Where to see wild flowers in South Africa

September means the start of spring in South Africa, which brings with it spectacular displays of brilliantly coloured blossoms. Here are our recommendations for where to see the most beautiful wild flowers...
Multicolored spring flowers landscape with metal windmill in Namaqualand. Photo: Shutterstock
Multicolored spring flowers landscape with metal windmill in Namaqualand. Photo: Shutterstock

Multicolored spring flowers landscape with metal windmill in Namaqualand. Photo: Shutterstock

From the weird succulents of the dry Kalahari, to the rich and varied flora that transforms Namaqualand’s semi-desert plains in the spring, South Africa is impressively endowed with some spectacular plant life:


Namaqualand

North of the winter rainfall zone lies the arid area known as Namaqualand, running parallel to the Cape’s west coast as far as the lower Orange River Valley. This is a dry land which receives an annual average rainfall of 50–150mm (2–6in).

Mesembryanthemums (vygies in Afrikaans), grow here in abundance. Other natives include the pebble plant (Lithops), plants of the similar Conophytum families, and many species of daisies, which have adapted to their parched surroundings by germinating and flowering only after good spring rains. All produce splendid blossoms of shimmering, metallic red-violet, yellow, white or copper-coloured petals, which appear in one burst in the spring. The Hantam National Botanic Garden, outside Nieuwoudtville, is the youngest of South Africa’s nine national botanic gardens and home to an incredible diversity of bulbs which flower each spring and autumn. The Goegap Nature Reserve, about 15km (9 miles) east of the town of Springbok, is absolutely stunning during the flowering season, and includes the Hester Malan Wild Flower Garden, home to hundreds of species of aloes and succulents.

Why not start your trip in Cape Town and discover the natural beauty of the region with Insight Guides’ Complete Cape Town trip.


Cape Floral Kingdom 

Most enticing of all for botanists, gardeners and walkers alike is the slender strip of Cape coastline stretching inland in the west as far as Clanwilliam, around the peninsula and then east as far as Port Elizabeth. Dominated by a unique heath-like vegetation known as fynbos (Afrikaans for “fine bush”), this area enjoys special status as the smallest of the world’s six “Floral Kingdoms”, and the one with the richest species diversity. Renowned for its proteas and heathers, this is also where you’ll find South Africa’s most famous orchids, the red disa, known as the “Pride of Table Mountain”.

A fantastic way to see the flora of the southern coast is to travel along the Garden Route between Mossel Bay and Tsitsikamma. Check out Insight Guides’ Cycling South Africa’s Garden Route trip.

Mesembryanthemum in South Africa. Photo: Shutterstock

The Savannah

Covering some 959,000 sq km (370,270 sq miles) from the Kalahari basin right across to the east coast, with a narrow strip reaching down into the Southern Cape, this is the subcontinent’s largest floral region.

This is an area of mixed vegetation, consisting mainly of grassland, with scattered trees and drought-resistant undergrowth. Although isolated trees and shrubs are the norm, there are also large patches of savannah forest – the classic bushveld. The vegetation covering much of the Kruger National Park is a good example.

Eye-catching grass varieties, such as red grass, pepper grass and ostrich grass, are all common. During the dry season these grasses take on a yellow or reddish colour, which has a corresponding effect on the overall landscape. Each year, large areas are burned off; but at the beginning of the rainy season, these bleak, blackened patches are covered virtually overnight with a colourful carpet of spring flowers and fresh green shoots. The Pretoria National Botanical Garden, located in an area where savannah gives way to grassland, has examples of the plant life of both regions – as well as over half of the country’s tree species.

Experience astonishing wildlife and plant life with Insight Guides’ South Africa’s Big Three trip to Kruger, Zululand and Swaziland.


Taking a holiday to South Africa: how to get started

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Unique fynbos at foot of Table Mountain, Kirstenboch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town, South Africa. Photo: Shutterstock