The Role of Botanic Gardens in Conservation of Medicinal Plant Species: A Case Study of Entebbe Bontanic Gardens

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October 21, 2014, 11:20 am
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Entebbe Botanic Gardens

A botanic garden is an institution holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education. A botanic garden has been defined as a garden containing scientifically ordered and maintained collections of plants, usually documented and labeled, and open to the public for the purposes of recreation, education and research.

Medicinal plant species are those that provide people with medicines to prevent diseases, maintain health or cure ailment. Therefore medicinal plants are important in the well being of people yet most people are not aware about these species or their medicinal value. Examples of these plants include Aloe vera, Hydnocarpus kurzii, Azadirachta indica and many others.

Medicinal plant species are of great value to mankind and other animals but not much emphasis is laid on their conservation especially ex-situ conservation given their ever dwindling natural habitats (Habitat). Conservation of medicinal plants involves the sustainable utilization (Sustainability) of medicinal plant resources that is in such a way that they satisfy the needs of today’s generation without hindering the ability of tomorrow’s generations to satisfy their own needs. This can easily be simplified as; “when you are eating today, remember to leave some for those who will be there tomorrow”

These species are mostly being threatened by harvesting practices incompatible with their survival or habitat degradation due to land use changes in favor of the development paradigm. The ever dwindling natural habitats of these medicinal plants have left only a choice of ex-situ conservation. This ex-situ conservation falls under the programmes of institutions such as botanic gardens that are encouraged by the Convention on Biological Diversity framework

Given that botanic gardens all over the world have always been closely linked to ex-situ conservation of medicinal plants, this review will examine the history of botanic gardens and their role in conservation of medicinal plants, the different strategies used in conservation of medicinal plants and a case study of the Entebbe Botanic Gardens in Uganda.

History of Botanic Gardens and their Role in Conservation of Medicinal Plants

Botanic gardens have in Western tradition been intimately involved in the cultivation of medicinal plants since their earliest beginnings. The first botanic gardens were medicinal or herbal gardens attached to faculties or schools of medicine created for provision of medicinal plants for study by students and for actual production of drugs.

The history of these botanic gardens is closely linked to the history of botany its self. This means that these gardens have for a long time been involved in plant cultivation and research programmes involving different species of flora. In particular, these botanic gardens have a long history of involvement with medicinal plants and with movements of other species of plants around the globe.

In the 16th century, Italian Botanic Gardens of Pisa, Padua and Florence, the later still called today the Giardino dei Semplici (garden of simples), were medicinal gardens attached to faculties or schools. There is also a long link between medicine and the botanic gardens in Asia. At the famous cultural site of Sigiriya in Sri Lanka, dating back to the fifth century AD, excavation has revealed the well preserved remains of very extensive, formally laid out, pleasure gardens, and historic records indicate that there was once a garden for medicinal plants.

The role of Botanic Gardens in conservation of medicinal plants can further be traced to the 18th century botanic gardens of the Jardin des Apothicaires which grew medicinal plants for the chests of doctors of ships sailing from the port and would in turn receive new plants, medicinal and others from abroad following a Royal Edicit signed at Versailles requiring captains and merchant mariners of Nantes to bring back all new plants found on their trips to foreign countries and the French colonies of America.

In the 1970s, botanic gardens started putting allot of effort into ex-situ conservation of medicinal plants. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was signed in 1973 and major botanic gardens at the time such as the Kew Botanical Gardens played a major scientific and advisory role in conservation of medicinal plant species that were protected by the convention at the time. The Botanic Garden Conservation Secretariat (BGCS) was then established by theWorld Conservation Union (IUCN) (World Conservation Union (IUCN)) in 1987 with the aim of coordinating the plant conservation efforts of botanic gardens around the World. It maintains a data base of rare and endangered species that are conserved and protected in botanic gardens around the Globe. The above mentioned facts are a reminder of the close relationship that existed between botanic gardens and conservation of medicinal plants. In fact Botanic Gardens and conservation of medicinal plants are very closely and inevitably linked throughout time.

