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TTwo of South Africa’s most famous floral sights are the great sweeps of spring daisies in Namaqualand and the glorious fynbos flowers in Western Cape, both of which seem to come and go equally suddenly in September and October.
But if you’re visiting a little too late for those spectacles, you could instead take in some of the country’s underrated wildflower wonders. The grassland wildflowers of the Drakensberg mountains, stretching from Eastern Cape through KwaZulu-Natal and Free State into Mpumalanga, only peak in late spring (November).
And there’s another – some say even more spectacular – wave of flowering that takes place in late summer and into autumn – January to March.
Even better, more than half of our wildflowers – 10 000 species – occur in grasslands and savannahs.
The grasslands, which are arguably most spectacular in the Drakensberg mountains, are home to some of the most beautiful plants. Here you’ll find white berg lilies, showy Arum lilies, Watsonias, delicate orchids, starburst pelargoniums and gladioli, all as beautiful as butterflies.
Along forest margins you may spot orange crocosmia (called ‘falling stars’ for good reason), traveller’s joy, white geraniums and showy agapanthus.
Nodding among the seed-heavy grasses you may chance upon half-a-dozen cheerful members of the daisy family. If you look in the right place (the savannah near Lydenburg and Mbombela in Mpumalanga province), you may even find the famous Barberton daisy growing carefree and wild.
The high grasslands of southern Mpumalanga (around Wakkerstroom and even Graskop) and north-eastern Free State (between Clarens and Memel) are particularly rewarding. Here, in the cool, moist montane uplands you’ll find alpine wildflowers, figworts and everlastings, bellflowers, fairy bells, wild violets and minaret flowers.
Grasslands are prone to late winter fires, and if you are here in spring, this might be an ideal opportunity to see the flowers that take advantage of respite from fast-growing grasses.
You may see hooded meadow-stars, dark-eyed and astral bells, chocolate bells, common liquorice beans, handkerchief flowers, silver vernonias and yellow starworts.
Among the most spectacular plants are the bulbous perennials – nerines, oxbane (Boophane disticha) and candelabra flowers (Brunsvigias), which flower spectacularly in late summer (January through to March) and then dry to a ball-shaped tumbleweed.
The best places to look for wildflowers are in the pristine grasslands, preserved from overgrazing or disturbance. National parks and nature reserves are the best.
But don’t forget road verges and railway preserves – they are often as rewarding as secluded parks.
TTravel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Botanical Society of South Africa
How to get here
Grasslands sprawl over nearly a quarter of South Africa, but the best places to see this biome’s wildflowers are concentrated along the spine of the Drakensberg mountains (where you'll find many Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife parks), the high grasslands of eastern Free State (like the Golden Gate Highlands National Park) and high grasslands that are not afforested with plantations, for example the areas around Wakkerstroom and Memel.
Also excellent are the less-trodden roads of the southern Drakensberg around Rhodes and Barkly East, both in Eastern Cape.
Best time to visit
There will be something to see from September through to November. Midsummer (December and January) is slightly less rewarding. But from January through to March and even April, you could find plenty of wildflower beauties.
Unless you are on a guided tour, you will need your own vehicle.
What to pack
Treat yourself to a good photographic wildflower guide – or phone app. Take along a hat and sunscreen when looking for flowers. If you’re a photographer, bring along a cloth shield to stop flowers from bobbing too much in the breeze, and of course, don’t forget your macro lens.