The stunning Garden Route of South Africa stretches from the Western Cape coast to the Eastern Cape coast, and encompasses scenic views of lush forestry and the vast Indian Ocean. The route is one of South Africa’s most beautiful areas of land and home to a range of ecosystems including mountain, forest, lake, and fynbos. From the grand old yellowwood trees which stand tall and proud, to the ancient stinkwood that lives up to 1000 years old, and the vast fynbos biome which covers the Eastern and Western Cape like a blanket, travellers will be sure to experience a botanical wonderland. If you’re looking for a scenic adventure or perhaps just a lovely backdrop for your latest Instagram post, the flowers found along the Garden Route are perfect for just that.
The Cape Floral Kingdom
The Cape Floral Kingdom, or Cape Floristic Region, as it is also known as, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the smallest floristic kingdom in the world. Despite this, the region is home to over 9 600 species of mostly native South African plants, with fynbos making up most of it. Trees, flowers, ferns and mosses that are not fynbos are also found in abundance. The stunning landscape is picturesque, tranquil and perfect for hikes under the sunny African sky.
Fynbos is a biome found exclusively in South Africa, and relates to not one specific flower, but a range of plants found in the Cape area, especially shrubs and small trees. The name can be translated from Afrikaans to mean “fine bush”, which ironically is not the case, as fynbos is ericoid, which means it is tough, small and heather-like. Fynbos is filled with distinct and diverse plants including the Blue Disa, a vibrant and bright flower with blue and purple ombrè petals. Other flowers that stand out include the striking red Erica, a heather species, with its droopy blossoms, and the deep purple Lady’s Hand, which has a long stem which measures 40cm high. The Lady’s Hand also comes in shades of pink and white, but the purple is certainly the most eye-catching. Although most of the flowers are beautiful and fragrant, the Carrion Flower, a spotted, strange looking plant, emits the smell of rotting flesh, which attracts flies and other insects. The Carrion Flower is small and looks somewhat like a cactus, with the colour of rotting meat. The smell and appearance attracts hoards of flies, helping with pollination. Lucky (or unlucky!) for us South Africans, the Carrion Flower is native to the country and can be spotted quite easily on hikes through the fynbos. But the crowning jewel in the fynbos landscape is without a doubt the king protea.
The king protea has been the national flower of South Africa since 1976 and is endemic to the country. Reigning supreme, the king protea has the biggest flower head of all species of protea, and its tough, artichoke like blossoms crown the flower head perfectly. The protea has long stems, deep under the ground, with dormant buds. When fire spreads through the fynbos, it burns the top of the protea, and the protected bulbs at the bottom are pushed up, and grow once more. The flower is a symbol of rebirth, something South Africa is synonymous with, and is a fitting national flower. The South African cricket team are known as the Proteas, and whilst the rugby team is called The Springboks, after the national animal, the Springbok emblem also has a golden protea in the background. The protea is said to be named after Proteus, the son of the Greek God Poseidon, which is ironic as the flower grows mostly in dry areas, and has developed some excellent ways to absorb moisture, such as its thick leaves which retain water, and thin roots that absorb water faster and more efficiently.
Yellowwood and Stinkwood
The Garden Route is home to an array of stunning tree species that provide a canopy of green blocking out the sky. The stand out tree is the yellowwood, South Africa’s national tree, and the stinkwood, a tree sought after for its wood.
The yellowwood is known to grow to enormous heights of at least 30 metres, with the largest in South Africa found in Tsitsikamma along the Garden Route. Aptly named “The Big Tree”, this giant yellowwood scrapes the sky at 36 metres high with a trunk circumference of an impressive 9 metres. The beautiful tree is about 800 years old, and travellers flock to the Tsitsikamma side of the Garden Route National Park to see it. The yellowwood is an evergreen tree that grows sweet berries that are edible, and attract birds to it, which helps spread the seeds. Yellowwoods are common in South Africa and can be found in gardens.
The stinkwood tree is native to South Africa and is a protected tree species. Named stinkwood because of the distinct odour its wood produces when cut, the tree is known to make very beautiful furniture. The fine timber produced by the stinkwood makes it easy to work with and a very valuable wood. The stinkwood has become so popular in carpentry that conservationists were forced to step in and limit the use of stinkwood timber, as such stinkwood is no longer commercially available. The tree used to grow along the slopes of Table Mountain but has been wiped out by over exploitation by the timber industry and others who use the bark for traditional medicine. The tree was then replaced by invasive pine.
Where in the Garden Route can I see these plants?
The entire Garden Route is filled with these stunning plants. To view most of the flowers found in the fynbos biome, travellers can visit the Garden Route National Park, which consists of national parks in Tsitsikamma in the Eastern Cape, and Wilderness and Knysna in the Western Cape. To see The Big Tree and other yellowwood trees and fynbos, travellers will have to visit Tsitsikamma, near the Storm’s River Mouth, in the Eastern Cape. Proteas, Carrion Flowers, stinkwood trees, Lady’s Hand, Blue Disa and Erica can be found from the Eastern to the Western Cape. Hikes along the coast and further inland are available to travellers, both guided and unguided.
For nature lovers, the Garden Route of South Africa is a must-visit. The route is popular with locals and travellers alike, and allows for a picture-perfect adventure. Discover the beautiful flowers of the Garden Route for yourself!