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A brilliant botanical book on fynbos over the years is out now

The endangered fynbos species has been protected, rehabilitated and conserved over the years through the new book Grootbos Florilegium

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By Heidi Bertish  | December 2, 2022 | Gardens

The flats, slopes and valleys of Grootbos Private Nature Reserve are a microcosm of the extraordinary botanical diversity that characterises the indigenous flora and fauna of the Cape Floristic Region, one of the most species-rich habitats in the world. It is also the setting for their new book. Drawn by the flora, immense vistas and ancient milkwood forests, Michael Lutzyer and his father, Heine, purchased the then Grootbos farm in 1991. When Michael took his father to view the property, the hills above the old farmhouse were awash with pink blooms of the indigenous coastal malva flower, Pelargonium betulinum. ‘Never mind the views,’ reminisces Michael, ‘it was the flowers that persuaded my father to invest in the farm with me.’

By 1996, soon after the Grootbos Lodge welcomed their first guests, Michael and Heine met young botanist Sean Privett, now Director of Conservation on the reserve and the author of Grootbos Florilegium. With Sean’s passion for conservation and gift for interpreting and sharing the stories of the fynbos, they found an immediate connection – and so began their botanical exploration of the reserve. Sean began by laying out 50 permanent five-by-ten-metre vegetation plots across the 2 500-hectare reserve. Plot by plot, 323 different plant species were recorded that year and the first species new to science, the Grootbos heath (Erica magnisylvae).

Detailed sketches and found objects form part of the book, Image supplied

Sean and Heine would uncover numerous rare and endangered plant species, including additional species new to science. A chance meeting of renowned South African botanical artist Vicki Thomas saw her commissioned to paint a number of these and the seed to create a collection of botanical art was planted. In 2019, an invitation went out to the world’s greatest botanical artists to create original artworks of the unique flora found on Grootbos. Led by Vicki, small groups of artists arrived to experience the enormous diversity and hand-select plants to paint that personally resonated.

The culmination of this journey is Grootbos Florilegium, a 320-page synthesis of art, natural science and storytelling. Breaking with long-standing tradition that prescribes plants in a florilegium to be depicted as solitary specimens in isolation from their unique habitat, Grootbos Florilegium showcases them alongside their pollinators, associated insects and animals and, in some instances, in the landscape they are found.

Grootbos private nature reserve is a slice of paradise, diverse and ancient, Photograph: Craig Fraser

Expect meticulous detailing of floral structures, bursting seed pods, brightly coloured beetles, foraging ants, floating pollen and stripped field mice, coupled with scientific facts and narrative stories about each plant. Each chapter includes a ‘wunderkammer’ of artists’ working drawings, colour swatches and archaeological details, revealing a glimpse into the creative process and the area’s ancient origins. The result is a florilegium firmly positioned in the 21st century. It stands not only as a permanent botanical record for a world at a tipping point but ultimately connects one to the intricate relationship between ourselves and the natural environment. The Grootbos Florilegium is immersed in the natural world, informed by ecology and the fragility of our botanical heritage.

Grootbos Florilegium is available from leading bookshops and the proceeds go towards conservation and community upliftment.

A detailed drawing of the natural flora from the area, image supplied

All photographs by Craig Fraser, Gareth Williams and Dook