At this time of year there’s quite the flower display along the West Coast. But what colour takes your fancy – pink, white, yellow, orange or blue?
Words and Pictures: Keri Harvey, www.keri-harvey.com
The weather forecast touts 22 degrees today, which means the spring flowers should show their happy faces to the sun. Temperatures need to be around 16 and up for the flowers to open, anything much below that and they stay wrapped up against the chill.
There’s a queue at the entrance to the West Coast National Park, even though it’s a Tuesday. The park is an easy 120km from Cape Town which makes for an effortless daytrip, but be warned that during the months of August and September, the West Coast National Park can be quite crowded over weekends, so bring along your patience – and a picnic – if you visit then.
The route to the Postberg section of the park skirts the turquoise Langebaan lagoon. It takes a while at 50km/hour and suspense builds with every kilometre. Then down an incline and around a corner, and there are the daisies, covering the hillsides in sweeps of orange, white and yellow. Now you know for sure you are in Postberg.
Standing ankle deep in fantastical fields of flowers are zebra, bontebok and hartebeest. In the distance are eland and ostriches like full stops along the ridge. The wildlife seems oblivious to the surrounding beauty but the humans are not.
Up the hillside, cars are pulled off the road and people are walking among the flowers in wonder. Some are wide-eyed, others wildly photographing in all directions. Yet all the panoramic photos stitched together for a 360-degree shot could never match a minute of real time, gazing over the flowers in all colours with your own eyes. We hear German and Japanese, see pale-faced Britons and spot many South Africans, who have also travelled far to marvel at the natural beauty of the springtime display.
Of course, the flowers are a wildcard each year – even each day – as their display is entirely weather dependent. Flushes are the result of timing, winter rainfall, and warm berg winds. But today is just perfect and the overall atmosphere is of appreciation for this vast natural theatre of colour.
“No way,” we hear from a South African, as he stops his vehicle and winds down the window. “This is so much more impressive than Kew,” says a British accent. “Mein Gott,” exclaims a Teutonic voice, and the Japanese exclamations are incomprehensible. We simply smile and enjoy the visitors enjoying the flowers. This is virtually our back garden, so the spectacular spring flower display is not new to us, albeit different every year.
Two weeks ago, when we looked out of the kitchen window in Paternoster the natural veld was green. Last week we awoke surrounded by white, as if it were snowing in sunshine. White rain daisies painted the earth around Paternoster, and are the first of the colours to appear in flower season. Today in the park, all the colours are open together, which would give any chameleon a migraine.
We backtrack for a picnic lunch at the Atlantic viewpoint in the park, a thin wedge of land between the lagoon and a cold ocean, home when a friend calls to give us bad news: there are no flowers in the West Coast National Park this year, he says. Amused, we ask in which direction he’s heading and if the sun is behind him, because if it isn’t he’ll be looking at the back of flowers and not their colourful front. It will appear as if the flowers have vanished from the landscape, when really they’re just keeping their faces to the sun. Problem solved and fears allayed; he saw flowers in multi-coloured millions after a U-turn.
But the West Coast National Park is not the only option in the area for flower hunters. If it’s too far, too busy or too ordinary, drive some of the back roads in the vicinity and seek out your personal floral carpet. You can even find your favourite colour of flowers if you have a rough guide to follow.
If your favourite colour is white, visit Paternoster, Jacobsbaai and Hopefield – and drive the R27 West Coast road near Langebaan. For pink flowers, follow the road from Vredenburg to Saldanha and keep an eye open on the left-hand side after the Saldanha/Jacobsbaai crossroads.
Orange daisies are often abundant along the roadside between Vredenburg and Velddrif, as well as on the R45 near Langebaanweg. Mixed colours of flowers are best in the West Coast National Park’s Postberg section, the Saldanha to Langebaan road, and the road between Velddrif and Hopefield. The R45 near Langebaanweg also has mixed flowers.
