The Stellenbosch University (SU) Botanical Garden has been internationally recognised for its efforts in securing plant diversity by the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). The charity organisation from the United Kingdom gives a voice to botanical gardens across the globe in an effort to save the world’s threatened plants.
The University of Stellenbosch Botanical Garden is only the second botanic garden in Africa to be recognised by BGCI, and the first in South Africa. This makes it one of only nine botanical gardens in the world to receive this acclaim.
Dr Paul P Smith, the secretary general of BGCI, congratulated the SU Botanical Garden saying it is very special as it is the only university-managed botanic garden in the Cape Floristic Region. “With dozens of threatened plant species only represented in your collection and in no other collections globally, the SU Botanical Garden is of critical importance for global research and conservation efforts,” he said. ” We have also seen large increases in requests from your collection from other institutions since you have started sharing your collections data with our global PlantSearch database in 2014.”
He also added that the SU Botanical Garden is the perfect platform from which to build up international partnerships and drives many research and conservation projects.
“Besides the collections, the expertise that has been built up in your Botanical Garden and University has a huge role to play in helping build capacity in other botanic gardens not only in your region but also on the rest of the continent,” he said.
Professor Stan du Plessis, SU chief operating officer, said that the accreditation is a valuable international recognition. “The Garden has an important focus on environmental conservation and especially the protection and study of species that are critically endangered,” he said. “This accreditation also reflects the increasing role that the Garden plays in the international pursuit of environmental conservation. We are particularly proud that the Garden is one of only two botanical gardens in Africa that received this accreditation.”
Du Plessis also credited Martin Smit, the former curator of the SU Botanical Garden, saying that he is instrumental in SU receiving this acclaim. Not only did Smit enhance the research value of the Garden, but also introduced new standards of record keeping.
These includes restoring the heating system for the lily dams to accommodate the specific needs of the giant water lily, Victoria cruziana. The garden is the only garden inAfrica, apart from Madagascar, where visitors can observe this unique lily. He also renovated and enlarged the tropical glass house , which is now home to the world’s smallest water lily, Nymphaea thermarum.
Nymphaea thermarums, a critically endangered water lily, disappeared from the Rwandan wild a decade ago, and there are only a handful of botanical gardens worldwide who have succeed in propagating and growing this sensitive plant. On Smit’s initiative, the long-forgotten underground water reservoir was renovated, just in time to keep the plants alive during the current drought.
The SU Botanical Garden is the oldest university botanical garden in South Africa.