Two oceans & biodiversity

If you’re of a botanical bent, you’ll never want to leave South Africa. We have the third-highest level of biodiversity in the world, and ours is the only country to contain an entire floral kingdom.

The Cape Peninsula National Park has more plant species within its 22 000 hectares than the whole British Isles or New Zealand. Some 18 000 species of vascular plant (plants with vessels for bearing sap) occur within South Africa’s boundaries, of which 80% occur nowhere else.

Our incredible biodiversity is due to our 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.


South Africa has seven major terrestrial biomes, or habitat types – broad ecological life zones with distinct environmental conditions and related sets of plant and animal life. (Graphic: Environmental Potential Atlas for South Africa)

Right in the southwest, influenced by swirling cyclonic weather systems travelling up from the low latitudes, the area around Cape Town is totally anomalous.

It has a Mediterranean climate, with hot, windy summers and cool, moist winters, creating a unique floral assemblage, known as fynbos locally, but internationally referred to as the Cape Floral Kingdom.

Although lacking the spectacular array of flowering plants of the fynbos, the rest of the country has much to offer too. Afro-montane forests and grasslands grace the eastern escarpment, and lush coastal forests cloak the rugged Garden Route and Tsitsikamma coasts.

The semi-desert regions have an incredible amount and variety of succulent plants – one-third of the world’s succulent plant species occur in South Africa – many of which have a brief but bright flowering season.

And, of course, the lowveld areas are typified by broad-leaved forests which support a rich game population. Not to be missed in the northern part of the country is the fabulous baobab tree.

You can enjoy our botanical riches in the many national parks and botanical reserves or just on the side of the road. The flower season in the Western Cape is in spring – August and September, when specialist flower-viewing trips are run and almost every small town has a flower show.

For a really intimate experience with some big old forest trees, try the tree-top canopy trail in Tsitsikamma – one of only three in the world.

So, when you’re next in one of our national parks, remember to take note of the wonderful plants as well as the trees. For more information about our wonderful flora, check out the National Botanical Institute.

Source: South African Tourism

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