So, we’re now into November. Flower season is “officially” over. The tourists have deserted Namaqualand and the Postberg section of the West Coast National Park has shut its gates after two months of spectacular flower viewing.
It’s not over yet
But here in Cape Town we’re still enjoying the incredible floral treats of Table Mountain National Park. Take a walk up Lion’s Head and you’ll be stunned by the diverse, colourful displays along the path.
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The floral display starts before you even get to the trailhead. Look to your left as you drive along Signal Hill Road and you’ll see beautiful pincushions, cobralilies and watsonia.
What’s interesting about Lion’s Head is that you really notice how the vegetation changes with the geology.
The lower slopes are covered with shale-based renosterveld/granitic fynbos with an abundance of silver trees (Leucandendron argenteum). Look up to the right as you go through the boom gate and you’ll see massive silver trees, and more pincushions, while the sides of the gravel road are lined with daisies, geraniums, purple gorse and bulbs. Also conspicuous are big stands of confetti bush – so known for the mass of little white flowers that look as if they’ve been showered like confetti.
Then the sandstone starts and proteas take over, though it’s still the lovely little yellow, white and purple daisies and the luminous purple sour figs and other outrageous vygies lining the path that grab your attention. Brave blue babiana sprout in the path, and you’ll see multi-coloured crassula, delicate morea and the bright star-shaped peacock flowers (Spiloxene capensis).
As you wind around and start to climb through the bands of sandstone the trail is flanked by stands of orange-flowered cobra lilies: also keep an eye out for coastal succulents like the sprawling fat fingers of Medusa’s Head (Euphorbia caput-medusae) on the north-west slopes as you look down the spine of the lion.
Big bushes of china flowers (named for its porcelain white petals) are conspicuous as you traverse around and climb up towards the chains. A member of the citrus family, its leaves give off a lovely scent if you brush against them.
I could go on. But it’s much more fun to take a flower book and discover the treasures for yourself. Common Wild Flowers of Table Mountain (Struik Nature) by Hugh Clarke & Bruce Mackenzie is a good one as the flowers are grouped by colour, and the authors helpfully tell you exactly WHERE on Lion’s Head (and Table Mountain) you’re likely to encounter each specimen. Flower spotting made easy!
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Lion’s Head is an extremely popular hike and parking is hard to find early in the morning, after work and at weekends and holidays. So instead of taking the main trail avoid the crowds (at least to an extent) by driving further along the road and picking up the alternative route up the peak, which starts near the kramat. The path takes about the same amount of time (an hour or so to the top) and is lined with pretty daisies.
Did you know?
Table Mountain National Park is one of the 13 protected areas that comprise the Cape Floral Region World Heritage Site, the smallest and richest of the world’s six plant kingdoms, which was inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004.
The botanist Carl Linnaeus, recognising the floral riches of the Cape called it ‘heaven on earth’. Table Mountain National Park alone, one of the hotspots of the Cape Floral Kingdom, has over floral 2 200 species, of which more than 90 are endemic. It also boasts at least 114 endemic faunal species.
On the subject of fauna, you’ll no doubt see opportunist dassies (not endemic to the CFK) on the summit. Please don’t feed them.
Words and Photography Fiona McIntosh
A Cape Town based freelance writer and photographer Fiona McIntosh has the enviable life of adventuring in the name of work. An adrenalin junkie, she’s happiest when stomping up snowy peaks, climbing sheer rock faces, white-water kayaking, diving with sharks and foraging for her supper. Book titles include Slackpacking, A Guide to South Africa’s Top Leisure Trails, Hike Cape Town and Dive Sites of South Africa & Mozambique.