“We’re trying to tell the story of Fynbos and the Cape Floristic Region,
using Grootbos as an example”
A florilegium is a collection of botanical artworks from a particular region.
The Grootbos Florilegium joins the ranks of just 11 other living collections of original botanical art around the world, including the Highgrove Florilegium which records the plants found in the garden of the Prince of Wales.
The Grootbos Florilegium is the first of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.
Aiming to preserve and document species of indigenous plant life that are being systematically erased from record through human activity, the Grootbos Florilegium is a bold, ambitious, pioneering collection of botanical art that this luxury eco-tourism lodge had just added to its portfolio.
The practice of botanical art dates back to the Romans, with the Codex Vindobonensis being the earliest example on record.
Botanical paintings were used during the medieval period to document important medicinal plants, and over hundreds of years the expensive, time-consuming art of painting rare and unique plants transformed into a status symbol, with kings and nobles commissioning collections of painted or sketched specimens found growing in their private gardens.
Sean Privett is the conservation director for the Grootbos Foundation and, along with resident botanical artist Chris Lochner and project leader Vicki Thomas, immersed each of the artists contributing to the new florilegium there in the diverse ecology of the local biome in preparation for their work.
“I did a presentation for all of the artists, as a background story on Grootbos and the research and conservation we’re doing here. For many of them, it was quite mind-blowing,” Sean says, reminiscing about the start of the florilegium project back in 2019.
The co-ordinators prepared a “hit list” for the artists of the top 150 plants that they wanted included, which were chosen because of their relevance to the area and their special characteristics – or because they existed only there and nowhere else in the world.
The scope of this florilegium will include renowned botanical artists from all over the world, with painters Mieko Ishikawa of Japan and Maria Alice de Rezende of Brazil just two of those planning a trip to Grootbos to add their talent to the project.
The process of rendering fynbos specimens in pencil and paint is complicated.
An artist can spend months (in some cases up to a year) with their specimen to understand the intricacies of its structure, function and relevance to the environment.
While live cuttings are used as models, photography is also heavily relied on as a way of extending the life of each plant for painting. What’s more, some fynbos species are like ghosts: transient and ephemeral.
Explore the Cape Floral Kingdom, the world’s smallest yet most diverse floral region.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site lies at the southern tip of Africa with over 9,000 plant species, most of which aren’t found anywhere else in the world.
Find out about Fynbos, stay at Grootbos and see the Grootbos Florilegium with Cape Insights.
Acknowledgement: VISI magazine: Flower Power and Wendy Burchell: Leucospermum-pendunculatum