Once upon a time, there was a botanical garden

[Stewardship story for a ticket to LOTE4]

I spent first 3 months of my maternity leave this summer in Kolasin, a small, sleepy mountain city in the northern Montenegro.  During that time, LOTE4 was launched, which provided a nice nudge for me to take the little one in adventure.  Our mission: find a case of community stewardship in the area (and indirectly get a ticket to the event in October!).  The result of this search is a story about one man and his love of nature that gave birth to Montenegro’s first botanical garden.

Daniel Vincek was born in Zagreb, Croatia in 1926.  At the university, he switched a major in marine biology to study trade because the communist Yugoslavia at the time needed more trade experts.  The career in trade could not have been farther away from the great outdoors, but it got him traveling extensively throughout the former Socialist Federalist Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ).

Eventually he retired in Kolasin, where he pursued his two loves- hiking and plants.  Nestled among 4 mountain peaks (Bjelasive, Sinjajevine, Komovi, and Durmitor), the city sits on the crossroads of thousands of kilometers of hiking and trekking trails.  It is also one of the global hotspots of biodiversity (Montenegro  is in the top 10 countries with the highest biodiversity in the world).

Daniel’s collection of unique mountain species, especially those endangered and protected, that he picked up on his hiking adventures grew, and so did the interest of various academics, naturalists and citizens looking for herbal remedies (medicinal plants) who had very few other places to turn to for practical advice, knowledge and a place that has such a huge repository of different species.  So Daniel’s passion eventually grew into a botanical garden- established in 1981, literally on 646 square meters of Daniel’s and Zora’s (his wife) home.  The garden features today over 400 different species out of which some 90% are medicinal herbs (he cautions me twice not to forget to mention that professor Vukic Pulevic of Montenegrin academy of sciences played a great role in making this happen).

So one man’s passion became the community resource.

  • Hundreds of master’s and PhD students used the garden (and its extensive herbarium) as a source of field and scientific research.  They’ve used and contributed to a database that Daniel set up for monitoring individual plants’ life cycles, form and their specific structural features.  Many of the students give back- a group of them led by Danijela Steshevic from the Math Faculty in Podgorica designed a database for searching and sorting over 500 plant species for the garden. 
  • Each year, from May through August, over 3,000 tourists visit the garden, many coming to Kolasin exclusively to meet with Daniel Vincek.  This was the best part of the experience for me- listening to his many stories about plants -  from the one that was used to poison Socrates (hemlock), to acanthus that inspired the Corinthian style of architecture.  Daniel is a charming, master story-teller- you can see him  in action here (though the video is in Montenegrin). 
  • Steven Foster of National Geographic, an author of Desk Reference for Nature’s Medicine, visited the garden and was so impressed with the variety of plants that he dedicated a whole space on his site to it
  • A group of Japanese citizens visit Montenegro each year to have Daniel take them on an tour to pick up seeds of a plant called Helleborus that by cross-fertilizing with the domestic types have produced an entirely new flower species in Japan.  Globally, Helleborus grows only in Europe, and Montenegro features 4 different types of it. 
  • Professor of botany from the Prague University, Daniela Fisherova, initiated renaming of a plant Alchemilla Vulgaris into Alchemilla Vinceki to honor Daniel’s contribution to the global community of botanist.

However (and isn’t there always an ‘however’), as Daniel puts it, ‘Once I die, I don’t know what happens to the garden.’  So here is a guy who has dedicated the last 30 years of his life tending to and maintaining the first botanical garden in the country strictly for the ‘love of the game.’  The garden has served as the basis for scientific research and tourism development of the region and the country, and yet his biggest concern- what happens to it when he goes?

And it isn’t for the lack of Daniel’s ideas and initiatives that he has come to ask the question.  He has sketched out a network of hundreds of kilometers of hiking trails specifically running by places that feature unique medicinal plants.  He’d like a garden to become a field/remote-classroom for various Universities- in a way extending the basis for scientific research but  as importantly ensuring that the garden lives on.  Daniel and Zora (who is an agronomist herself) had an idea of turning and branding Kolasin into the City of Flowers.  And none of this is to mention the need to upkeep and maintain the garden as is today- which requires effort, and knowledge, and resources- all shouldered by Daniel and Zora!

They’ve spoken with the local authorities, local tourism organization, the Natural Museum, Nature Protection Institute, the Faculty of Science and Math- at one point or another, each has engaged with Daniel on a project or two but without a more sustained and long term view of how the garden fits within the regional or national science or tourism development picture.

So we go back to Daniel question, ‘Once I die, I don’t know what happens to the garden?’




Nice way of spending your summer! I just realized this man is almost 90 years old and still working? Obviously those who master the secrets/science of plants live long lives…

Tx! He is fantastic, and has an energy that any one of us

‘youngesters’ should envy!  He still guides tours around the city, and loves showing you around his garden.  Its story is quiet remarkable, and i hope that getting it out may link us up to someone who may have an idea on how we make the garden live on!