of thick, fleshy leaves, with most species ending in a sharp terminal spine. The stout stem is usually short, the leaves apparently springing from the root. Along with plants from the related genus Yucca, various Agave species are popular ornamental plants in hot, dry climates, as they require very little water to survive.
Each rosette is monocarpic and grows slowly to flower only once. During flowering, a tall stem or "mast" ("quiote" in Mexico) grows from the center of the leaf rosette and bears a large number of short, tubular flowers. After development of fruit, the original plant dies, but suckers are frequently produced from the base of the stem, which become new plants.

It is a common misconception that agaves are cacti. They are not related to cacti, nor are they closely related to Aloe whose leaves are similar in appearance.

Pulke is a fermented drink made from agave, but it is low in alcohol and does not keep more than a few days. Mezcal and Tequilla are both post-Hispanic distilled drinks. Agave azul (blue agave) is used in the production of tequila. The core of the agave (not the leaves) is used for the production of mezcal.


Sombrero palms - used for hats and bags







Cycads are not related to palms; they never make flowers or fruit, and are thought to
have originated in the age of the dynosaur 230 million yeras ago.


Cactii make good boundary fences