Botanical-20garden.jpg For centuries, botanical gardens have served as centers of aesthetic plant display, research of plant collections, and conservation of global plant species. Saikat Basu, own work

The Role Botanic Gardens Play in Conservation of Medicinal Plants Today

Hundreds of millions of people, mostly in developing countries, derive a significant part of their subsistence needs including income from gathered plant and animal products. These products can be aesthetic, medicinal or commercial. It has been estimated that 35000-70000 species of plants have been harvested and used at one time or another for medicinal purposes. Harvesting incompatible with the natural re-population processes of individuals of medicinal plant species can lead to extinction or loss of Bio-diversity. This is where botanic gardens come in as ex-situ conservation institutions to preserve and protect these plants outside their natural habitats. In today’s world, many thousands of species of tropical flora are used in medicine yet our scientific knowledge that is relevant to sustainable utilization of these plants is limited. Furthermore, our knowledge to propagate and cultivate these medicinal plants is also equally substandard. This is where the role of botanic gardens in conservation (Biodiversity Glossary) of medicinal plants must be stressed as they have the capability to propagate and cultivate these plants. With the increased realization that some wild species are being over-exploited and their habitats dwindling, a number of agencies are recommending that wild species be brought into ex-situ conservation systems.Clearly, botanic gardens, with their expertise in gardening and other botanical disciplines, can often play useful roles in helping to select and develop varieties for cultivation, and in undertaking research on techniques for propagation and cultivation. The aim is to produce sustainability in supply of plant material for the manufacture of medicines.

Botanical gardens also play a role in helping to develop back-up facilities for ex situ conservation of threatened medicinal plants. This could be through providing expertise to land-holding agencies or individuals for the development of small nurseries at each in-situ site, so as to propagate the species and reintroduce them into nature where populations are low. Possibly, Botanic Gardens could also assist through the development of germplasm banks such as seed collections, though medicinal plants are not high on the list of ex-situ conservation programmes of this type at present.

Botanic gardens play a vital role in conservation of medicinal plants since they increase the level of awareness about medicinal plants and their values on top of conducting ex-situ cultivation programmes and maintaining collections of these plant species.

A Case Study of Entebbe Botanic Gardens and their Role in Conservation of Medicinal Plants

Entebbe Botanic Gardens are situated on the Northern shores of Lake Victoria (long. 32º29'E., at. 0º04' N.). They receive an average annual rainfall of 1,626 mm and lie at 1,134 m above sea-level. The garden lies within the township of Entebbe in the southern part of Uganda and 33.80 kilometers from Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. The gardens which cover an area of 100.57 acres are said to have an estimate of over 150 plant species of medicinal value. The Entebbe Botanic Gardens play a vital role in the conservation of these plant species.

Map Showing Location and Site of Entebbe Municipality and the Entebbe Botanic Gardens

Entebbe-location.jpg Source: NASA


The Entebbe Botanic Gardens are the only nationally recognized botanic gardens in Uganda. They were created in the year 1898 after the first British colonialists came to Uganda. The aim was to maintain collections of crops important in agricultural production and other commercial uses. The botanic gardens were very active in plant introduction from many parts of the world. Crop species of foreign origin such as cocoa, coffee, tea and rubber were introduced and evaluated. Uganda's varied agro-climatic conditions offered a good opportunity for these plants to grow and they have become the main cash-crops of the country. The gardens have until recently served simply as an area for public recreation and enjoyment, with no attempt made to develop its considerable potential as a place for systematic collection of plants, centre for research and education.

It is important to note that national botanic gardens like those of Entebbe were not only created for the above mentioned purposes but also for the conservation of endangered flora as listed by the IUCN Red List (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species), International Plant Protection Convention, CITES and [[Convention on Biological Diversity] (CBD)]. The development of conservation strategy for Botanic Gardens has evolved over the past few years following a series of key events such as the 1975 and 1978 Kew conferences and the Las Palmas conferences on botanic gardens and the conservation strategy held in 1985. One of the botanic gardens following this evolved conservation strategy is the Entebbe Botanic Gardens.

