The above photos were taken by a citizen journalist visiting the National Botanical Garden of Iran (NBGI). The landmark, they wrote to IranWire, is “unique in the Middle East in the field of botany. But unfortunately, development around the garden, which has recently picked up speed, poses a serious and irreparable threat.”
The NBGI is located on the southern slopes of the Alborz mountain range, in Chitgar, northwest of Tehran. Covering some 145 hectares, the garden is home to 3,000 species of plants hailing from Iran, Europe, South America, China, Japan, the Himalayas and other far-flung places.
Work on the garden’s creation began in 1968, led by a mixture of Iranian and foreign specialists. The designers paid attention to creating model nurseries and greenhouses that mimicked different habitats in Iran and around the world. There are six dedicated zones for Iranian plants, six for other countries, and eight thematic collections.
The NBGI plays an key role in Iranian botany, horticulture, public education, and raising awareness of the diversity of plant life and the need to protect it. It is also a resource bank to safeguard endangered species from extinction. It has facilities for study and research, including on the methods of breeding different species.
But environmental activists in Iran have warned that local development, specifically the construction of new high-rise residential towers next to the NBGI, is not only defiling the scenery but drying up the underground aquifers and wells that keep it watered. Mohammad Darvish, head of Iranian UNESCO’s environment committee, has written on Telegram: “We must not allow further violation of this sanctuary by the plague of apartment-building. Half the wells that provide water to the garden have already gone dry. The other half had to be deepened to more than 220 meters, where once 80 meters was enough.”
Other activists report that the intake from these wells has already dropped from 200 liters per second to 90. To make matters worse, the Army Cooperative Foundation reportedly plans to build another 22 high-rise apartment blocks, each 27 stories high, in Tehran’s District 22, where the garden is located. On paper at least, such activity in the area is barred by the High Council of Urban Development.
Activists have been trying to inform the public of the threat to the botanical garden on social media. They have also written letters to government officials, but so far without result.
“We have [no other] university in Iran, active in the fields of botany and related sciences, with a garden next to it, where 4,000 plant species shine and play such a beneficial role in education,” Mohammad Matini, a natural resources researcher, wrote on his Instagram page. “The National Botanical Garden of Iran is unique in Iran and the Middle East. Sadly, those who should know better, and show their gratitude for this national treasure, cannot see beyond their own noses.” Matini is now personally planning to send a petition, backed by university professors, to President Ebrahim Raisi.
This article was written by a citizen journalist in Tehran under a pseudonym.