Wild Flowers

Spring is a magical time of the year along the WEST COAST when the area is ablaze with an endless kaleidoscope of wild flowers. The sandy littoral along the West Coast supports a distinctive type of fynbos shrub land punctuated by frequent clumps of stiff restios or Cape reeds.  In spring, the spaces between are awash with colourful annuals.  Inland the clay soils are cloaked in dark-leaved Renosterbush shrubs.  Home to a wondrous array of exquisite bulbs, these shrub lands and their botanical treasures have all but disappeared under the plough. Between July and October each year, the sun-baked plains and the sandstone mountains metamorphose into a kaleidoscope of brilliant colour as the veld gives rise to the world renowned wild flowers.  The roadsides and wetlands are filled with the last patches of Arum Lilies and white Rain Daisies herald the arrival of spring, jostling with tiny yellow Button Daisies, Blue Flax and pink Nemesias.  Look out for the daintier, sometimes hidden Winecups, Sparaxis, Lachenalia and Babiana flowers.  Good rains will ensure that the carpets of flowers last well into October and multi-coloured Vygies, Watsonias and fields of orange and yellow ‘Stinkkruid’ will await you too. When calculating travel time for certain distances, don’t forget to add in your viewing hours.  As you drive, ask the locals how long it takes to the next stop.  Keep extra refreshments with you, especially further north where towns are further apart.  When viewing the flowers on foot, stand with the sun behind your back.  Respect the flower paradise: walk with care and don’t trample plants unnecessarily.  Please don’t pick any buds, bulbs or specimens, or disturb any sensitive dune areas. Certain flowers don’t open when it’s overcast.

LANGEBAAN is in the Cape Floral Kingdom, a coastal fynbos region.  The beauty of the Cape West Coast Peninsula, also known as Postberg Nature Reserve during flower season is like nothing you have experienced before.  The Langebaan Lagoon is partly inside the West Coast National Park, and is a wetland of international importance.  The cold Benguela current that flows up the West Coast brings nutrient-rich water from the Antarctic.  The scrubland surrounding Langebaan and its beautiful lagoon is a prime example of Strandveld fynbos.  The visitor can enjoy an all year-round spectacular display of floral splendor, including Blombos, Skilpadbessie, Strandroos/Sea Lavender, Kapokbos/Wild Rosemary, Sporri..

Felicia elongate is a West Coast daisy. This perennial, spring-flowering daisy is very striking with large white petals, marked with a deep maroon ring around the yellow center.  It only grows on the limestone ridges surrounding Langebaan Lagoon, our property is on one of these ridges, Postberg and further towards Saldanha and Paternoster. I have photographed a yellow daisy.  A beautiful mauve variety was found close to Club Mykonos, but sadly that piece of land has been developed for holiday homes.

The natural phenomenon draws thousands of visitors from around the world in August and September each year.  The most remarkable displays are found at Postberg in the West Coast National Park, where 80 species of flowering plants, found nowhere else in the world, are endemic to the region. One of the summer-flowering west coast plants is the Kukumakranka with its highly aromatic fleshy fruit is used for making Kukumakranka brandy, which is one of the early Cape remedies for colic and indigestion.  The edible fruit is also used to perfume rooms and linen.  Yellow and pink Hongerblom, white Rain Daisies, pink wild Cinerarias, orange Gousblom, yellow Nemesia, blue Flax, white and red Aandblommetjies, brown Wildesalie, large orange or white Stars, Waterblommetjies in small dams, cream Roemenaggie, purple Skilpadblom and rare orange Spiloxene – the list is endless. Families include Cabbage, Daisy, Stargrass, Iris, Mesemb, Statice, Oxalis, Amaryllis, Hyacinth and Snapdragon.

Langebaan Lagoon is one of the most developed salt marshes in South Africa and is up to three times more salty than sea water.  The wetland section is acknowledged as being one of the most biologically productive in the world.

The Cape West Coast Peninsula Rainbow Flower Celebration from July to September includes the towns of Langebaan, Hopefield, Saldanha, Vredenburg, St HelenaBay, Paternoster, JacobsBay and BritanniaBay.

Visit the wild flower shows in Clanwilliam, Darling and Hopefield where more than 200 wild flower and plant species are displayed as found in the Cederberg, Renosterveld, Sandveld, Swartland, Rietveld and Wetland areas.

