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Belo Horizonte Zoobotanic Foundation, Brazil – Creation of a Botanic Garden

Volume 3 Number 6 - June 2001

Fernando M. Fernandes

The Belo Horizonte Zoo-Botanical Foundation FZB-BH – has worked continuously to achieve its objectives and to offer the best service to the visiting public. The main challenges at the moment are the creation of the Botanic Garden, the modernization of the Zoo and the integration of these two departments around environmental education.

The construction of the Botanic Garden at Pampulha, where the Zoo was established in 1949, fulfils the intention of establishing a Zoo-Botanic Garden in Belo Horizonte, more than forty years ago. It will be the first Botanic Garden of the Capital and also the first one of Minas Gerais State.

The Aims of the Zoo-Botanic Foundation

The Zoo-Botanic Foundation, created in 1991, is a public agency under the indirect management of the City Hall of Belo Horizonte. It has four sections: the Botanic Garden, the Zoo, the Department of Administration and Finances and the Environmental Education Service.

Its mission is to contribute to the development of a new vision of the cultural and environmental importance of Zoological and Botanic Gardens, demonstrating that maintenance of current biodiversity depends on our ability to understand, respect and protect the species and their relationship to their environment.

The Foundation Development

In recent years, the Zoo-Botanic Foundation has implemented a programme of development which includes a Centre for Environmental Education, a Reptile House and a Primate House (integrated with the nature reserve) and changes have been made to the enclosures of the white rhinoceros and Brazilian mammals and the veterinarian hospital.

The Botanic Garden, even before opening, has developed plant collections and a series of research projects on the flora and also given guided visits to groups of students.

However, more important than expanding, the Foundation is constantly trying to improve itself. The concern with quality is present in all sectors. Continuous investment has been made in the qualifications and training of the staff. New methods and procedures have been constantly researched and adopted. The veterinarian hospital has obtained new equipment and the enclosures have been improved. Everything is designed to guarantee better conditions for the animals.

In 1998, in partnership with the SLU (Urban Cleaning Service) and CVRD (Companhia Vale do Rio Doce) a system of selective trash collection was established and a unit of organic material compost was installed to recycle the material and produce organic fertilizer.

In public education, beside the growth and the development of the team, a series of new projects and services have been implemented, such as guided visits, educational and cultural events, lectures in education and similar institutions and mini courses for educators. For visitor comfort, improvements have been made to road signs, lighting systems, water, sewerage and facilities for the disabled. Moreover, the “Eco-shop” and a new and modern snack bar were constructed, and the restaurant is being remodeled.

It is thought that all these improvements will increase the numbers of visitors (at present about 600,000 visitors/year) and so increase the revenue which can further improve the facilities and visitor numbers. The work carried out last year has already shown significant results: the number of visitors in the first semester of 1999 grew by 17.4% compared to the same period of the previous year.

The technical-scientific proposal of the botanic garden

The main objectives of the Botanic Gardens are to:

  • promote research, conservation of the flora and environmental education; 
  •  promote the multicultural value of the plants and their sustainable use; 
  • reduce by means of appropriate horticultural and other techniques the extinction of local, wild, rare and threatened species;
  • conserve genetic material in situ and in germplasm banks ex situ.

The affiliation of the Botanic Garden to an international network BGCI (Botanic Gardens Conservation International) and the Brazilian Botanic Garden Network, with their careful studies of worldwide strategies of conservation allows the garden to join with others to conserve biodiversity.

The tasks are divided into three main areas:


A botanic garden by its very nature is a reference centre for botany. The plant collections support research and education and all other objectives of the Garden. There are the reference collections, composed of herbarium specimens, fruit and seed collections, and the living collections, which are so important as a visitor attraction and for education (see below).

Collection of plants for exhibition/education: these plants are of special interest for the public and a resource for researchers and collectors. The Botanic Garden intends to have an evolution greenhouse, a greenhouse of curious plants, taxonomic collections, thematic gardens (colours, medicinal and toxic species, species of shade and barren environments), aquatic plants, an arboretum and displays of rare or native palm species of the region.

Collections of plants from the state of Minas Gerais: these will contribute to the improvement of the knowledge of the regional flora and focus on threatened species and their habitats. For example, the Botanic Garden maintains a significant holding of species of cerrado (the Brazilian savanna), and semi-deciduous forest. This is the predominant vegetation in the region and represents a very important genetic holding. The garden also intends to collaborate in restoration studies and surveys of the local/regional vegetation. The caatinga (typical vegetation of the semi-arid region in Brazil), the atlantic forest and the campo rupestre (typical vegetation of the mountains, in rocky ground) will be represented in the garden.

Collections for conservation/research: this collection will have species of restricted access; the plants will be of wild origin, registered and meticulously managed (correct source of origin and trustworthy origin habitat data). These collections will be related to research programmes and projects and will ensure the survival of species which are endemic, threatened or of economic importance.

The research priorities for the garden are on the native flora with the aim of effective collaboration with environmental conservation programmes. The Foundation surveys, records and registers the flora, it studies and undertakes experiments related to the culture of the flora and offers periodic courses to the public. In cooperation with the Biodiversitas Foundation, an important Brazilian NGO, and with the financial support of a private initiative, a Red List of Endangered Species of the Flora of Minas Gerais State was published (June, 2000); a very important tool for plant conservation in the region.

