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Wednesday 20 September 2023

The preservation of indigenous trees at UKZN Killie Campbell Collections


By Senzosenkosi Mkhize

The ‘Campbell Collections’ is not just a library for study it is also a collection of species of African indigenous trees. Most of these trees were planted by Dr Killie Campbell and her family in the Campbell family garden. Dr Campbell had conducted her own research among the local people to collect more information about the use of trees by them. The indigenous trees planted in the garden were collected from the local people and information was documented and kept in the library for use by researchers.  She was assisted by horticulturist William Polton, who is remembered for his pioneering work in the hybridisation of bougainvillea. Dr Killie Campbell was a selfless person who believed in collective effort. She was a long serving member of the Horticultural Society and a member of Durban Municipal Parks and Gardens Advisory Board.

Common types of trees found at the Campbell Collections

There are many different types of indigenous trees and plants found at Campbell Collections. The most famous tree at the Campbell Collections’ garden is the Natal Mahogany (Trichilia emetica/ uMkhuhlu) or Essenwood tree. The road Essenwood was named after that tree, and it was planted along the road because of its ability to withstand drought and urban environment. It is an evergreen tree. The tree was planted by the municipality along this road thus the road was named after this tree. It is the biggest tree found in the Campbell garden. The research experts believe that it is one of the oldest trees in Durban. The tree could be at least 135 years old. When Dr Killie Campbell died in 1964, her ashes were buried under this tree. In her will, Killie stated thatIt is my desire that my body shall be cremated and that there shall be a private funeral.  The ashes shall be scattered in the garden of “Muckleneuk” where I have enjoyed many happy hours”.

Caswell Xulu, a gardener at UKZN’s Campbell Collection, stands with the Trichilia Dregeana tree, believed to be one of Durban’s oldest.

The buffalo thorn or umlahlankosi / umphafa was planted by the Campbell family on the left side of the entrance gate. The Zulu people use this tree to collect the spirit of the dead or to connect with their ancestors. The cycad tree or isigqiki somkhovu is planted at the centre of the Campbell Collections’ parking. The Zulu people planted this tree to get rid of the evil spirits and negative spirits in their homes. There is also imbuna; the Zulu people hold a belief that this tree discourages the witchcraft used to bewitch the family and it also safeguards the women within the family.


UKZN Arbor Day Campaign

In commemoration of Arbor Day, UKZN staff and students drawn from the colleges of Humanities, Commerce and Life Sciences participate in a special tree-planting ceremony that usually takes place on all campuses. ‘The first week in September is Arbor Week when anyone and everyone the world over is encouraged to plant trees’ so says Alison Young, Chief Horticulturist at UKZN’s Botanical Gardens. To continue with Dr Killie Campbell’s legacy, in September of 2022, the Campbell Collections’ gardener Mr Khethokuhle Xulu, and the Principal Librarian, Mr Senzo Mkhize planted three different species of aloe plants along Essenwood Road at Campbell Collections during Abor Day. In 2023  KC staff have embarked on weeding all alien plants and assistingMr Xulu to trim the garden flowers.



Buthelezi, V. Dr Killie Campbell1 and her collections: Challenging the colonial notions of museums displays and representation. Unpublished paper, Campbell Collections.

Buthelezi, V; Cele, M and Krige, E Treasures of the South: The history and holdings of Campbell Collections. Seminar, June 1, 2011, available at https://phambo.wiser.org.za/seminars/buthelezi/2011.html

Herd, N Killie’s Africa: The Achievement of Dr Killie Campbell. Pietermaritzburg: Blue Crane, 1982.

Holmes, S L The garden At Muckleneuk: A history available at https://campbell.ukzn.ac.za/?q=node/59.

Pillay, K. Could this be the Durban’s oldest tree? The Mercury, 18 November 2016.

UKZN Indaba, 17 September 2014.


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