Tributes for fynbos expert

Anthony Hitchcock at the Kirstenbosch Plant Fair.

Anthony Hitchcock, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden luminary, who earned himself the nickname “Mr Fynbos” nurtured not only plants but people too, say those who knew him.

Mr Hitchcock died on Tuesday July 7 after contracting Covid-19 during his battle with cancer. He was 60.

In a lengthy tribute on Facebook, colleagues described Mr Hitchcock – who dedicated 34 years of service to Kirstenbosch, largely in the capacity of nursery manager – as an active botanical horticulturist, a prolific plant hunter and collector, a compulsive seed gatherer, an accomplished gardener, an author, and an unstinting mentor to so many.

He would, they said, be remembered for his life’s work as an internationally-respected world expert and leader in the field of restoration and conservation of South Africa’s severely threatened fynbos.

He was diagnosed with cancer last October and underwent chemotherapy and bone-marrow transplants but lost his battle after contracting Covid-19 while in hospital.

Cherise Viljoen, his friend and senior horticulturist at Kirstenbosch Garden, said that, above all, he had been a plantsman in the purest and truest sense of the word.

Those who had known him could not help but feel robbed by his death because he had contributed so greatly to society, she said.

Mr Hitchcock’s passion for conservation and the ericas he had loved so much was an inspiration, and he had shared his knowledge with those around him, students, colleagues, scientists, the public, and children alike.

“To him, it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from, or how old you were, as long as you showed interest in plants he would help you, and he would always follow up,” Ms Viljoen said.

“He could bump into you somewhere and ask, ‘How is that salvia plant doing?’ And you’d be shocked at how he remembered, and you wouldn’t want to tell him that it died. The world is really poorer without him.”

Mr Hitchcock pioneered much of fynbos horticulture, especially propagation, and was often referred to as “Mr Fynbos”.

He also mentored many, willingly dedicating countless hours of his time to diverse young horticulturists and staff.

Mr Hitchcock’s colleagues said in their tribute to him that he had been a natural nurturer – whether plants or people – and he had enjoyed helping and seeing them grow.

Many of those he mentored have gone on to become respected leaders in horticulture, botany and conservation, both in the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and elsewhere in South Africa and the world.