Currently, in partnership with the Federal University of Minas Gerais State, the Botanic Garden has worked on a project that aims to contribute to the conservation of the ecosystem of the Serra do Cipó (Campo Rupestre), in which comparative studies and experiments have been developed to cultivate ten threatened species.

Seedling Production

The propagation of plants is an essential activity in a Botanic Garden. Its objectives are to:

  • propagate plants for scientific ends, such as seed banks and collections, with the emphasis on rare and threatened species and wild relatives of cultivated plants; 
  •  produce seedlings of plants for restoration of degraded areas and environmental enrichment; 
  •  produce seedlings of plants for the maintenance of the arboretum and gardens.

Unusually, the Botanic Garden of Belo Horizonte has a remarkable nursery. It undertakes large-scale seedling production to fulfil the above objectives as well as the needs of the Foundation and the requirements for street trees and green areas of the city, undertaken for the City Hall. 250 different species of plants are produced, currently including palms and native fruit trees. Priority is given to native species, more adapted to the local environmental conditions. The systematic collection of seeds includes native species that have not been used in cultivation but have some potential. These species are studied and, later, introduced to the production routine.

Plant Protection

The Botanic Garden has developed a partnership with the State Agricultural Institute - IMA – to survey pests and diseases in vegetables to verify the interactions between pathogens/disease and host/environment. In this way, before control measure can be implemented the identification of the pathogenic agent and/or disease of the infected organism needs to be evaluated. The Foundation has an integrated system of pest and disease management using mechanical, natural and biological measures wherever possible instead of chemical means and researching alternative measures of control.

The Botanic Garden for the visitor: an open classroom for environmental education

The focus on the public is a key element of the objectives of the FZB-BH and, by itself, justifies its existence. Thus, the creation of the integral Botanic Garden will extend the public visiting areas, educational and cultural activities.

The educational FZB-BH programme foresees the development of specific projects for this new area, that include the educational value of greenhouses and thematic gardens, as well as the fruits collections, seed and sheet displays, and the development of informative and educational material about botanic and similar subjects.

It intends to increase the numbers and profile of the permanent staff to develop activities for the public who attend FZB, such as educators, school children, students, staff from other institutions, as well as groups of families and friends, typical visitors on weekends and holidays.

The environmental education in the Botanic Garden, and the Zoo-Botanic Foundation, is intended to inspire esteem and respect for nature, as well as provide knowledge. The opening of the Botanic Garden will not only provide a new classroom for education but also foster new stewardship of the Earth to conserve the wonders of nature.

The Construction of the Botanic Garden: from the Dream to the Reality

The greenhouses are a very bold architectural project by the famous Brazilian architect, Oscar Niemeyer; with a curved shape and a metallic structure which is light and transparent. The project of Belo Horizonte´s Botanic Garden has been developed by architects of SUDECAP (Belo Horizonte City Hall Construction and Maintenance Agency). It is a new and important cultural, scientific and educational complex constructed for the city population and its visitors.

The architectural concept is simple; the winding main path connects all the open spaces and gives access to the greenhouses and to the square covered with the administrative headquarters. A bench arcs around the main greenhouse providing a great meeting point and invites the contemplation of the architecture and nature. The use of steel and polycarbonate, a Portuguese sidewalk, as well as coverings in rock and ceramics have been widely used to combine beauty and functionality with the minimum of maintenance.

The design of the landscape complements the detail of the architectural design with diverse flowers such as bromeliads, medicinal plants and cacti and an arboretum, which is due to be planted near the perimeter of the land. The gardens and terraces are spaced out with secondary paths, sometimes winding, sometimes radially, which will give different points of view and a tantalizing perspective of the architectural complex.

The Botanic Garden will be added to the architectural-cultural complex of the Pampulha´s Lagoon, also designed by Niemeyer.

The building of the physical structure was started in 1996 with the construction of the complete nursery. The nursery included the production shed, the offices, open areas for the growth of seedlings and the support services. The whole area is fitted with sprinklers with a reservoir of 180,000 litres of water. This part of the development cost US$ 686,000 and was finished in May, 1998.

The second stage began in September, 1997 and was finished in February, 1999. It consisted of the central greenhouse, four small greenhouses, two pergolas, two public toilet areas and the support services, which included paths, squares, lights and lakes. It was financed by PROSAM, having cost US$ 1.24 million. This will be open to the public in the beginning of 2001.

The third and last stage, still to be undertaken, depends on the financial situation. The executive plan has been concluded and the cost of construction is calculated as US$ 1.35 million. It includes the headquarters building, with the surroundings paving area and services, two other greenhouses, systems of signage and landscaping. This last stage is part of the PROPAM - Restoration and Environment Development Programme of the Pampulha Basin, developed by the Belo Horizonte City Hall, with the participation of the Zoo-Botanic Foundation, that foresees a series of improvements in urbanization and sanitation in the region. The responsibility for this stage of the project will be SUDECAP, as with the earlier stages.

The interest in the completion of the Botanic Garden has already surpassed the expectations of the Foundation. The Zoo-Botanic Foundation visitors and the community are always asking when it will be concluded. The Zoo-Botanic Foundation intends to finish it as soon as possible and is searching for the necessary financial resources from both private and public sectors.