West Coast flower fundi and member of the West Coast Botanical Society, Hedwig Slabig, says the reason different areas yield different colours is because of different soils and flower types. While all the West Coast spring flowers – daisies, bulbs and herbs – enjoy sandy well-drained soils, there are still slight soil variations between areas, and the different plant types also respond differently to rainfall and weather patterns. Even daisies from the same genus show up differently each year, depending on the winter.
“There is a theory that the colours have to do with the amount of rainfall, and different colours react to a certain amount of rain.” She explains that around Paternoster, for example, the flower season starts with dirty white Cape camomile. When these die off, the pure white daisy (reënblommetjie or rain daisy) appears, and is followed by the purple hongerblom or senecio.
“Then there are vygies flowering all the way into November; first the variously coloured bokbaaivygies followed by vygies in pink and then yellow. In short, there is a progression of colour across different veld, and types of flowers, which bloom in turn and according to the amount of rainfall and sunshine.”
Hedwig adds that the Postberg in the West Coast National Park is so successful because it’s grazed by wildlife and they keep out the bush. The same applies in Namaqualand where sheep graze the bush and so give breathing space to the orange gouwsblomme.
For us, white rain daisies are the favourite, so we’re lucky they dance at our doorstep in Paternoster; all the other colours are just a few kilometres further and easy to find if we’re inclined to have a real daisy daze.
Colour Code your Flower Trip
- Suurvy (Carpobrotus edulis) – or sour fig is an easy-to-grow succulent with purple or yellow vygie-like flowers that appear above a dense groundcover. It can be seen growing on coastal and inland slopes in Namaqualand and throughout the Western Cape, all the way to the Eastern Cape.
- Elandsvy (Carpobrotus acinaciformis) – neon purple-pink or cherry coloured vygie that spreads quickly and easily in all areas. It is seen widely along the dunes from Mossel Bay, west around the peninsula and up the West Coast as far north as Saldanha.
- Gousblom (Arctotis hirsuta) – bright yellow, orange or cream daisy with a brown centre also known as the African daisy. The gousblom is found on sandy slopes and flats, often along the coast from the West Coast to the southern Cape.
- Bokbaaivygie (Dorotheanthus bellidiformis) – two of the six species of this daisy are found in Namaqualand. The shiny flowers of this vygie can be seen throughout the area in many colours – shades of white, pink, orange and yellow, to purple with a white centre
- White rain daisy (Dimorphotheca pluvialis) – classic white daisy with purple at the base of the flower, about 30cm in height. It prefers the sandy flats and slopes (and will also grow in clay) from Namibia to the southern Cape.
- Namaqualand Daisy (Dimorphotheca sinuata) – similar to the rëenblommetjie but with beige to orange petals. Found in their preferred sandy and gravelly habitat of Namaqualand and the coastal areas up to Namibia.
- Sporrie (Heliophila coronopifolia) – also known as wild flax – has a four-petalled, small, blue flower and is found in beautiful drifts, growing up to 60cm in height from right up the West Coast area throughout all of the Western Cape.
- Magriet (Ursinia anthemoides) – is a classic lemon-coloured daisy that makes a spectacular display. It is found in Namibia and from the Karoo eastwards to Port Elizabeth, but makes an especially spectacular display in Namaqualand around Niewoudtville.
- Soetuintjie (Moraea fugax) – or sweet onion looks like a blue wild iris and a member of the Cape tulip family. The soetuintjie is edible.
Flower Spotting beyond the West Coast
- Orange – Okiep and Nababeep
- Yellow – around Clanwilliam and Citrusdal
- Pink – Goegap Nature Reserve near Springbok – there are more than
600 different flowers here, along with 45 mammal and bird species.
- West Coast National Park 022 7722 144, www.sanparks.org/parks/west_coast
- Goegap Nature Reserve 027 7189 906, www.springbokinfo.co.za
- West Coast Tourism www.capewestcoast.org
- Northern Cape Tourism www.northerncape.org.za