“A world in one country” the advertising slogan says, but there is a world of flowers we take for granted in our gardens which hail from South Africa.
Of course, we associate the wonderful proteas (the King protea is the national flower), fynbos and strelitzias with South Africa; but think gladioli, freesias, irises, pelargoniums and agapanthus …. nowhere else on Earth can you find so many plant species (over 22,000) in such a small area.
Look up Flora of South Africa on Wikipedia and you will find over 200 pages of listed plants.
In rural Africa, traditional medicinal practitioners make use of their vast knowledge of wild plants. Plants such as Sutherlandia, the Cancer Bush, is used in a variety of applications.
The roots of the wonderful Scabiosa, so attractive to bees and butterflies, are used to treat heartburn and indigestion.
Melianthus major, much loved by designers for its glaucous foliage, is known as “Kruid-roer-my-nie” (herb-touch-me-not), and is toxic if taken internally but the leaves have been used traditionally as a snakebite remedy, reducing inflammation, and applied directly to wounds and bruises.
One of the best places to start an exploration of South Africa’s flora is the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens in Cape Town, situated in a stunning location at the foot of table Mountain. It was established in 1913 to conserve and promote the indigenous flora of southern Africa and includes a Cycad amphitheatre, the cool snaking stone path of the Dell overhung with tree ferns and a Fynbos Walk.
South Africa encompasses a great variety of landscapes. There are eight major terrestrial biomes including the Karoo, fynbos (Afrikaans for fine bush, a mixture of heathers, proteas and restios), forest, savanna and desert, each with their own set of plant life.
Namaqualand in Spring has a vast dazzling display of daisies in an otherwise arid landscape.
For those of us not lucky enough to visit South Africa, next time you visit the nursery and pick up an agapanthus or tray of pelargoniums, just think, you are bringing home just a little bit of South African sunshine.
Remembering Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013)