Cliff faces and similar habitats are among the least explored and poorly understood habitats on earth and the flora on cliff faces, which are termed cremnophytes after the Greek kremnos (cliff) and phyton (plant), a term which includes both obligate cremnophytes (plants that make cliff faces their sole habitat) and opportunistic cliff face occupiers (plants which are able to grow on cliff faces but are found mainly on level surfaces and rocky places near such habitats, which can also be known as chasmophytes), are thus one of the least studied specialised ecological forms in the world.
When the Plant Science building was in the design phase, these artificial habitats were included as research spaces. They perform multiple uses, as part of the "Green Design" principles of the building itself the artificial cliff faces function as insulation on the faces of the north west corner of the building and the western wall of the Auditorium, as well as providing an aesthetically pleasing and unique signature landscape to the architecture leaving the viewer in no doubt that this building houses people who work with plants. As a research space, plants have been grown here in conditions as closely mimicking their natural habitat as possible, with remarkable results, and a concomitant increase in biodiversity, with the walls serving as habitat to all kinds of wildlife, from mouse birds to lizards and butterflies, bees and other insects.
Like the Rainwater Harvesting Garden, this project has attracted a lot of attention, and the senior Curator of the Botanical Garden has spoken on the subject many times, most recently to the California Horticultural Society, staff and interested members of the public at UC Botanical Garden at Berkeley and Denver Botanical Garden in 2014.
A further refinement to the building was its balcony gardens, set on two levels which are being used to test indigenous and exotic species and hybrids for use on green roof projects in South Africa, of which there is very little local knowledge.