Kirstenbosch’s Garden of Extinction

Kraaifontein heath (Erica bolusiae var. cyanthiformis), extinct in wild.

One of the most important gardens at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is the “Garden of Extinction.” All of the plants in it are endemic to South Africa — that is, they’re found only in this country — and most are threatened or endangered.

“If we lose them from South Africa,” says Roleen Ellman, “we lose them from the world.”

Ellman is the assistant director of education at Kirstenbosch, and she was kind enough to give me a wonderful half-hour introductory tour of a small section of these sprawling gardens.

I spent a couple of hours photographing in the garden today, my first visit. Walking around even a small area it’s quickly obvious what a gem this place is. It’s certainly a national treasure, but, as Ellman points out, it’s a world treasure — unique and irreplaceable. Most of the images I take here will need processing before they’re ready for display, but I wanted to post the one above, ASAP. It’s a tiny, inconspicuous plant, and it probably doesn’t exist outside of this garden. Because of habitat destruction, it is considered extinct in the wild.

Looking at it, I wondered if what I felt was similar to what the people who had a chance to see Martha — the last passenger pigeon, kept for years in a zoo — felt. Sad but lucky. Or lucky, but sad.

It reminds me to thank the backers of this project for your support. I wish I had more time here — I’ll only be able to photograph a small fraction of the unique plants found at Kirstenbosch. Still, it’s a wonderful opportunity to spread the word about one of the world’s most important gardens.I’m grateful for your support and for your belief in this project.

More backers are still needed to complete the project and publish a color catalog of Kistenbosch. If you’d like to join, your help would be greatly appreciated. For more on the project, including a video explaining the GigaPan technology I’ll be using in the gardens and a way to donate, please click this line.

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