Google+ Rurousha 流浪者: South Africa, kingdom of flowers

Sunday, 24 February 2013

South Africa, kingdom of flowers

The mountains of the Western Cape seem to be nothing but blue granite rocks; the veldt appears to consist of uniform grey-green shrubs. That's if you look at it from a distance, but move closer. No, that's not close enough. Squat down, on your knees, and look carefully. See them? Thousands and thousands and thousands of tiny, delicate, unique flowers. Aren't they gorgeous?

Aristea dichotoma. Click on the photos to see bigger versions.

Orphium frutescens. Look at the cute spider!

Ruellia. This genus is closely related to the petunia.

You're looking at fynbos, the natural heathland vegetation that occurs in the Western Cape, mainly in the winter rainfall coastal areas with a Mediterranean climate. The area is famous for its exceptional biodiversity.

As a matter of fact, it's also known as the Cape Floral Kingdom, and has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site. Unesco described the 553 000-hectare Cape Floral Kingdom as "one of the richest areas for plants in the world. It represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa, but is home to nearly 20% of the continent's flora. Its plant diversity, density and endemism are among the highest worldwide, and it has been identified as one of the world's eighteen biodiversity hot spots."

It gets better. Let's zoom in and focus on the Kogelberg biosphere, one of the regions within the Cape Floral Kingdom, where I spent my two-week holiday. Kleinmond, where my family lives, is one of four coastal towns that are situated in the Kogelberg area.

If you look at this map, it's indicated by number 2.

Credit: Wikipedia

It's a narrow coastal plain that's squeezed between the ocean and sandstone mountains that were created 300 million years ago. They're home to more than 1880 species of plants, including 77 species within the Kogelberg area that occur nowhere else on earth.

To put things into perspective:
  • This is the most complex biodiversity spot on our planet. The second richest is the South American rainforest.
  •  The entire United Kingdom has only 22 endemic species.

So I'm justified in saying it's just a tiny bit very special, this place at the southern tip of Africa.

Most of the flowers are small – so small that you need a macro lens to capture their beauty – but others are big and colourful enough to turn the veldt into a cheerful quilt. Different species flower in different seasons, which means you can enjoy them throughout the year. I'm not a fynbos expert at all, but fortunately my sister Thea and my niece Magriet are both boffins. After I'd taken hundreds of photos, they sat with me (and the Field Guide to Fynbos) or emailed me and identified them all. I told them about my fellow bloggers in Nara as well as Minoru-sensei, who all love flowers.

The protea is arguably the most famous flower of the Western Cape.


I took most of my photos in the mountains behind Kleinmond and in the Harold Porter Botanical Garden. They're not very good; neither the camera nor the camerawoman was up to the task!

I went on several walks, but let me tell you about the first one with Thea. She's done every hiking trail in South Africa, climbed mountains all over Africa and completed the Inca Trail in South America, so I should've known what I was letting myself in for when she said, "I'm going for a walk tomorrow morning at six. Do you want to come along? Just remember it's my daily exercise."

No worries, I thought, I walk a lot myself. No problem.

Ha bloody ha.

It was still dark when Thea, Kibo and Kleinsus (youngest sister) set out. Thea maintained a brisk but easy-to-follow pace on the level ground. When we reached the foot of the hill …

She calls it a hill. I call it a mountain. What do you think?

Sunrise over Kleinmond and Walker Bay

When we reached the large heap behind Kleinmond, she slammed her engine into first gear and took off, leaving me coughing in her dust. I observed her ascent with growing alarm. "Heck, no, this won't do. It's a matter of honour. I'm ten years younger* than she is!"

I gritted my teeth, grabbed my camera and galloped after her. Halfway up the slope my knees were tofu. Not abura-age (firm tofu), but kinugoshi (silken tofu). Fortunately, at that exact moment, Japan's seven lucky gods took mercy upon my soul and showed me a particularly pretty fynbos that I absolutely had to photograph.

That took about five minutes, so I could catch my breath.

After that I managed to spot another fynbos every ten meters.

Finally I staggered onto the crest, where Thea was waiting, smiling serenely like a Buddha on a mountain top. "I'm sorry," I puffed, "but there are so many flowers and I really want to take pictures for everybody in Japan and … Gaaa! Look at that view! How did I get up here?"

"There are more flowers on that side," Thea said, pointing downwards.

I gazed at the abyss, and the abyss gazed back. Uh-oh. Experienced hikers will know that while it's more tiring to walk uphill, it's downhill that really tests your thigh muscles, which have to act as your brakes.

There she goes, always way ahead of me, drat!

Suffice it to say that downhill I discovered new fynbos species that haven't even been documented yet, and therefore required meticulous attention and painstaking photography.

This was the downhill bit. That's my shadow.

I also wanted to tell you about veldt fires in the Western Cape, but I'll save that for later. I end this post with lots of photos for the flower enthusiasts. Thea identified the flowers for me, so you can rest assured that everything's correct.

Dankie, Thea, vir die stap en die kennis!

* I'm a so-called "laatlammetjie" or late-born lamb, in other words, a child that follows several years after its siblings. My sisters are ten and eight years older than I am. I was my parents' third attempt at a boy, but it sort of flopped and turned into just a tomboy.

Sewejaartjies (Afrikaans), everlasting (English), Phaenocoma prolifera (Latin)

Leucospermum or pincushion. This is a miniature version that's barely as big
as a finger nail.

Vaalstompie (Brunia laevis)

Baardprotea or bearded protea

Aulux cancellata (male plant)

Aulux cancellata (female plant)

Klaas Louw or klouterbos (genus Athanasia)

Perdekapok (Lanaria lanata)

Tiny sewejaartjie. It's really, really tiny. Latin name: Lachnospermum umbellatum.

