AbstractsBiology & Animal Science

Woody species composition and congregant appreciation of the cultural and spiritual services provided by cemeteries and church gardens in Grahamstown, South Africa

by Peter James De Lacy

Institution: Rhodes University
Department: Faculty of Science, Environmental Science
Degree: MS
Year: 2015
Keywords: Plants  – Religious aspects; Cemeteries  – South Africa  – Grahamstown; Woody plants  – South Africa  – Grahamstown; Church gardens  – South Africa  – Grahamstown
Record ID: 1478486
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10962/d1016401


Urbanization has increased rapidly throughout the world. The densification of urban areas has greatly reduced the number of natural areas occurring within the urban environment as well as impacting the ecosystem services that these areas provide. Urban greening and sustainable practices have been advocated as a means to once again provide the urban population with ecosystem services. Sacred natural areas that occur in surrounding forest, temple and cemetery sites have been known harbour a variety of biological diversity, as well as provide people with a number of cultural and spiritual benefits. Much of the literature on sacred natural sites comes from rural or eastern countries, leaving a large gap in the knowledge pertaining to information on these sites in both developed nations as well as urban areas. The aim of this study was to determine the abundance and composition of woody species, as well as the spiritual and cultural significance of sacred natural sites in Grahamstown. This study defined a sacred urban area as any form of garden surrounding a church, temple or mosque, as well as cemeteries. It looked at a total of 28 church gardens, one Hindu garden, one Mosque garden and five cemeteries in Grahamstown, South Africa. For each site the area was calculated and a tree and shrub inventory was done for all individuals above 1.5 m tall. Church/cemetery age, denomination and appearance were recorded as well as soil samples collected. An ordination of the data was done to summarize the community data, relating the community variation to environmental gradients. Questionnaires were completed by congregants who attended a religious building with a garden, as well as those that were not surrounded by a garden. These questionnaires were used to determine the cultural, spiritual and aesthetic value of trees and the sacred area, as well as the perceived and felt benefits that these areas provide. Those that were completed by congregants without gardens looked to find out whether or not it was believed that these areas would improve their experiences. There was an average plant density of 106.1 woody plants per hectare, with a total of 139 different species encountered. Of these, 56 % were exotic species. This is slightly lower than that of studies done elsewhere in the world, but may be due to the omission of non-woody ornamentals and lawn species in this study. Of the top 11 most frequently occurring species, only two were indigenous. There was generally low similarity between plant assemblages found at the different sites. A significantly positive relationship was found between site size and woody plant basal area as well as the total number of woody plants. Site age and religious denomination had little influence on woody plant density, basal area, species richness or woody plant abundance. Congregants stated that a garden surrounding a religious building improved both their spiritual and aesthetic experiences. Stated spiritual and aesthetic experience was significantly influenced by basal area, while abundance…