It is said that the greatest variety of wild flowers in a single district in the world appear in the area around Clanwilliam; their annual Wild Flower Show lasts for 10 days and is presented by the Clanwilliam Wild Flower Association in the Old Dutch Reformed Church, which has become known as the “flower church”, generally starting at the end of August and ending in the first week of September.  Wind and water have weathered the orange-tinted sandstones and quartzites of the Western Cederberg mountains into sharp-edged, sculptural formations that imbue the mountains with an almost mystical aura.  Well-watered in winter and often blanketed with snow, this harsh landscape swelters through long summers, relieved by little or no rain.  With the coming of spring, however, the valleys and slopes run with rivers of colourful flowers.  Families include Oxalis, Geranium, Cabbage, Iris, Aloe, Daisy, Heath and Protea.

Maps of the coastal and inland flower routes are available from any of the local tourism information offices.  Information regarding flower routes cannot be accessed ahead of time as the profusion of flowers is dependent on good rains. Predictions about the season can only be made from July.  The best times for flowers are generally August and September.  Enquire about guided tours.  Remember that flowers need to be viewed with the sun behind you and preferably between 10:30 and 15:30 when the sun is at its warmest.  On days that are rainy or misty most of the flowers remain closed.

HOPEFIELD FYNBOS SHOW

The Hopefield Fynbos Show is unique in displaying only the flowers of the district and particularly the veld as it appears in its natural state in springtime.  Dry reeds, burnt bushes, the result of veld fires – and even dry flowers of the previous season are displayed.  It is generally held over four days at the end of August and a small entrance fee is payable.  A Fynbos Park, opposite the sports grounds is being developed and provides a natural veld flower garden where the nature lover can wander around at leisure. The tarred road between Hopefield and Velddrif provides the visitor with spectacular displays of wild flowers among the fynbos. Tractor and wagon rides into the veld are available at an additional cost.

The district can be roughly divided into four vegetation zones – Sandveld, Swartland, reed veld and fens.  The exhibition in the hall tries to present the appearance and composition of these areas.  Although there is some similarity, there is a marked diversity in the combination of species.

The occurrence of four botanical zones results chiefly from the different types of soil, and to a lesser degree from rainfall and topography.

  1. The Sandveld soil consists of a deep layer of fine sand deposited on a substratum of chalky rocks.  The plant nutriment content is low and the soil mainly alkaline.
  2. The Swartland soil was formed from the Malmesbury shale and is therefore of a finer texture and more fertile.
  3. The soil of the reed veld is also sandy, but lies on a substratum of clay.  The plant nutriment status is low and the soil is inclined to be acid.
  4. The vleis [fens] are formed by the alluvial soil deposited at the flood level of the lower BergRiver region.  This soil consists of heavy clay and is fertile except in the brackish areas.

The exhibition is prepared with great care.  People are trained in the correct method of removing plants and picking flowers so that their natural habitat is disturbed as little as possible with minimal damage to the environment.  Preservation of the natural habitat is the first priority and with this in mind the emphasis at this show does not merely fall on flowers but on the veld in its ecological entirety.

Since time immemorial man has used wild plants – especially aromatic ones, generally known as herbs – as remedies to alleviate pain and suffering and to cure ailments.  This is also true of aromatic plants of the Hopefield area.  Some of the most important ailments treated by these remedies are shown below.  Please note: This information has not been scientifically verified and has been gleaned from experience, stories and lore.  You are therefore warned not to try and heal yourself by depending on this information; it could lead to disastrous results.  First consult the correct medical sources.

