05 April 2014 by Kate Turkington

Fynbos, flowers, ferns and forests

South Africa is so much more than the Big Five, Cape Town and the Garden Route. There are other treasures besides lions and elephants, Table Mountain’s cable car, and glorious beaches. Keep your eyes open for another unique attraction – our gorgeous flora.

South Africa has spectacular flowering plants

I was recently on a trip in the Southern Cape – in an amazing stretch of country between George, inland to the Klein Karoo, and then along the coast to Knysna and Plettenberg Bay.

It’s really impossible to drive anywhere in this region and not be awestruck by the spectacular scenery of mountains, beaches and forests. But this was March, and it would be a dull soul indeed who failed to notice the glorious, colourful, flowering plants that covered the landscape.

It would be a dull soul indeed who failed to notice the glorious, colourful, flowering plants that covered the landscape.

The Cape is home to one of the world’s six floral kingdoms – fynbos (pronounced 'fain-bos'). It’s the smallest of the kingdoms and one of the richest worldwide, with nearly 9 000 species of plants, some of which are on the brink of extinction.

And consider this: 3% of all the world's plants are found in this one small area, which covers only about 0.05% of the Earth's land surface.

Choose a dry day – a sunny is even better – then drive almost anywhere from Cape Point to Cape Algulhas, and inland, and enjoy the plants and flowers – remember, this is the only place in the world where you’ll see them in their natural habitat.

A giant yellowwood tree A giant yellowwood tree

I didn’t have a wild-flower guide with me, but I could still recognise proteas, ericas, and flowers that many of us grow in our gardens or window boxes, but which originate here: freesia, gladioli, agapanthus, pelargoniums and geraniums.

I drove up the Montagu Pass (South Africa’s oldest unaltered pass since 1847) from George, past the old tollhouse, up past an evocative sign reading ‘Amanda’s Grave’, and past swathes and carpets of pink, crimson, creamy white, purple and blue flowering plants and shrubs.

A couple of days later I was on the Garden Route between Plettenberg Bay and Knysna. By the side of the road I saw a sign reading 'Garden Route National Park: Garden of Eden'. I parked and walked – into an enchanting forest world. The aptly named Garden of Eden is an 800m circular boardwalk (wheelchair accessible) through ancient indigenous forest. Huge Outeniqua yellowwood, ironwood, wild white pear and white stinkwood rear up to the sky from beds and thickets of lush ferns.

I sat on a bench by a crystal-clear creek while a colourful Knysna turaco called as it clambered about the high branches above me.

But if you don’t have time to drive, and you’re in Cape Town, you can still experience our magical flora by visiting the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, the only such garden in the world that is part of a World Heritage Site.

On the Montagu Pass On the Montagu Pass
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