The Entebbe Botanic Gardens have always aimed at achieving the following objectives;

  • To integrate conservation activities with agricultural and genetic resources development.
  • To enhance the educational and recreational potential of the gardens through the development of facilities and services that will benefit both residents and tourists alike.
  • To encourage and enhance public involvement in the work of the botanic garden and extension of the work of the botanic garden into the community.
  • To undertake screening of native plants for utility and possible economic production.
  • To put up a scheme to establish collaboration with relevant institutions in the development and production of native wild plant species of economic and educational value for example medicinal plants, wild fruits, fibers, spices, fuel-wood and forage crops.
  • To establish Ethno-Botanical Gardens, if possible in each district.

The Entebbe Botanic Gardens (EBG) together with Uganda National Gene Bank (UNGB) are under the Plant Genetic Resources Centre (PGRC) which is an institution under the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) of theNational Agricultural Research Organization (NARO).

The Entebbe Botanic Gardens employs a number of different strategies in conservation of medicinal plants including in-situ conservation and re-introduction programmes, biotechnology and gene banks, education and sensitization programmes, research programmes and ex-situ conservation.

The Different Medicinal Plants in Entebbe Botanic Gardens

The Entebbe Botanic Gardens are said to be an ex-situ conservation site for more than 122 medicinal plant species. The most commonly known medicinal plant species in these botanic gardens include Aloe vera, Prunus africana, Bidens pilosa, Cannabis sativa and Catha edulis among others.

