Africa’s first botanical art gallery opens in Cape Province 

2 mins read
Michael Lutzeyer's goal is to save South Africa's endangered plant life. Since the country's 'fynbos' vegetation is not considered particularly attractive from many people's point of view, he came up with the idea to set up Africa's first botonical art gallery. Photo: Grootbos/dpa

Most people planning a holiday in South Africa probably think of lions and elephants, deserted beaches and good wine. Few know that the area around Cape Town is also one of the world’s most extraordinary regions for wild plants.

Entrepreneur Michael Lutzeyer wants to change the perception of the region, and has created Africa’s first florilegium – an art gallery dedicated to depicting plant life. 

On his private nature reserve – Grootbos – he now exhibits 124 botanical art illustrations of rare, endangered or endemic plant species. Lutzeyer specially flew in 44 renowned painters from Japan, South Korea, Italy, the Netherlands, Brazil, Germany and England to complete the project.

Love of nature

Each artist selected one or more plants on site and illustrated them in detail. Each scientifically accurate picture is accompanied by a second one showing the pollinators of the respective plant. 

“My florilegium not only highlights the unique diversity of the Cape flora,” Lutzeyer says, “but also draws attention to the delicate balance and complex relationship between the environment, the plants and their pollinators.”

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Michael Lutzeye, seen in his private nature reserve Grootbos near Ganbaai, opened Africa’s first florilegium to draw attention to the endangerment of the fynbos plant species. Photo: Kristin Palitza/dpa

There are only about a dozen florilegias – anthologies or collections of botanical illustrations – in the world. Probably the most famous is the Highgrove Florilegium in the UK, founded by King Charles to document the plants in the garden of his private residence. 

Four years ago the king also commissioned dozens of botanical paintings to record the flora in Romanian Transylvania, which he fell in love with on a trip 20 years ago.

“How can I make fynbos sexy?”

Fynbos – which means “fine bush” in the local Afrikaans language – is both the name of the region and a collective term for the tough shrubs with often small leathery leaves that are native to the area. 

More than 1700 of the approximately 8500 fynbos species are threatened with extinction, critically endangered or endangered, according to the South African Biodiversity Institute SANBI.

Lutzeyer discovered the Grootbos nature reserve by chance on a camping trip. In the middle of nowhere, between the picturesque towns of Gansbaai and Stanford, he saw a “For Sale” sign on the side of the road for an undeveloped 3500-hectare site, and bought it on impulse.

Biodiversity hotspot

You can see all the way to the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the property, with bright beige sand dunes stretching along the water’s edge. In good weather, the view extends for many kilometres to the Cape of Good Hope.

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Michael Lutzeyer with illustrations of rare, endangered and endemic plant species, which he exhibits in an art gallery on his private nature reserve Grootbos. Photo: Kristin Palitza/dpa

To begin with Lutzeyer was not at all concerned with conservation – he simply wanted to get into sustainable tourism and built five small self-catering bungalows. It was his father Heiner who started documenting the fynbos. Within the next decades, with the help of two experts, he recorded 935 plant species on Grootbos, which lies in an area that has one of the highest plant diversity levels in the world.

More than two thirds of the 9,000 native plant species exist only in this 90,000 square kilometre region, and nowhere else in the world. The area is one of the world’s 36 biodiversity hotspots – areas whose vegetation is considered irreplaceable.

There are seven previously undiscovered species among the plants documented by Heiner Lutzeyer. Two of them – Capnophyllum lutzeyeri and Lachenalia lutzeyeri – were named after him.

His son has now also fulfilled his dream of sustainable tourism. The estate now includes a luxury resort that regularly wins awards for responsible tourism. ©dpa

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