  • Wild Rosemary/Kapok bush was used to encourage the flow of urine or perspiration and was regarded as an excellent cure for heart failure.  It is also a very good tonic that strengthens the stomach and nerves.  It cures many forms of headache and it is believed that it can counter loss of memory.  Honey and/or lemon can be added to improve the flavour.  The fluff of the seeds was also used to stuff pillows.
  • Tea Bush/Dune Bush/Hunger Tea were used as a remedy for indigestion. According to folklore the Khoisan used it to alleviate hunger pangs.
  • Stinkweed was used to induce sweating and as a cure for pneumonia and also as a tonic. Inhaling the aroma of the bruised leaves helps to clear the nasal passages.
  • Wild Chamomile is an excellent remedy for convulsions and especially colic.  It is a sedative and a remedy for insomnia.  Blondes also use it as a hair rinse!
  • Catnip is used for nervous headaches, indigestion, colds and sore throat.  Some use it as an antidote for snake bites.
  • Wild Dagga was used for high blood pressure and as a purgative.  It was commonly used as a cure for bronchial asthma, headaches and coughs.  It can also be added to the bath water to treat itchy skin and certain forms of eczema.
  • Cancer Bush/Jantjie Berend refer back to the time when it was used as a cure for external cancerous growths, stomach ailments, influenza, chicken-pox and diabetes, piles and varicose veins. Put into bathwater it reduces fever and pains resulting from influenza.  It has a refreshing and relaxing effect.  Sangomas hold the medicinal properties of this plant in high regard.
  • Blue Salvia is one of the earliest and oldest plants of the Cape that was used as medicine.  The Khoisan applied leaf extracts against coughs, colds and women’s ailments.
  • Red Salvia was used to solve digestive problems, to improve the appetite and for depression.  It also heals throat and mouth sores.  The leaves smell like lemon pepper and can be used to flavour food – especially fish dishes.
  • Buchu has many species, all with similar uses and characteristics. Fishermen used it to remove the smell of fish from their hands and nets.  A cupful of fresh leaves and flowers boiled in a litre of water may be added to the water for a refreshing bath. The Khoisan pulverized the dried plants and mixed the powder with the lard of their fat-tailed sheep to make a perfume.
  • Touch-me-not/Turkey bush is poisonous; but was used externally as a remedy for backache and rheumatism.

TIETIESBAAI is located in the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve.  This is an unspoiled wilderness area.

ELANDSFONTEIN PRIVATE NATURE RESERVE is a 6000 hectare private reserve of raw nature with huge vistas.  It showcases a rich and diverse display of indigenous flora and fauna as well as fossil deposits.  Visitors can go for a three-hour nature drive, walks or visits to the fossil sites.

CLANWILLIAM RAMSKOP NATURE RESERVE in the Cederberg Wilderness area, south east of Clanwilliam.  This remote pristine area with its breathtaking natural beauty includes a variety of fynbos and offers the visitor a unique wilderness experience.  Look out for the Clanwilliam Cedar trees unique to the area. The wild flower garden contains a variety of more than 350 species of cultivated wild flowers.  The walks on the laid out paths through the garden offer a beautiful view over the Clanwilliam Dam and the Cederberg mountains. Various endangered endemic fynbos species can be found in the area.  The most notable of these are the Clanwilliam Cedar and the Snow Protea, which grow exclusively in isolated sites in the Cederberg Wilderness Area.  The Snow Protea is about 140mm in diameter and grows mainly in small belts of about 25km at an altitude of 1800 metres in the Cederberg Mountains.  During the winter the plants are covered by snow for weeks.

SOMERSET WEST HELDERBERG NATURE RESERVE on the slopes of the beautiful Helderberg Mountain overlooking False Bay contains a wide variety of smaller fauna and outstanding specimens of indigenous flora such as proteas and fynbos.

DARLING is known as the Flower of the West Coast.  The little village lies tucked away between hills of vineyards and golden wheat.  It is famous for its wild flowers.  The history of the Groenekloof area, in which Darling is situated, goes back to 1682.  Travellers from the earliest years were overwhelmed by the rich tapestry of flowers that cover the fields surrounding Darling in spring each year. The town’s wild flower splendor is undoubtedly its biggest attraction.  A wide range of bulbous plants and other annuals make up its floral wealth.  For the largest part of the year the veld is dominated by a few perennial shrubs but in spring, more than 1200 species of flowering plants emerge.  This astonishing variety makes the region unique.  Lovers of wild flowers can also visit private flower reserves, including Groenekloof Renosterveld Reserve, Waylands Flower Reserve and the charming Tienie Versveld Wild Flower Reserve, valued for its bulbous plants.  The biggest orchid nursery in South Africa is found on the farm Oudepost.  Here millions of exotic blooms are grown for both the domestic and export markets. Darling is in the renosterveld region of the Swartland.  Renosterveld is mostly found in the rich clay soils of the Western and Eastern Cape and is often confused with fynbos, which grows in poorer soil.  There are many water collection points causing marshy conditions known as renosterveld “vlei”.  Here one typically finds Arums, Sundew, pink and mauve Watsonia, Chincherinchee and Rice flower.