Table Showing the Medicinal plants in the Entebbe Botanic Gardens

Family/species name Source IUCN conservation status
1 Acanthus pubescens Uganda Not evaluated
2 Asystasia schimperi Uganda Not evaluated
3 Brillantaisia mahonia Uganda Not evaluated
4 Justicia betonica Uganda Not evaluated
5 Aerva lanata Uganda Not evaluated
6 Celosia trigyna Uganda Not evaluated
7 Anacardium occidentale Tropical America Not evaluated
8 Spondias lutea Tropical America Not evaluated
9 Funtumia africana Tropical Africa Not evaluated
10 Plumeria rubra Tropical Africa Not evaluated
11 Rauvolfia vomitoria Tropical Africa Not evaluated
12 Vinca rosea North America Not evaluated
13 Schefflera actinophylla New Guinea Not evaluated
14 Schefflera polysciadia
15 Steganotaenia araliaceae Tropical Africa Not evaluated
16 Asclepias semilunata Uganda Not evaluated
17 Kigelia moosa Tropical Africa Not evaluated
18 Bischofia javanica Tropical Asia Not evaluated
19 Adansonia digitata East Africa, Sudan Not evaluated
20 Ceiba petandra Tropical Asia Not evaluated
21 Durio zibethinus Malaysia Not evaluated
22 Cannabis sativa Tropical Africa Not evaluated
23 Cleome gynandra Uganda Not evaluated
24 Drymaria cordata Tropical Africa Not evaluated
25 Catha edulis Tropical Africa Lower Risk/least concern
26 Chenopodium opulifolium Tropical Africa Not evaluated
27 Combretum paniculata Tropical Africa Not evaluated
28 Zebrina purpussii Uganda Not evaluated
29 Commelina bengalensis Uganda Not evaluated
30 Ageratum conyzoides Uganda Not evaluated
31 Aspilia africana Uganda Not evaluated
32 Bidens pilosa Uganda Not evaluated
33 Crassocephalum sp Uganda Not evaluated
34 Dichrocephala integrifolia Uganda Not evaluated
35 Eriangea tomentosa Uganda Not evaluated
36 Microglossa angolensis Uganda Not evaluated
37 Senecio discifolius Uganda Not evaluated
38 Sigesbeckia orientalis Uganda Not evaluated
39 Solanecio cydonifolius Uganda Not evaluated
40 Solanecio mannii Uganda Not evaluated
41 Tagetes minuta Uganda Not evaluated
42 Vemonia amygdalina Uganda Not evaluated
43 Hewittia sublobata Uganda Not evaluated
44 Kalanchoe pinnata Uganda Not evaluated
45 Cardamine trichocarpa Uganda Not evaluated
46 Cucurbita maxima Uganda Not evaluated
47 Momordica foetida Uganda Not evaluated
48 Dioscorea alata Uganda Not evaluated
49 Dracaena steudneri Tropical Africa Not evaluated
50 Dracaena fragrans Tropical Africa
51 Bridelia micrantha Tropical Africa Not evaluated
52 Croton megalocarpus Tropical Africa Not evaluated
53 Euphorbia heterophylla Tropical Africa Not evaluated
54 Euphorbia hirta Tropical Africa Not evaluated
55 Euphorbia tirucalli Uganda Least Concern
56 Jestropha curcas Tropical America Not evaluated
57 Jatropha multifida America Not evaluated
58 Phyllanthus reticulatius Tropical Africa Not evaluated
59 Ricinus communis Uganda Not evaluated
80 Sapium ellypticum Tropical Africa Not evaluated
81 Tragia benthami Uganda Not evaluated
82 Hydnocarpus anthelimintica Siam Not evaluated
83 Hydnocarpus petandra India Not evaluated
84 Digitaria abyssinica Uganda Not evaluated
85 Imperata cylindrica Uganda Not evaluated
86 Hoslundia opposita Uganda Not evaluated
87 Osimum suave Uganda Not evaluated
88 Tetradena riparia Uganda Not evaluated
89 Cinnamomum camphora China Not evaluated
90 Acacia camphylacantha Tropical Africa Not evaluated
91 Acacia hockki Tropical Africa Not evaluated
92 Baikiaea insignis Tropical Africa Not evaluated
93 Cassia alata Tropical Africa Not evaluated
94 Cassia fistula Tropical Africa Not evaluated
95 Cassia spectabilis Tropical Africa Not evaluated
96 Craibia elliotii Uganda Not evaluated
97 Cynometra alexandri Tropical Africa Not evaluated
98 Desmodium mauritianm Tropical Africa Not evaluated
99 Erythrina abyssinica Tropical Africa Not evaluated
100 Erythrophleum suaveolens Tropical Africa Not evaluated
101 Indigofera spicata Tropical Africa Not evaluated
102 Leucaena glauca Tropical Africa Not evaluated
103 Myroxylon balsamum Tropical Africa Not evaluated
104 Pseudanthistiria hookeri South America Not evaluated
105 Saraca indica Tropical Africa Not evaluated
106 Glorisa suberba Uganda Not evaluated
107 Anthocleista vogeliplanchon Tropical Africa Not evaluated
108 Albutilon mauritianum Uganda Not evaluated
109 Albutilon zanzibaricum Uganda Not evaluated
110 Azanza barckeana East Africa Not evaluated
111 Sida cordifolia 0 Not evaluated
112 Melia dubias Asia Not evaluated
113 Azadirachta indica Tropical Asia
114 Melia azedarach Asia Not evaluated
115 Artocarpus heterophyllus Tropical Asia Not evaluated
116 Milicia excelsa Tropical Africa Lower Risk/ near threatened
117 Ensete ventricossum Tropics Not evaluated
118 Amomis caryophyllata America Not evaluated
119 Callistemon salignus Australia Not evaluated
120 Eugenia uniflora Australia Not evaluated
121 Eucalyptus maideni Australia Not evaluated
122 Pimenta officinalis Tropical America Not evaluated
123 Biophylum petersianum Uganda Not evaluated
124 Areca catechu Tropical Asia Not evaluated
125 Phytolacca dodecandra Tropical Africa Not evaluated
126 Sesamum angolensis Tropical Africa Not evaluated
127 Plantago palmata Tropical Africa Not evaluated
128 Plumbago zeylanica Tropical Africa Not evaluated
129 Oxygonum sinuatum Tropical Africa Not evaluated
130 Portulaca oleracea Tropical Africa Not evaluated
131 Clemantis hirsuta Tropical Africa Not evaluated
132 Prunus africana Tropical Africa Vulnerable
133 Nauclea latifolia West Tropical Africa Not evaluated
134 Pentas zanzibarica Tropical Africa Not evaluated
135 Rubia cordifolia West Africa Not evaluated
136 Citrus medica Southeast Asia Not evaluated
137 Teclea nobilis Tropical Africa Not evaluated
138 Harrisonia abyssinica Tropical Africa Not evaluated
139 Capsicum frutoscens Tropical Africa Not evaluated
140 Datura stramonium Tropical Africa Not evaluated
141 Nicotiana tabacum Uganda Not evaluated
142 Solunum aculeastrum Uganda Not evaluated
143 Solunum camphylacanthum Uganda Not evaluated
144 Solanum macranthum Tropical Africa Not evaluated
145 Solunum nigrum Uganda Not evaluated
146 Solunum nidiflorum Uganda Not evaluated
147 Philadelphia spp Uganda Not evaluated
148 Lantana camara Tropical Africa Not evaluated
149 Priva leptostachya Uganda Not evaluated
150 Clerondendrum myricoides Uganda Not evaluated
151 Aloe vera Tropical Africa Not evaluated
152 Encephalartos hildebrandtii Uganda Not evaluated
153 Aframomum sanguineum Tropical Africa Not evaluated
154 Aframomum melegueta TropicalAfrica Not evaluated


