Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), internationally known for its efforts in securing plant diversity for the well-being of people and the planet, has accredited the Stellenbosch University (SU) Botanical Garden – only the *second botanic garden in Africa and the first in South Africa to receive this honour.
To date (5 June 2018) there are nine** botanical gardens with accreditation.
BGCI Accreditation recognises achievements in plant conservation with institutions carrying out a range of conservation-related policies, practices and activities.
Accreditation can result in tangible benefits for participating gardens – such as recognition, peer review, creating standards for excellence, and funding – and will act as a motivator for botanic garden leadership.
In congratulating SU in receiving the accreditation, Dr Paul P. Smith, Secretary General of the BGCI based in the UK, said that the SU Botanical Garden is very special due to it being 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. 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 added that with various well-regarded academics and research groups within SU, the SU Botanical Garden provides the “perfect platform" from which to build international partnerships and drive various 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.
Conserving plant species on critically endangered list
Comments Prof Stan du Plessis, SU Chief Operating Officer: “The accreditation is a valuable international recognition for the leading work at the SU Botanical Garden. The Garden has an important focus on environmental conservation and especially the protection and study of species that are critically endangered. 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."
He also credited Mr Martin Smit, former curator of the SU Botanical Garden as being instrumental in SU receiving this accolade. “Not only did Mr Smit greatly enhance the research value of the Garden – he for example introduced new standards of recordkeeping in the garden – he also initiated large-scale projects. These include restoring the heating system for the lily dams to accommodate the specific needs of the giant water lily, Victoria cruziana – with the garden being the only garden in Africa, apart from Madagascar, where visitors can observe this unique lily. He also renovated and enlarged the tropical glass house – now home to the world's smallest water lily, Nymphaea thermarum."
This critically endangered water lily disappeared from the Rwandan wild a decade ago, and there is only a handful of botanical gardens worldwide who have succeed in propagating and growing this sensitive little 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 garden's database has been digitalised and via the IrisBg database the garden is now connected with other botanical gardens worldwide. This also means that visitors can learn more about the plants in via the downloadable Garden Explorer app on smart phones.
The SU Botanical Garden is the oldest university botanical garden in South Africa.
The accreditation is valid for a period of five years with the expectation that gardens will maintain the necessary standards in areas of activity specific to botanic gardens, such as documentation of collections and supporting scientific research and conservation.
* The other being Gullele Botanic Garden in Ethiopia.
** The accredited gardens (5 June 2018) are the Gullele Botanic Garden in Ethiopia; Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, USA; Jardín Botánico Universitario – BUAP, Puebla, Mexico; National Botanic Garden of Wales, United Kingdom; Pha Tad Ke Botanical Garden, Laos; Stellenbosch University Botanical Gardens, South Africa; University Botanic Gardens Ljubljana, Slovenia and Wollongong Botanic Garden, Australia.
Photo: Ms Mbali Mkhize, Botanical Garden Assistant, Mr Willem Pretorius, President of the Friends of the Botanical Garden Association and Mr Bonakele Mpecheni, Botanical Garden Assistant. Photo credit: Stefan Els