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The Establishment of a Botanic Garden for the Taminango Museum of Folk Art and Traditions of Nariño in Pasto, Colombia

Volume 3 Number 1 - December 1998


The Taminango Homestead, located in the city of Pasto, Department of Nariño, is one of the oldest homestead in Colombia, having been built at the beginning of the XVII century. It consists of two stories in pressed mud brick, with walls 60 cm thick, and with a clay tile roof. It is noteworthy that it has stood firmly for more than 370 years, notwithstanding the high degree of volcanic activity in the region. The beams of the roof are held in place with strips of virgin hide, and without even one nail.

The Homestead was bought in 1970 by the Taminango Museum Foundation, a non-profit socio-cultural institution which then saved the house from ruin, and restored it in the most authentic manner possible. In 1971, the Homestead was declared a National Monument because of its historical and architectural value. Finally, between 1987 and 1989, the Museum of Folk Arts and Traditions of Nariño was set up in the 11 rooms of the Homestead, and since that time it has been open to the public.

At present the museum exhibits crafts and the process for the manufacure of "Barniz de Pasto", a resin from the Mopa mopa tree, (Elaeagia pastoensis), a taxon endemic to the region, which after complex treatment and dyeing is used to decorate wooden objects. Other crafts on display are wood carving and wood turning, weaving in wool and "toquilla" straw (Carludovica palmata) and there is a blacksmith and kettle making shop and a stone mill run by hydraulic power at the Museum. Most of these traditional arts are now practically extinct.

The Museum also has a small store for crafts, which provides a market for artisans' products, with a room for temporary exhibits and a very small Botanic Garden of native species, especially medicinal plants.

A modern and functional building, situated about 30 metres away from the Homestead, to protect its historical setting, will soon allow the Museum to be enlarged. The construction is still at a very early stage (foundation, structures and masonry). In the new building, exhibits of the crafts of the region will have more space and educational value and be underpinned by the Botanic Garden, which will display the plants which provide the raw materials for the crafts.

All of the above will be complemented by a hall for temporary exhibits, six workshops, an auditorium, and large store and a restaurant with typical regional foods. When all this becomes a reality, the Homestead will return to its original use, and be furnished and decorated according to the customs of the period of history when it was a dwelling place for a typical family.

The Department of Nariño is situated in the south-western corner of Colombia. The city of Pasto itself was founded in 1537, and has a population of approximately half a million. It is built on the Valley of Atriz, on the slopes of the Galeras Volcano, 2,527 ft above sea level and with an average temperature of 15ºC. It has an urban area of 2,465 ha with only seven parks which add up to 10 ha of vegetation, equal to only 0.4% of the total area of the city. A Botanic Garden of about 10,000 m², adjacent to the Taminango Museum would increase the urban vegetation in this part of the city significantly. It would be necessary to purchase some adjoining properties to expand the area for the botanic garden.

The Taminango Homestead and the adjacent Lourdes Chapel built in the XIX century were on the outskirts of the city until the turn of the present century and still retains its colonial aspect. The Botanic Garden will surround this beautiful colonial corner. Neither the Department of Nariño nor its capital has a botanic garden this garden in a central part of the city of Pasto, could become the centre and driving force for a network of botanic gardens in the south of the country.

The construction of two Greenhouses are included in the proposal for the Botanic Garden. These greenhouses will be used to cultivate and exhibit plants and house a living collection for study and research and also provide propagation material. This will ensure the conservation of the plants and the continuity of crafts using materials of vegetable origin, some of which are becoming extinct. For instance, the Mopa mopa tree (Elaeagia pastoensis) (lacquer) is becoming scarcer and harder to find year by year.

The botanic garden will fulfil the following specific objectives:

  • to study, under the direction of researchers in the field of botany, physiology, agronomy, biology and related sciences, each of the species which provides raw materials for crafts, in order to understand them better;
  • to use modern technology, especially biotechnology and micropropagation of in vitro cultivation, to rescue plants (used for crafts) that are in danger of extinction due to indiscriminate deforestation in their original and natural habitats;
  • to cultivate species important for the craft industry which have been identified by inventory in the territory of the Department of Nariño, and search for similar species which could be more advantageous.

Species that Provide Raw Materials for Handicrafts of the Region:

Oak  (Quercus humboldtii)
Cedar  (Cedrelia bogotensis)
Red ebony  (Swietenia macrophylla)
Colombian pine  (Podocarpus oleifolius)
Hardwood palm tree  (Bactris minor)
Balsa  (light wood tree) (Ochroma tomentosa)
Mopa mopa  (Elaeagia pastoensis)
Rubber  (Hevea brasiliensis)
Ivory nut  (Phytelephas seamanii)
Coconut  (Cocos nucifera)
"MoJuyo"  (Montanoa quandrangularis)
"Totumo"  (Crescentia cujete)
Hemp or fique  (Agave americana)
Wheat stalk  (chaff) (Triticum vulgare)
Toquilla straw  (Carludovica palmata)
Thorny bamboo  (Guadua angustifolia)
Reed grass  (Chusquea lesellata)
Rush  (Arundo donax)
Cat tail  (Scirpus californicus)
Climbing wild plants  (Smilax spp.)

The Colombian Academy for the Sciences, the Alexander von Humboldt Institute of Bogota, and the Departments of Biology and Biotechnology of the University of Nariño in Pasto, will provide direction and expert advice for the development of the Proposal.
The Proposal needs the investment of one million three hundred thousand dollars (US $1,300,000), broken down as follows:

  • US $500,000 to enlarge the area for the botanic garden
  • US $300,000 for planting and implementation
  • US $500,000 for the construction and development of the green houses

We are currently seeking financial support, partial or total, for this proposal of great importance to the region and to the nation, educationally, culturally and environmentally.

Please contact BGCI if you think you can help.