South Africa :
Where to go?
The many different climate zones and ecosystems in South Africa nurture an astonishing number of plant varieties, nearly 25,000 in all, some indigenous and others found on all five continents. There are six main types of vegetation. The savannah is grassland with scattered trees, including knobthorn, mimosa, mopane, prickly bush and the occasional giant baobab. This landscape is typical of the north-east, especially Kruger Park. The subtropical forest features palms, wild banana, reeds and mangroves, extending along the coast of the Indian Ocean and the KwaZulu-Natal hinterland. Flora typical of the mountain region is found above 1,500 m, in the Drakensberg range and the Western Cape. Mangrove forests line the estuaries of the Transkei and KwaZulu-Natal. Succulents typical of semi-arid zones are common in the Kalahari Desert. The Cape Floral Kingdom, also known as The Fynbos Biome, is characterised by low shrubs with fine needle-like leaves; the scrubland is graced with a myriad of Mediterranean plants.
Non-indigenous plants have changed the landscape considerably over the centuries: Eucalyptus and pine groves in Mpumalanga, Zululand and the Drakensberg; sugar cane in the Durban region and vineyards on the Western Cape. Jacarandas from Brazil adorn the streets of Pretoria and some towns in the Karoo; their purple flowers bloom in the southern hemisphere’s spring months. It is now regarded as an invasive species, and new plantings are prohibited.
The Cape floral kingdom
Registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, the Cape Floral Kingdom is remarkable for its botanical diversity. The area of 90,000 sq km is home to 9,600 varieties, 80% of which are indigenous. Most of the plants are evergreen hard-leaved shrubs. In the spring months, from late August to the end of October, the vegetation is stunning, especially on the slopes of Table Mountain. The national flower is the Protea (also known as Sugarbush or Featherbush), and a profusion of red, yellow, pink and white blooms cover the hillsides. The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, at the foot of the mountain, offer an excellent introduction to this unique region.
The most spectacular spring flowers are found on the west coast, up towards Namakwaland and the Namib Desert. In the space of a few days, the fields are covered with a carpet of 1,200 multi-coloured varieties of daisy-like flowers. Ephemeral and wondrous, the sight of these blooms reveals all the abundance and variety of the Western Cape flora.