Sewejaartjie. This specific type is called a strooiblommetjie or little straw flower.
Latin name: Edmondia sesamoides.

Wawielspinnekop or garden orb web spider

Harold Porter Botanical Garden, with mountains on this side and ...

... the sea on this side.

Veertjie or little feather (Phylica pubescens)

Fan aloe (Aloe plicatilis)

Klipblom or stone flower (Crassula coccinea)

Plakkie or pig ear (Cotyledon orbiculata)

Mountain with rooiheide or red heath (Erica cruenta)


It's called a coffee bush because it smells like coffee! It belongs to the genus Brunia.

Nivenia stokoei

Leonotis leonurus

Cape sugarbird

The view from the restaurant in the Harold Porter Garden, and ...

... the view towards the sea.

Kibo the snake catcher drinking water, using a rock as his bowl.

I wish my sister had read this sign!
Lots of big tortoises in the veldt, hence that sign.


  1. Hi! I was surprised when I saw a various kind of Proteas when I was in South Africa.
    A protea is your bational flower!
    They were very big and very beautiful. There are various kind of pin-cushion flowers in your country.
    Your yellow miniature version pin-cushion flower is very beautiful too.

    1. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of protea species. The massive king protea is our national flower. It's HUGE.

      The miniature pincushion is about 1 cm in diameter. ^^

  2. They are really beautiful, colorful and unique. I didn't know most of them.
    Thanks for sharing. :)

    1. They really ARE very special, but it's easy to miss them. Kibo the dog is the correct height for flower-viewing. ^^

  3. Oh wow. Wow. Just wow.


    My camera finger is itching now!


    1. NOW I understand why my niece (an avid photographer who also lives in Kleinmond) was asking me about the prices of macro lenses at Yodobashi Camera. I don't have one, but that's what you need in this world. Gorgeous, indeed.

  4. So many lovely flowers to see.

    Just one spider though?

    p.s. love that tortoise (that's a tortoise, right?) sign. :)

    1. Two spiders! The big yellow one and the little white one on the pink flower.

      That's a tortoise. We call it a "bergskilpad" or mountain tortoise in Afrikaans, but its official English name is leopard tortoise.

    2. This post focus on flowers, Lina. Spider is bonus >,<

    3. I've got photos of a big rain spider that shared my bedroom with me. :D They're big but harmless. We call it a rain spider in SA, but its "international" name is huntsman spider.

  5. Does Thea do Ultra races? ;)

    1. No, not officially, but she'd romp up&down Fuji-san in 4 hours, and that's from the foot of the mountain, not from Fujinomiya 5th Station.

    2. My parents produced three awesome daughters, each one better than the previous one. :p

  6. Flower post! I've never seen such varieties of flower in my area here. Or maybe I didn't notice the surrounding :(

    I'm too busy and I should slow down to enjoy life.

    1. I think I can safely say Kogelberg has a bigger variety of flowers than any other area, including the tropics! Amazing, isn't it? ^^

      Have you been to busy celebrating two weeks of Chinese New Year, or have you been working, or are those two little angels/devils of yours keeping you so busy?

  7. Aulux cancellata, male and female? You know how to identify them? Kak lekker!

    p/s: Now only I realised the meaning for lekker kak is the opposite of kak lekker :D

    1. I couldn't identify them; my sister did. I didn't even notice the plant had two different shapes of flowers until she pointed it out.

      Yes, opposite meaning! You're developing a lekker grip on this "kitchen Dutch". That was a derogatory term for the brand-new language that was developing amongst common folk in South Africa in the 17th and 18th century. The educated elite spoke Dutch or English; the rest of us plebs spoke Afrikaans. ^^

  8. I love your tofu analogy. Had me laughing out loud.
    Vaalstompie looks like some bacteria under microscope but beautiful though ;)

    1. My knees felt like tofu and my legs like broken chopsticks! :D

      "Vaalstompie" means something like "pale grey stub". A very short person can also be called a "stompie" and a dog with a very short tail has a "stomp" tail. ;)

  9. I enjoyed the varieties of SA flora. I especially like the sky-dyed blue flowers under such impressive blue sky of SA.

    Kansai was so cold today, too! The most powerful and intensive cold wave seems to have enveloped Japan. If only it’s sunny, I usually go out regardless of low temperature. But you must take care as the temperature difference won’t shock your body. Stay warm.


    1. I wish I could show you the full variety of flowers, but we'd need an encyclopaedia for that.

      I'm slowly but surely getting used to the time difference as well as the temperature difference, but ... I hope spring arrives very soon!

  10. Those hills - definitely mountains! Nice pics as always.

    1. Ja, I agree, it's a mountain! A huge big scary mountain, and I ran over it! :D

  11. What an eye opener to see so many exotic and lovely flowers over there! They are so different from what I saw in Japan or Malaysia. Even your tortoise is cute! The shells looked hunched like a house!

  12. I remember the fan aloe from my trip to Helsinki botanical garden. I wonder if I should visit it now to see flowers in the SA room...

    That coffee bush looks just like a young spruce but with flowers! :D I love the smell of coffee but I rarely drink it. Maybe I just need that bush? Mm, bonsai coffee bush...

    1. Bonsai coffee bush?! :D

      I used to drink a lot of coffee, but I've actually cut back. I tell myself now that summer is approaching, I need to focus on the healthy stuff again - green tea and mugicha. I love mugicha!

  13. "I was my parents' third attempt at a boy, but it sort of flopped and turned into just a tomboy." Haha!
    I'm a laatlammetjie as well. Sister is 8 years older and my brother is 6 years. My parents wanted a girl but I also hit the halfway mark at tomboy. Maybe it's a third child thing.


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