In London, a little patch of South Africa

Visit the British Museum and you’ll encounter the incongruous dazzle of Namaqualand daisies appearing in front of the museum’s majestic grey columns.

The forecourt’s wondrous array of plants forms South Africa Landscape – an exhibition highlighting the country’s remarkably rich biodiversity. Of the more than 22,000 plant species in South Africa, two-thirds of them occur nowhere else in the world. Staged by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the exhibition runs until October (after which the plants will be donated to Camden council).

Visiting the landscape was quite a moving experience: thousands of kilometres away from home, I was once more surrounded by the plants etched into a lifetime of memories.  Blue agapanthus flowers, long a favourite in the suburban gardens I spent my childhood playing in, sparkled in the (typically) tentative London sunshine.

Fynbos – the silver trees, ericas, proteas and restios reeds – reminded me of hikes on Table Mountain and beyond. The mountain aloes and quiver trees evoked memories of long car journeys through the dry vastness of the Karoo. And the strelitzias conjured up the songs of summer concerts in Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Gardens, home to the crane flower (and of course much more).

The display has far more importance than reminding homesick South Africans of home, however. With the Cape floral kingdom increasingly under threat, it is important that the world recognises its preciousness and takes steps to ensure it is protected. Kew’s flaunting of this sublime sample of South Africa’s natural heritage is a wonderful way to start.

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