Finally, in addition to maintaining a large collection of medicinal plants, the Entebbe Botanic Gardens have also helped in increasing the level of awareness about these species as the facility gets a considerable number of visitors every year. These guests gain considerable amount of knowledge about medicinal plant species and their conservation as the facility has educational programmes for these visitors.

Botanic gardens have always and will always be intimately linked to medicinal plant conservation and because of this, stake holders in conservation should ensure that they always have the instruments and tools to carry out their activities as this will undoubtedly promote sustainable use and conservation of these species.

Further Reading

  • Akerele, O., Heywood, V. & Synge, H. (eds.) (1991). Conservation of Medicinal Plants. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK.
  • Ashton, P, S. (1984). Botanic Gardens and Experimental Grounds. In Current Concepts in Plant Taxonomy. eds, V.H. Heywood and D.M. Moore. London and New York Academic Press, Pp. 39-48.
  • Botanic Gardens Conservation Secretariat (1989). The Botanic Gardens Conservation Strategy. BGCI, Richmond, UK.
  • Doroth Ouchi Ssekadde. (1994). The Entebbe Botanic Gardens, Uganda. BGC News.
  • Farnsworth, N.R., Akerele, O., Heywood, V. & Soejarto, D.D. (1991). Global Importance of Medicinal Plants. In: Akerele, O., Heywood, V. & Synge, H. (eds.). Conservation of Medicinal Plants. pp 25-51. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, UK.
  • Garbari, F. and Raimondo. (1986). Botanical Gardens in Italy; Their History, Scientific Role and Future. Museol .Sci. 3(1-2), Pp. 57-81.
  • Heywood, V. (1991). Botanic gardens and the Conservation of Medicinal Plants. In: Akerele, O., Heywood, V. & Synge, H. (eds.) Conservation of Medicinal Plants pp.213-228. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (UK).
  • Heywood, V.H. (1987). The Changing Role of Botanic Gardens and the World Conservation Strategy. eds, Bramwell, D. Hamann, O. Heywood, V. Synge, H. London and New York Academic Press. Pp. 3-18.
  • Iqbal, M. (1993). International Trade in Non-wood Forest Products. An overview. – Rome, FAO.
  • Majamudar, D. S. (1997). Beyond biodiversity conservation: the challenges facing the biocultural heritage of India's medicinal plants. Bangarole-24 India.
  • Maundu, P. Kariuki, P. Eyog-Matig, O. (2006). Threats to Medicinal Plant Species-an African Perspective. IUCN, International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI).
  • Ssegawa, P. and Kasenene, M. J. 2007. Medicinal Plant Diversity and Uses in the Sango-bay Area, Southern Uganda. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, Volume: 11. Pp 521–540.
  • Synge, H. and Townsend, M. (1979). Survival or Extinction. Kew, UK: Bentham Maxon Trust. Pp. 250.
  • Walter, S. (2001). Non-wood Forest Products in Africa. A Regional and National Overview. Les produits forestiers non ligneux en Afrique. UN aperçu régional et national. – Rome, FAO Forestry Department (Working Paper/Document de Travail FOPW/01/1).
  • WHO, IUCN & WWF (1993). Guidelines on the Conservation of Medicinal Plants. – Gland & Geneva, Switzerland.
  • Jackson, W. Peter, S. & Sutherland, Lucy A. (2000). International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation. Richmond, UK: Botanic Gardens Conservation International.


MUJUNI, N. (2014). The Role of Botanic Gardens in Conservation of Medicinal Plant Species: A Case Study of Entebbe Bontanic Gardens. Retrieved from