Lose yourself in the magical inner world of flowers in photographer Anneke Kearney’s new pictorial work Vanishing Flora. Then get the lowdown on how they are faring in her text.
What is it about macro images of flowers that is so appealing? The exposing of secret inner whorls and workings, proud stamens and delicately formed petals takes us into a magical world of blooms that are often so small we pass them by without a glance, tramping on them unthinkingly in our sturdy hiking boots. But when you get down on your stomach and view them through a macro lens, as Cape Town-based flora photographer Anneke Kearney has done for her superb volume Vanishing Flora, the door to a whole new world is opened.
The photographic collection is ‘a tribute to South Africa’s endangered wild flowers’, the result of a concept that first drew breath some years ago when Anneke visited a section of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens that had been devoted to plants in trouble. Appropriately called the ‘Garden of Extinction’, the area features plants from around the country that had found a place in one of the IUCN’s categories of endangerment. Looking at the species, she records in the book’s preface, ‘I realised with shock that I knew some of the plants. I had photographed them on hikes, in the mountains and in the national botanical gardens, and I had never realised they were so threatened.’
She decided to create a work that focused attention on the species with close-up, attention-grabbing images that revealed the wondrous inner workings of the blooms.
And catch the eye they certainly do. Although threatened plants from around the country are included, the bulk of those featured come from the Western Cape, where 1 752 of the 6 776 endemic species are in trouble. That’s a sobering number. The delicate Watsonia humilis, for example, found between Malmesbury and Gordon’s Bay in the Western Cape, has a population of just four species in the wild. Luckily, a recent discovery of the plants further north brings the total to 44.
Watsonias lined the roads of my childhood. Now, it appears, they too are disappearing in the mist of memories. The causes of the plants’ potential demise include agricultural expansion, overgrazing, urban expansion and over-collecting. In short, ‘the problem is people,’ says Anneke.
The general public is becoming aware of the importance of our disappearing vegetation and various ‘friends’ groups have been formed that are working to eradicate invasive aliens. Raise awareness. Join them. For your children, for the children that follow, for your own relaxation, for the thousands of visitors that name the Cape Floral Kingdom as one of their prime reasons for coming to South Africa, and for the sheer beauty of this biodiversity showcase.
With a gallery of striking images and hard-hitting text, Vanishing Flora is a book to both amaze and inform. Read it, absorb it, leave it open on your coffee table for your friends to see the beautiful species. It may be the last time they do.