If you are of a botanical bent, you will never want to leave South Africa. There are more than 22 000 different species of seed plants indigenous to Southern Africa. These are arranged into about 2 180 genera, which in turn form part of 227 families. At a global scale the vegetation of the world is sometimes described in terms of six Floristic Regions, often called the Floral Kingdoms of the world.

The distinction between regions is based on distinctive suites of flowering plants, taking into account those (particularly families) that are exclusive (endemic) to the region. Of particular note to South Africans is that the Cape forms one of these distinct kingdoms; the Cape Floral Kingdom, covering 0.08% of the worldland surface, but containing about 3% of the world plants. This is a precious resource to be proud of and to conserve for future generations.

Vegetation zones

South Africa's incredible biodiversity is due to their unique physical features. Most of the country is situated on a high-lying plateau, between two very different oceans. The Indian Ocean, on the east, is warmed by the Mozambique or Agulhas Current, which flows down from the tropics, while the Atlantic, on the west coast, is cooled by the icy Benguela Current which comes up from the Antarctic.

These two different oceans, the prevailing wind and the topography of South Africa combine to create lush forests and subtropical savanna on the east coast, gradually changing to desert or semi-desert on the west coast. And, right in the southwest, the area around Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, windy summers and cool, moist winters, creating a unique floral display.

Namaqualand flowers

The area stretching north and west from Cape Town is an austere landscape with its own, rather minimalist, aesthetic. However, in spring, all pretensions to minimalism go straight out the window! For a few weeks over August and September, the area is a riot of colour. Superlatives dondo justice to this spectacle. You can simply stand back and gaze out across a few acres of multicoloured daisies, which almost look cultivated, or just focus on the multitude of different species growing close to their feet.

Obviously, the exact timing of the flowering and the very best viewing positions change from year to year, and even within the season so it is best to get the latest up-to-date flower reports before heading off. Although the West Coast and Namaqualand, as described above, offer the most splendid floral displays, (especially in contrast to their otherwise drab appearance), there are stunning flowers all over the Cape in spring. The Table Mountain National Park, right in the middle of Cape Town, also offers an astonishing array variety of flowers.

Botanical Gardens

Not surprisingly, considering South Africa's incomparable botanical diversity, they have a number of lovely botanical gardens scattered around the country. Generally, they are places to relax, walk and discover new and exciting things about South  floral heritage. But most also have lovely tea gardens or restaurants and host fun events such as art exhibitions and concerts. The gardens are administered by the National Botanical Research Institute.

Eight National Botanical Gardens are situated throughout the country in five of South Africa's six different biomes. When Kirstenbosch, the most famous of the Gardens, was founded in 1913 to preserve the country's unique flora, it was the first botanical garden in the world with this ethos. What makes the Gardens so famous worldwide is that only indigenous plants are cultivated.

The six most popular National Botanical gardens in South Africa are:
# Karoo Desert National Botanical gardens

# Free State National Botanical Garden

# Kirstenbosch National Botanical gardens

# Lowveld National Botanical gardens

# Natal National Botanical gardens

# Pretoria National Botanical gardens


The most accessible are undoubtedly the Knysna and Tsitsikamma Forests on the Garden Route, which also offer wonderful hiking, mountain biking and escorted tours. A real plus for tree-fundis is the treetop canopy tour. The Hogsback Mountains, near East London are also home to some lovely forests but the infrastructure is not quite as well developed.

In Limpopo Province, the forests of Magoebaskloof are probably the most extensive stand of indigenous forest in the country. This makes for some lovely hikes. KwaZulu's forests are a bit scattered but there are some wonderful examples. The most easily accessible is the Dlinza State Forest, right in the heart of the town of Eshowe, in Zululand. As well as pretty walks, and even a very short cycle trail, there is a high-level boardwalk which gives access to the forest canopy and offers wonderful bird watching.