Warm, soft morning light streams across the leafy seaside suburb of Noordhoek in Cape Town, illuminating the garden of Filipa Domingues. Plants of the most fascinating shapes and sizes grow here, ready for their close-up.
A filmmaker and photographer, Domingues has made it her mission to document these unique plants – the weirder, the better, she says – sharing them with the world via her popular Instagram account.
“I specifically photograph succulent plants that are endemic or indigenous to South Africa,” she tells CNN. “(I like) the more rare and unusual kind of plants, not the typical ones that you find in people’s gardens or in nurseries.”
Domingues jokingly calls herself a portrait plant photographer. She only began collecting plants three years ago, starting with succulents. Her collection rapidly grew and became a focal point when friends came to visit; soon, Domingues found herself urging them to come over and “check my plants.”
It was one of these friends, she says, who encouraged her to start photographing her plant collection and posting on social media.
“Check my plants”
Domingues has plenty of subjects to pick from – South Africa is home to over 22,000 indigenous plants and over 10% of the world’s flowering species, and Cape Town itself is one of the most biodiverse locations on Earth. The Cape floristic region, located in the Western Cape and parts of the Eastern Cape, was first named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
It is the smallest of the world’s six recognized floristic regions. Here, 30% of the plants are endemic, found nowhere else in the world.
“I only post (a photo) once I’ve learned the name of (the plant) and once I’ve learned my favorite little bit of information,” she explains.
When asked if she has a favorite plant, Domingues says it’s impossible to choose just one. With each season, she says she discovers new plants to add to her growing list of favorites. But there are some that she finds more captivating than others.
She recently posted a photo of an Argyroderma theartii – a beautiful dwarf winter-growing succulent, bearing striking, bright purple-pink flowers during the early winter months. This plant is very rare and endemic to a single farm in the Western Cape’s northern Knersvlakte region.
Domingues says she finds this plant especially enchanting because when in bloom, it reminds her of a sea anemone. “So many of my succulents remind me of underwater coral,” she says, adding that she often refers to her collection as her “coral reef.”
Domingues’ photos are striking, but her process is actually very simple. She says she only requires a black cloth as her backdrop, and natural light. “The light’s got to be right, because I photograph them in natural sunlight,” she says.
As for her choice of camera? It may surprise people to know that Domingues takes the majority of her photos on her iPhone.
“I would hope my photographs just inspire people,” she says. “There’s only so many things you can focus on in life, but once your attention is open to something, it’s amazing – so I hope to open up people’s attention and minds to plants, especially the South African indigenous succulents.”
Today, she has a significant global following on social media through which she can invite people from across the world to virtually check her plants. She says her followers from America and Europe are often blown away by the otherworldly appearance of Cape Town’s unique flora.
“They look at my photos and they can’t believe that these plants exist,” Domingues says. “And it reminds me how lucky we are to have this all in our own backyard.”