Botanical tours worldwide, with special mention of the Cape region
The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest of the planet’s six floral kingdoms and yet contains more plant species than any of the other five! Remarkably, it’s even more species-rich (per unit area) than the Amazon basin! Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain alone boasts more than 1,500 plant species, more than the whole of Britain. This tiny floral kingdom boasts more than 9,000 plant species, almost 70% of which are endemic! A lot of these plants are part of the famed fynbos, an Afrikaans/Dutch name referring to the fine leaves of the macchia-type vegetation here. Renosterveld, Sandveld, and patches of temperate forest are also contained within the Cape Floral Kingdom (in addition to fynbos).
The greatest number of fynbos flower species bloom in the southern winter, especially late winter, July and August. This is because rain falls here almost exclusively in winter. Because of the late-winter blooming of the majority of the flowers here nectar-feeding birds endemic to the fynbos biome, such as the dazzlingly-colorful Orange-breasted Sunbird and the extravagantly long-tailed Cape Sugarbird, in turn also breed in winter when their food is most abundant (see here for an intriguing read about nectar-feeding birds).
It’s important to note that there are a lot of blooming flowers in the Cape Town area year-round, even though July and August have the most species flowering. For example, some of the iconic Protea and well-known Erica (which are basically heath or heather species, but some of the ones in South Africa with far more spectacular blooms than the famous ones in Britain, for example) are always in flower, every month of the year. Some of the truly spectacular ground-orchid species such as the large-flowered Red Disa (which occurs in the gorges of Table Mountain), flower in late summer, peaking in January. Blue Disa is another brilliant one to see.
Moving away from the fynbos, the semi-desert of Namaqualand, which stretches along the coast north of Cape Town toward the Namibian border, where it basically merges into the Namib Desert as it becomes even more arid, has the most spectacular displays of brightly-colored flowers on earth. Vast carpets of orange, white, purple, and every color of the rainbow cover the arid landscape after good rains. August is usually the peak month for these truly impressive, breathtaking floral carpets. But September can also be very good, more rarely October, November or December: it all depends on the (unpredictable) rain. Our Cape, Namaqualand and Kalahari tour is timed specifically to try to catch up with the spectacular Namaqualand floral carpets as well as being timed at a pleasantly cooler season for enjoying the birds and mammals of this region (especially the Kalahari area including the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park which gets very hot in the summer). This is one of our best trips for endemic plants plus endemic birds as well as some of Africa’s famous mammals: megafauna, Meerkat/Suricate, Aardvark, etc.
In terms of timing for a botanical (or birding) tour to the Cape Floral Kingdom or Namaqualand please do find more details at The best time to visit South Africa.
We’ve been focusing quite a lot on the Cape area of South Africa, as this is the world’s richest place for plants with its staggering diversity, not to mention being the location of the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden on the beautiful eastern slopes of Table Mountain. But we can also arrange custom botanical tours elsewhere. The Drakensberg, “bushveld” and “grassveld” of eastern South Africa also boast rich assemblages of plants, and we have guides available for bespoke tours when we’re asked (please e-mail us at [email protected] if you’re interested).
It’s also important to note that we enjoy “fynbos-like” (also known as “Mediterranean-type”) vegetation in some other parts of the world, not just in the Cape. For example, when we look for the endemic birds of south-western Australia (kindly see Australia: the Southwest) we also enjoy looking at plants there that are in the Protea family (the most famous family of South Africa’s fynbos). Sometimes the southwestern Australian vegetation looks uncannily similar to the Cape Floral Kingdom/fynbos.
Please do join us as we scour through rare succulents and proteas across South Africa’s Western and Northern Cape Provinces, the Drakensberg Escarpment, the Afro-montane forests throughout eastern Africa, or worldwide (in terms of tailor-made trips). Several of us on the Birding Ecotours team have studied botany (some at the University of Cape Town, which focuses on the richest plant kingdom) and are here to introduce you to the planet’s plants.
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