The wonders of fynbos: Grootbos Florilegium a conservation success story

Posted on 12 December 2022 By David Henning

How do you create a five-star safari lodge without any large game? The answer lies with Grootbos  Private Nature Reserve – a pristine piece of fynbos that is home to almost 900 plant species (seven new to science). Its message: scratch hard enough anywhere in the Cape and it will emerge as a conservation priority with unique species.

‘Conservation is in the Grootbos DNA – it doesn’t know fences or boundaries,’ conservationist Sean Privett shared at the launch of Grootbos Florilegium. Sean is the author of the book that is a first for botanical art and Grootbos’ conservation director.

Grootbos owner Michael Lutzeyer soon realised that he needed guides who could interpret and unravel the fascinating and veiled wonders of fynbos, hiring Sean as their botanist.

To form an understanding of the magnificent flora, Sean undertook the first botanical survey on the farm by meticulously laying out 50 permanently marked five-by-ten-metre vegetation plots spread over the reserve. He documented 323 different plant species on Grootbos – and discovered their first species new to science.

Today, Grootbos takes its guests on the back of a safari vehicle not to witness Africa’s famous wild animals, but to get up close to the finer, intricate and complex relationships that make up the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet.

The flats, slopes and valleys of Grootbos are a microcosm of the extraordinary botanical diversity that characterizes the region, one of the most species-rich habitats in the world.

Grootbos Nature Reserve

Grootbos Florilegium is a unique marriage of art, natural science and storytelling used to share the treasures of our botanical heritage, diversity and sustainability.

It is a spectacular collection of intricate botanical illustrations by 44 of the greatest botanical artists in the world –  sharing the wonders of Grootbos.

Grootbos Florilegium: A first for botanical art

Opening eyes and hearts to the beauty and value of the landscapes that sustain us all – is the wish of Sean Privett.

The spectacular hard-cover work is brimming with meticulous detailing. It documents floral structures, bursting seedpods, brightly coloured beetles, foraging ants, floating pollen and striped field mice. This is coupled with scientific facts and narrative stories about each plant. This is a florilegium immersed in the natural world, informed by ecology and the fragility of our botanical heritage.

Each chapter includes an up-front ‘Wunderkammer’ of artists’ notes, colour swatches, working drawings and archaeological details. These reveal a glimpse into the creative process and ancient origins of the area. These field notes and archaeological tidbits bring life to imagery already bursting with it.

Celebrating 25 years of conservation in the Cape Floristic Kingdom, the Grootbos Florilegium plant is the first contemporary florilegium in Africa and the first in the world to feature pollinators alongside plants.

Vicki Thomas – Amaryllis belladona with a visiting rainforest brown butterfly (Cassionympha cassius) and hoverfly (Paragus longiventris).  Including pollinators alongside plants to illustrate the intricate relationship between flora and fauna.

Michael Lutzeyer dreamed of inspiring the broader public about fynbos and its intricacies, using botanical art to showcase 25 years of dedicated botanical surveying and conservation on the reserve and across the regional Walker Bay Fynbos Conservancy.

The delicate artworks in the book were gathered over a period of four years. During that time, the artists spent hours in the Grootbos landscape, immersing themselves in the Cape Floristic Kingdom and observing the plants and pollinators alongside them.

Isabelita van Zyl – Schizaea pectinata, or toothbrush fern.

This additional detail, captured in an accompanying ‘vignette’ to each artwork, illustrates these intricate relationships. Each double-page spread depicts the artwork and highlights some prominent scientific facts. It also has an engaging narrative text, revealing fascinating stories about each plant.

‘My interaction with the people so passionately protecting this environment and the artists depicting it has been a richly enhancing and bonding experience – the pinnacle of a long career in botanical art,’ says renowned botanical Vicki Thomas, coordinator of Grootbos Florilegium.


Mieko Ishikawa – Ferraria crispa vignette. It’s crisped, curly petal margins open in sunny weather only and for approximately a single day before wilting. This plant has adapted to pollination by flies that feed on the heady, burnt sugar aroma of the ower – a fragrance described as rich, smoky and reminiscent of chocolate.

All profits from the sale of books, prints, and Grootbos Florilegium tours of the nature reserve and the new Hannarie Wenhold Botanical Art Gallery will go towards the Grootbos Foundation, to be split equally between conservation and cultural programmes.

ALSO READ: Poacher arrested smuggling succulents from Springbok to Cape Town

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