Cape Floral Kingdom
Fynbos forms one of the world’s six plant kingdoms, and the only one to be confined to one country. This compact area, covering no more than 5% of South Africa’s land area, contains 44% of its plants. Of the 9 000 plant species found here, fully 70% occur nowhere else.
North of Cape Town, stretching about 200km between the Olifants and Orange rivers, in a region no more than 80km wide, is the Namaqualand. Famous for its annual spring flower display, this winter rainfall desert region is one of the world’s vanishingly few arid area plant diversity hotspots.
Classified as part of the Succulent Karoo, the Richtersveld is a hyper-arid area up against the Orange River in the north-west corner of South Africa. Its harsh conditions are perfect for extremophile plants and strange endemics.
Quiver tree forest
Between the staggering floral diversity of Nieuwoudtville and the charming town of Loeriesfontein is a quiver tree forest. Part of the succulent Karoo, this collection of quiver trees is a memorable subject for the camera. Aloe dichotoma gather here like golden-barked sculptures.
Giant quiver trees
These magnificent, gaunt specimens, the rarest of the three quiver tree species in South Africa, are critically endangered. There’s a small concentration of them at a rather magical rocky hill called Cornell’s Kop in South Africa’s north-western corner.
This strangely unspectacular-looking region, part of the succulent Karoo, conceals an astounding degree of diversity hidden within white quartzite gravel plains. The pale stones reflect heat, creating unique micro-environments for the plants, many of which are endemic to the region.
These elephants of the plant world live astoundingly long lives. Some are thought to be 5 000 years old or more. These enormous trees are actually succulents, and each one is an entire ecosystem in its own right. Its night-blooming flowers are pollinated by bats.
Cycads are venerable plants. They were one of the predominant plant-forms when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and you can only marvel how tough the dinosaurs' dentition must have been to chew these tough leaves. The Modjadji Cycads can be found in concentration – a cycad forest.
Aloe feroxes are not rare, hard to find or endangered. But the sight of hundreds of them flowering like flames in the bleak heart of winter will lift your heart. As a plus, you can also buy cosmetics and health products made from this incredible plant.
The sweep of grasslands from the Eastern Cape, along and over the Drakensberg mountains up to Mpumalanga, hides many treasures. At least 10 000 of South Africa’s flowering plants are here. And if you miss the flush of spring in the fynbos and Namaqualand, there are precious late-flowering treasures here to be seen.