South Africa can be divided into seven biomes, or ecological life zones: Nama Karoo, succulent Karoo, fynbos, forest, thicket, savanna, and grassland. There are also five major habitat types: fynbos, forest, Karoo, grassland, and savannah. South Africa has more than 24 000 plant species and approximately 10% of the world's flowering species are found here. It is he only country in the world to harbour an entire plant kingdom inside its borders: the Cape Floral Kingdom, with 8 600 species, 68% of them endemic. Despite being the smallest plant kingdom in the world, it has the largest number of species in relation to its size. The Cape Peninsula alone protects more plant species than the whole of Great Britain.

South Africa has some 550 wild orchids. Many of the country’s floral species are found in gardens all over the world, including arum lilies, agapanthus, gladiolus, Barberton daisy and Gardenia thunbergia, to name a few.

Botanical tours are best taken during the summer months, generally October to May, when most trees are in leaf, bloom and fruit. If you are particularly interested in wild flowers the recommended time for a visit is from September, subject to the prevailing weather conditions.

Western, Eastern and Northern Cape
This south western area of South Africa is home to fynbos, which is composed of ericas (heathers), proteas and grass-like restios. Most spectacular are the proteas, which include the king protea - the national flower . The ericas are the largest genus of flowering plants in South Africa and one or more of the species will always be found in bloom. These species can be seen in the many fine botanical gardens and on drives around the peninsula, coast and winelands.

The Cape in the spring is spectacular, but perhaps one of the most miraculous events in the world happens in Namaqualand,. After the first rains, as if by magic, this arid, rocky desert is covered in carpets of multicoloured flowers for a few short weeks in August or September.
Some of the species found are the yellow and orange Namaqualand daisies and the bright succulent mesembryanthemums. Other species that occur year round are the quiver tree (the San, or Bushmen, used to make quivers from its fibrous stem) and the bizarre-looking halfmens (half human). This area is a fascinating example of plants abilities to adapt to harsh conditions.

Knysna-Tsitsikamma Forest
This forest on the coast harbours magnificent towering specimens of stinkwoods, black ironwoods and yellowwoods.

Karoo National Botanical Garden
The area contains about 6000 species of which 40 % are endemic. Here one can view quiver trees and other arid plants.

Greater Addo National Park
Stretches 200 kilometres from the coast to the Karoo and includes samples of six of the seven South African biomes mentioned above, lacking only the succulent Karoo.

Mpumalanga and Limpopo
The North East
This part of the country is home to ancient cycads and the baobab, which according to African legend was accidentally planted upside down, accounting for the odd shape of its branches. These trees are 1000s of years old and there trunks grow so thick that in some cases they have been hollowed out to use as bars and toilets.

The Afromontane forests of the Magoebaskloof area rate as one of the most extensive forests in South Africa and also the most striking. The vegetation of these forests has enormous plant diversity and are dominated by trees as tall as 30-40m. These trees form distinct strata, or layers of emergent and canopy trees with herb and shrub layers below.

Located in one of South Africa’s most threatened ecosystems, the Louis Changuion hiking trail takes walkers through afromontane grasslands and patches of indigenous forest. The trail is 10km long, and usually takes about three and a half hours to complete. It travels through natural grassland and indigenous forest where many endemic and threatened plants occur. Over 630 plants occur in this area.

The Lowveld
This area offers in excess of 800 trees as well as grasses, flowers, orchids, succulents and bulbs. The Lowveld Botanical Gardens lies in the vegetation type known as Sour Lowveld Bushveld which, at an altitude varying from 550m to 800m, is a link between the Escarpment and the true Lowveld, and contains many elements of both. It is an excellent gardens.

Panorama Route (Escarpment)
This area harbours Fynbos vegetation, wild clivias, some of South Africa’s 140 species of aloe, proteas and the unusual Transvaal Milkberry..

Kruger National Park and Private Game Reserves
No visit would be complete without a trip to this area which protects an enormous variety of magnificent trees and plants such as Diospyros mespiliformis, Spirostachys Africana, Acacia nigrescens, Schotia brachypetala and Combretum hereroense;

Kwa Zulu Natal
Bushveld, savannah and wetlands are some of the habitats found in this area.

Drakensberg Mountains
One of the world’s centres for plant diversity lies in the alpine Drakensberg area. This world heritage site is a natural wild flower reserve with orchids, alpines and proteas amongst others.

The coastal area of Pondoland has many endemics and in the gorges where the rivers meet the sea many plant species have still to be named.

Medicinal plants
An interesting aspect of a botanical tour is the many medicinal uses of plants.


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