South Africa has a boggling amount of diversity in its plant life, including over 9,000 different species on its Cape Floristic Region. While many may think solely of the savanna when they think of South Africa, the country has seven other completely different ecological life zones, or biomes. Each biome has a unique mixture of native flora, including thousands of endemic species and many native flowering plants that should be familiar to gardening enthusiasts.
Explore each of these biomes with us as we highlight their rich diversity and unique traits, but remember that you can only truly experience them with your own eyes on an African safari vacation.
Plant Biomes Found in South Africa
- Succulent karoo
- Nama karoo
Cape Floristic Kingdom
Plant “kingdoms” are biogeological groupings that attempt to group together as many endemic species as possible by similarities in traits, heredity, and more. Most of these kingdoms stretch across the globe; the Holarctic, or Boreal, Kingdom for instance spans most of North America and all of Europe as well as parts of North Africa.
South Africa’s Cape Peninsula boast a floral kingdom that occupies a relatively tiny area — the smallest of all the six plant kingdoms found on the globe. This cluster exists because 69 percent of the species here are endemic, which is to say they can be found nowhere else.
20 percent of all the African continent’s plant species can be found here. The Cape Peninsula also has more overall plant species within it than all of the isle of Great Britain.
Fynbos or “fine bush” is an arid, Mediterranean-like biome characterized by scrub grasses and brightly colored flowering plants. Many familiar garden species hail from here, including irises, geraniums (pelargoniums), white arum lilies, Barberton daisies and more.
Make of the Cape Floral Kingdom is composed of fynbos.
While the Cape Floral Kingdom is impressive, the Namaqualand region astounds the mind with raw beauty and emotion. Throughout most of the year, this region is arid, rocky and very desert-like. But every spring, it erupts in fields of shockingly intense color.
Images of this period can stir the soul, but they do not do the actual sight of the orange, yellow, and violet fields justice. If you want to time your trip to South Africa just right, make sure it happens when you can catch a glimpse of the Namaqualand in full bloom.
Forests, Savanna, Grassland and More
In addition to these natural gardens, South Africa has the familiar acacia trees, iconic baobab trees, ancient cycads and more. Many of these plants provide more than just beauty; medical researchers are now prizing them for their potent medicinal effects.
Sadly, many of these gorgeous and beneficial plants are threatened, including 1,435 species in the Cape Floristic Kingdom. Support their biodiversity by raising awareness and embarking on South African safari tours that contribute money to the preservation of South Africa’s wild, unique and wonderful landscapes.
Jill Liphart for Roho Ya Chui, Travel Africa