Oaxaca is not only the Mexican state with the most ethnic groups and where the most indigenous languages are spoken; it is also the state where there are the most species of plants and animals. Many of these plants have provided aesthetic and intellectual stimulation to the people of Oaxaca for over twelve thousand years, and served as food, fuel, fiber, medicines, flavorings and colorings. The Jardin Etnobotanico celebrates the state of Oaxaca’s exceptional botanical diversity. Blessed with a geologic complexity that includes deserts and cloud forests, beaches and temperate woodlands, Oaxaca is one of the richest ecosystems in the world, boasting, for example, more species of cycads, and agaves and varieties of chili peppers and maize than anywhere else on earth.
The Garden is part of the Santo Domingo Cultural Center, which occupies the former convent built in the 16th and 17th century by the Dominican friars. The site of the Garden was part of the old convent garden. This space served as a military garrison from the mid-nineteenth century until 1994. In colonial times it had uses related to convent life, as seen in the remains restored the interior of the Garden: Irrigation and drainage canals, ponds, lime kilns, laundry facilities, a kiln and a paved road for the wagons that supplied food and fuel. Making used of the convent’s 16th century courtyard, the artist Francesco Toledo, fellow painter Luis Zarate and ethno biologist Alexandro de Avila, sought to build not just a decorative garden but one that would tell the story of the relationship between the people and the plants of Oaxaca. Emphasis has been placed on indigenous plants, both past and present, for medical, household, food and religious purposes.
Started in 1998 the Jardin Etnobotánico has been planted in plant varieties originating from different climatic regions of the state of Oaxaca. It covers almost 6 acres with over 7,000 collected specimens of 965 different species (11% of the flora of the state). The garden is organized in different climatic zones, most importantly into wet and dry zones. You may visit via guided tours in Spanish or English. English language tours are at 11 AM on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, last for two hours, and provide an excellent overview of both the flora of Oaxaca and its traditional uses. The cost of 100 pesos will be the best spent in you visit to Oaxaca.