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Flowers and Trees in Southern Africa

Description

Botanically speaking, South Africa is a pretty special place, largely because of the phenomenal Cape Floral Region, which is the name given to a large part of the South Western Cape. The Cape Floral Region is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is the smallest of the world's floral kingdoms, but also the most diverse. Covering only 0.2% of the earth's surface, it is home to 3.6% of the world's plant species, nearly 70% of which are endemic, ie occurring nowhere else naturally.

The local collective name of the plants that make up this extraordinary assemblage is “fynbos”. Consisting mostly of low-growing scrub-like plants fynbos is rich in essential oils so it has a wonderfully characteristic smell, and it produces an enormous variety of flowers. There are numerous hikes in and amongst the fynbos, but you can admire these fabulous plants almost anywhere in the Western Cape without moving far from your car. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is nestled securely under the eastern slope of Table Mountain and is well worth a visit to see lots of fynbos species, as well as plants from all over South and southern Africa.

The West Coast, just north of Cape Town, and Namaqualand in the Northern Cape, are mostly quite drab. But in spring they just burst into vibrant bloom with brilliantly coloured flowers carpeting the plains to the horizon. There are guided flower trips in August and September, which is also when most of the towns in the flower areas hold their annual flower shows. Even further north, the Richtersveld, a beautiful desert mountain range that straddles the border between the Northern Cape and Namibia, is renowned for its immense diversity of flowering succulent plants. There is a very tough hiking trail in the Richtersveld, a challenging 4x4 trail and a lovely, gentle, guided canoe trail.

Even the Karoo, which at first sight seems drab and uninteresting, is home to numerous flowering plants, most of which can be seen to great advantage in the Karoo National Botanical Gardens in Worcester in the Western Cape, near Cape Town. September is the best time to see the luminous vygies and winter is the season for viewing the flowering aloes.

The montane grasslands of the Drakensberg and high escarpment of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, seem, from a distance, to consist of nothing but hectare upon hectare of grass, but they are home to thousands of flowering plants with hundreds of endemics. You could choose between a horse trail or a fantastic hike through the many reserves and parks in the high mountains, but the most easily accessible are the Golden Gate Highlands National Park in the Free State, and the Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg National Park in KwaZulu-Natal.

South Africa does not have huge tracts of forest, but what there is, is beautiful. Other than a few tiny pockets, the temperate coastal forests of the Garden Route and the Montane forests of parts of KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape, Limpopo and Mpumalanga are the only true canopied forests left in South Africa. The Magoebaskloof Hike in Limpopo Province traverses the biggest stand of indigenous forest in South Africa. On the Garden Route, the Harkerville, Tsitsikamma and Otter Trail all traverse some fabulous forested areas.

One of the most interesting ways to explore forests, though is to peer right into the canopy. There are tree-top canopy tours in the fabulous forests in Tsitsikamma and Karkloof and, in the small town of Eshowe in Zululand, there is a convenient bird-watching walkway high up in the canopy of the Dlinza Forest.

Keen to see Namaqualand wildflowers this Spring?

Get hot tips for flower viewing, where to go and what to do in Namaqualand, the West Coast, Cederberg, Knersvlakte and Bokkeveld in our Namaqualand Road Trip Guide

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