Kirstenbosch : On the slopes of Table Mountain.

Climbing the iconic Table Mountain is not for the faint-hearted. More people die on Table Mountain than Mount Everest. Rocky cliffs, steep drops, puff adders, searing heat when the sun rises, yet there are many experienced guides to lead you safely up its 1088 metres. Formed over hundreds of millions of years, the Table Mountain National Park is the richest single floristic area on the planet.

On the slopes of Table Mountain

On the northern slopes of Table Mountain

1500 plant species are found on the mountain itself, including fynbos (Afrikaans meaning “fine bush”), scrubby vegetation consisting of proteas, restios, ericas and geophytes. South African flora features in so many of our gardens, perhaps unknowingly; geraniums and freesias, for instance, have their origins in fynbos.

Looking down at Cape Town from Table Mountain

Looking down at Cape Town from Table Mountain

On the eastern slopes of the Mountain lies one of Africa’s loveliest gardens, Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, and from here one can reach the summit of the Mountain up a ravine called Skeleton Gorge.

But before you do that, you will need several hours to visit this very beautiful garden, established to conserve and promote South Africa’s diverse indigenous flora. Of course we all expect displays of proteas – King proteas are SA’s national flower and feature on their cricket jerseys.

Leucospermum - Pincushion protea

Leucospermum – Pincushion protea

There are plenty of Strelitzias :

Strelitzia reginae at Kirstenbosch

Strelitzia reginae (Bird of Paradise flower) at Kirstenbosch

and Agapanthus :

South African flora

South African flora

But there are vast areas to be explored – I was fascinated by the display of traditional medicinal plants and their uses, for example, Melianthus major (a staple foliage plant for garden designers) is a traditional cure for snakebites and swelling, though poisonous in itself.

There is a wonderful Tree Fern Dell, their unfurling branches casting welcome shade :

The tree fern dell, Kirstenbosch

The tree fern dell, Kirstenbosch

Cycads, those wonderful structural plants dating from the Jurassic Age, have an amphitheatre of their own, the finest collection I have seen, some now extinct in the wild. Very sadly, last month 24 cycads were stolen from Kirstenbosch, including 22 critically endangered Encephalartos latifrons. I don’t think anyone who steals from the very organisation dedicated to their survival, can call themselves a plant lover. It highlights again the need to know the provenance of what we buy.

Cycads at Kirstenbosch

Cycads at Kirstenbosch

Recently a new aerial Walkway was constructed in the Arboretum, which swirls and snakes through the tree canopy, adding an interesting new perspective.

African Mahogany tree

African Mahogany tree

Kirstenbosch is more than just a beautiful garden; it is part of a Nature reserve, protecting the natural beauty of the mountainside, the forest, the flora, fauna and birdlife.

Proteas at Kirstenbosch

Proteas at Kirstenbosch

The natural setting of this beautiful Botanical Garden is second to none.

Useful sites :

Kirstenbosch NBG

Guides to Climbing Table Mt.

Cablecar to Table Mt.

Moving on :

On Friday I move further north to the Lake of Stars Festival on Lake Malawi, though there will be one or two more posts on South African gardens in due course. I may however be without internet for a week or two, so apologies for late responses to you.

Best wishes,  Lorna.


17 thoughts on “Kirstenbosch : On the slopes of Table Mountain.

  1. Wonderful post! It is interesting to see where our garden plants come from. Many of those we grow on the Gulf Coast. I was wondering about the rainfall in that botanical garden, it looks rather dry and we have generally subtropical rainfall here of about 49 inches annually.


    • SA has very varied climates & topography.
      The Western Cape area (where Kirstenbosch is situated) has Mediterranean type weather with mild, rainy winter conditions, so it’s pretty green at the moment, say compared to the eastern part of the country which gets summer rainfall. Fynbos thrives on the poorer soil.
      Up on the Highveld (Joburg) area there is no rainfall for many months in winter, (there has only been one Spring shower so far, the first rain in 5 months), and the temp sometimes drops below freezing. Aloes, Kniphofias etc do well here.
      Yet the dry desert conditions of Namaqualand are ablaze with colour at the moment with indigenous Namaqua daisies.
      One thing plants have learnt to do here is to adapt and thrive and each region has its own abundance.
      Really glad you enjoyed the post – I continue to be amazed at the wealth of the flora here.


  2. The shot of the fern trees were amazing. I felt like I went back in time to some prehistoric place. The veiw from Table mountain was breathe taking. Have a great vacation! I can’t wait to see the rest of your photos.


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