OVERBERG, the narrow belt of gently undulating farmlands that rolls out from the coastal mountains, was once rich in beautiful bulbs of many kinds.  Intensive cultivation of its fine-grained, moderately fertile clay soils has reduced the indigenous Renoster shrub lands to isolated fragments in which many local species eke out a precarious existence. Protea, Iris and Hyacinth are found here.

AGULHAS PLAIN with its neutral or alkaline sands and limestone outcrops of the southern Cape coastal plain supports a unique assemblage of fynbos communities adapted to their porous soils.  This expanse of relatively basic soils poses great challenges to colonizing plants adapted to adjacent acidic sands, stimulating many to evolve into novel forms that are found only here.  Families include Daisy, Citrus, Sundew, Orchid, Balanophora, Iris and Heath.

BOLAND Mountains of the southwestern Cape are the heart of the Cape Floral Region.  The fynbos vegetation that clothes them is uniquely adapted to survive on the acidic, nutrient-poor sandstone soils that form their rocky slopes.  The cool summits, buffered against climatic vicissitudes, harbour several relic plant lineages that have been driven to extinction elsewhere by increasing aridity. Families include Daisy, Protea, Penaea, Amaryllis, Heath, Iris, Aloe, Bloodroot, Stonecrop, Roridula, Stilbe, Brunia and Restios.

CAPE PENINSULA juts 50km into the turbulent seas at the southern tip of Africa. The fairest cape in the world is a showcase for the treasures of the fynbos.  Almost 2300 plant species thrive on the slopes of Table Mountain and the lowlands at its feet, and more than 150 of them are endemic to the peninsula, making it one of the most diverse areas for its size in the world.  Families include Protea, Orchid, Pea, Ranunculus, Daisy, Geranium, Amaryllis, Bellflower, Gentian and Heath.

SOUTH AFRICA has more species of plants in one square kilometre than in the whole of England.  When the wild flowers bloom it is breathtakingly beautiful.  For flower lovers worldwide this is a journey that must be experienced.  The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of the oldest plant kingdoms in the world with some species dating back 60 million years.   70% of the 9600 plant species found in the Cape Floral Kingdom are endemic, i.e. found nowhere else in the world.   South Africa’s bulb and succulent plant wealth surpasses that of any region on earth.  Almost half of the world’s bulb species originate from the winder rainfall Cape region.  It is said that more money is made on the world market selling flowers of South African origin than the total value of the country’s annual gold production.  Europe’s total floral species number 10 000 where the much smaller South African region hosts about 23 000 species.  The Cape Floral Kingdom has been singled out from 25 world ecological hot-spot areas as being of “irreplaceable value”.  The Western Cape’s annuals, which burst into spectacular bloom in the spring months, escape the dry conditions by “hiding” in their seed stage during the long summer months and germinating only when conditions are favorable in autumn.  The winter rainfall Cape flora consists mainly of fynbos and succulent Karoo species.

SUGGESTED WEST COAST ROUTES can be changed to suit your itinerary or combined for a week-long trip or longer:

  • Langebaan – West Coast National Park – Yzerfontein – Darling – R45 Hopefield – Velddrif – Rocher Pan Nature Reserve – Aurora – Redelinghuys – Piketberg – Citrusdal.
  • Langebaan and make your way to Clanwilliam – Lamberts Bay – Doringbaai – Strandfontein – Papendorp –Ebenhaezer – Lutzville – Vredendal – Klawer – Vanrhynsdorp.
  • Langebaan – Vredenburg – St Helena Bay – Paternoster – Cape Columbine Nature Reserve – Saldanha and SAS Saldanha Nature Reserve – West Coast National Park – Postberg – Yzerfontein – Darling – Rondeberg Nature Reserve.

Extracted from:

  • pamphlets on Hopefield Fynbos Show,
  • Wild Flowers of South Africa – Colin Paterson-Jones, John Manning.
  • Wild Flowers of South Africa and Namaqualand Floral World Heritage Site, Sandra Hansen.