The Stellenbosch University Botanical Garden is an oasis, perfect for quiet meditation. It is also a hub of energetic research and conservation. Dr Donovan Kirkwood and his team will focus on planning and implementing nursery infrastructure and display upgrades so that they can better support teaching and showcase their most threatened plants and habitats for students, learners and visitors.
They have expanded their internship programme to employ four graduates and provide practical learning. They have also significantly expanded their efforts to create backup ex-situ collections of species or essential populations that are at extreme threat of extinction, and currently, they hold more than 60 conservation-grade collections of highly threatened species.
Collaboration and the sharing of material with other local and international institutions is, of course, a critical part of securing the future of the garden’s essential collections. Sadly, there are so many of these, as about 400 plant species in South Africa are either Critically Endangered or already thought to be extinct. New assessments of habitat loss, poaching and other impacts will inevitably see that number grow in the next few years.
But, as Donovan points out, “We can’t save everything, so we specifically target taxa from the surrounding area and species for which we can hold viable conservation populations in a small space. For now, that means a strong focus on bulbs but in future we hope to tackle more of the spectacular and threatened Cape ground orchids, partnering with academics to develop laboratory micropropagation protocols suitable for their complex and challenging growing needs.”
Next time you visit this unique garden in the historical hub of Stellenbosch, take a closer look at these endangered species and take comfort in the knowledge that there is a dedicated programme to protect them for generations to come.