The forest and garden plants of City Park are one of the few green spaces in the city of Nairobi that interrupt the expansive ‘concrete jungle’ with serenity and life. They offer the opportunity for plant enthusiasts and naturalists to learn about plants and make botanical explorations. They clean up the air and bring the needed serenity for recreation. Members of the public often visit the park for group activities, nature walks, family meetings, fitness exercise and for prayers. It provides a perfect environment for rest and relaxation.
Within the park is typical dry upland forest and garden areas. The tall growing trees aremainly composed of Croton (Croton megalocarpus), Cape chestnut (Calodendrum capense), Silver oak (Brachylaena huluensis), Mugumo (Ficus thoningii), Vepris simplicifolia, Drypetes gerardii, Dracaena steudneri, Jacaranda mimosifolia and Markhamia lutea. The Silver oak, is the tallest growing plant and is in the family Asteraceae, whose majority members are herbs.
It is also characterised by various ornamental exotics such as the ever colourful Bouganvillea spectabilis, Brunfelsia hopeana, Thevetia peruviana, Tithonia diversifolia, Agave americana and Plumeria rubra. Its undergrowth is composed of various herbs like the Devils horsewhip (Achyranthes aspera), Commelina benghalensis and Hypoestes verticillaris; as well occasional carpets of various grass species.
There are a number of climbing vines including the Balloon vine (Cardiospermum helicacabum) from the Sapindaceae family. The climbing weed is commonly called love in a puff and is considered a medicinal plant.
In a biodiversity report (Dino Martins 2009), wildlife at City Park is recognised as being 65% animal life and 35% plants. Plants here provide home for a higher number of other forms of diversity and are significant determinants of co-existence of other wildlife—assume that the park was bare, only a tiny fraction of the animals, those flying through and those living underground would exist in it. The park is a haven for wildlife!
Plants at City Park play other important roles like maintaining water and mineral cycles and absorbing waste carbon dioxide that would pollute the environment and contribute to global warming. Some of its indigenous edible plants are a daily source of nourishment for the Sykes monkeys, birds and insects that inhabit the park.
City Park serves as a conservatory for globally threatened or endemic plants, having a number of endangered plants that are either naturally occurring or introduced. The Mombasa Cycad (Encephalartos hildebrandtii), whose only known natural habitat is Kenya’s south coast and the northern Tanzania coast, is planted at City Park. This cycad is listed in the IUCN Red Data list of plants as ‘Endangered’.
Other plants of conservation significance include Brachylaena huillensis (ranked as ‘near threatened’) and Croton alienus, which is endemic to central Kenya and is also listed as ‘endangered’. Some of its population were known to occur in Kakamega forest but were last sighted more than 15 years ago.
Wood harvesting, pollution and encroachment are among the current challenges that threaten plants at City Park. Although the county government is charged with the responsibility of protecting the park, public responsibility and participation to ensure minimized pollution and enhanced conservation is encouraged. This can be achieved through public education campaigns, volunteer cleaning, donation of resources and visiting the park to participate in various activities, including enjoying nature.
By Christopher Chesire & Vincent Otieno
Photos by Christopher Chesire & Vincent Otieno