Great trees of South Africa
Did you know?The Northern Cape’s Namaqualand in spring is a-dazzle with fields of brilliantly coloured flowers.
South Africa has great game, great scenery and great weather, but did you know it also has great trees?
The great trees of South Africa range from the mighty baobab, the medicinal marula and quirky sausage tree, to giant leadwood trees, the pale green-trunked fever trees and the buffalo-thorn – the burial tree of the Zulu. The Zulus place branches of the widespread buffalo-thorn, thought to have magical qualities, on family graves.
There are many more great trees of South Africa: the sycamore fig, when in fruit beloved of birds and animals; the shepherd’s tree, reputed to throw the deepest shade of any indigenous tree; and the quintessential tree of the African savanna – the umbella thorn.
Perhaps, however, it is the long-living baobab (which can live over 2 000 years) that is easiest to recognise. With its huge, fat bottle-shaped trunk and branches that stick up randomly into the air, it is sometimes described as the 'upside down' tree. You’ll particularly notice this appearance in winter when the branches are bare of their leaves and delicate red, musky flowers.
The San (sometimes known as the Bushmen) have a legend that when the world was made, the Creator threw down this tree in anger because it had somehow displeased him. It supports a veritable ecosystem because it provides shelter and food for a host of creatures, and produces one of the highest known concentrates of Vitamin C.
In the ancient Knysna forest on the Cape’s Garden Route look out for huge yellowwood and stinkwood trees, and in KwaZulu-Natal, visit a sand forest and its unique ecosystem. But wherever you are in South Africa, be sure to taste Amarula, a delicious alcoholic drink brewed from marula berries.