Botanical gardens have been at the forefront of human understanding and knowledge of our natural environment for hundreds of years and have enabled both experts and laymen the opportunity to learn about the fauna and flora that surrounds them. South Africa is ranked 6th out of the world’s 17 megadiverse countries as so many of the species found here are endemic to the region. The country includes desert (Kalahari region), semi-desert (Karoo), savannah and open bushveld (Kwazulu Natal, Highveld and Free State), forest (Tsitsikamma), shrubland (Cape), and tropical (Eastern coast) habitats across its borders. These varied habitats allow for great biodiversity in animal, bird, reptile, insect and plant species. Here are some of our top recommendations for visits to botanical gardens in South Africa.
The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden – Johannesburg
With varying habitats from cliff face, grassland and water to woodland and bushveld, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden offers the visitor a true variety of natural African habitats. Formed in 1982, the site has been a popular park with visitors for many decades owing to the natural beauty of the area. One of the biggest highlights is the designated bird zones that provide a safe haven for different species away from human interaction, allowing them to safely feed, nest and breed in a safe environment. An additional highlight is the pair of Verreaux’s Eagles that nest in the Roodekranz ridge and can often be seen in the area.
Plant species vary according to season and one of the best loved is the Bush Lily (Clivia miniata) that delights visitors with its bright orange blooms. Spring is particularly popular as various wild plants display their colourful flowers with the Blood Lily (Scadoxus puniceus) being a firm favourite owing to its big head of bright red flowers.
The park is its best in later Summer when the flowering shrubs come into bloom with the brick red Pride-of-the-Kaap and mauve blue Wild Phlox flowering for weeks. Along with the Arum Lilies, Scarlet River Lilies, Wild Banana and common Sugar Bushes, the Garden promises to delight.
The Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden is easily accessible by car and is located just outside South-West Johannesburg. The Garden has a restaurant, gift shop and nursery which sells indigenous South African plants. It has been recognized as one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world.
Durban Botanical Garden
For over 450 years this garden has provided a safe haven for conservation and preservation of both local and exotic plant species and remains the oldest surviving botanical garden on the African continent. Prominent collections include cycads, orchids, bromeliads and palms, and a collection of over 80 heritage trees which in some instances exceed over a 100 years in age.
With many educational programmes, themed walks and historical memorials set up throughout the gardens, it has become a firm favourite with locals and foreign tourists alike. There are also a number of ‘green’ initiatives like the permaculture garden and living beehive that assist in educating about the future of biodiversity. The garden can easily be included in trips to Durban where a half a day should be set aside to fully enjoy the beauty and activities provided.
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden
Located a couple hours drive from Cape Town in the town of Worcester in the arid-desert region called the Karoo, this botanical garden focuses on the succulents and plants of arid regions that have adapted to harsh, dry conditions for survival.
Many mammals, reptiles, insects and birds make this habitat their home including Small grey mongoose, Caracal, Cape porcupine, a variety of tortoises and birds that include Gymnogene, Klaas Cuckoo and the Cape Francolin. There is also a large focus on the smaller pollinator species such as butterflies and sunbirds that enable the region to offer the fantastic flower display every year.
The garden is best visited in Spring when the succulents and wildflower species burst into bloom and can easily be combined with a trip to see the Namaqualand Flowers over the same time.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Nestled against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, South Africa’s most famous botanical garden offers a truly wonderful opportunity to get into the natural environment combined with grand views of the towering mountains. Established in 1913, it was the first botanical garden in the world to be dedicated to a country’s indigenous flora and is perhaps most well known for its magnificent Protea displays & indigenous Fynbos. The Gardens and the adjacent Table Mountain National Park were together proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 2004 owing to the preservation of the Cape Floristic Region that supports one of the most numerous and varied species habitats in the world.
There are a number of historic places of interest within the Gardens along with various walks and interesting activities to explore. Named after the bright green venomous snake, the ‘Boomslang’ was recently installed to allow visitors to enjoy the elevated tree canopy by walking on a raised walkway where various bird species and spectacular views can be enjoyed. In the summer months there are open air music concerts that feature mostly South African artists giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy picnics and music in the breathtaking surroundings.
Kirstenbosch can easily be included in your visit to Cape Town and is often combined with the Peninsula Tour. For avid flora enthusiasts, a full day is required to enjoy the various habitat sections, conservatory, visitor centre and walks.
Blog Author: Sabine Hanger