The Agulhas National Park is a real botanical gem with hundreds of magnificent fynbos species, a high proportion of which are endemic to the unique coastal environment of the southern tip of Africa.
By Fiona McIntosh
Fiona McIntosh went out in the park to smell the flowers with Sean Privett, who wrote the definitive Fynbos Guide to Walker Bay and developed the Fynbos Trail and Cycle Down South MTB tour. He introduced a few real specials that you might see in the park.
The Elim cone bush (Leucadendron elimense). This extremely rare member of the Protea family is restricted to the Elim flats from Gansbaai to Bredasdorp where most of its natural habitat has been destroyed by farming. One of the largest remaining populations of this beauty can be found on the flats around Rietfontein in the Agulhas National Park.
An absolute must see in the park during spring and early summer is the Limestone Pagoda (Mimetes saxatilis). This magnificent yellow flowering Mimetes grows on a few localised limestone ridges in the Park. It is an endemic to the limestone soils of the Agulhas Plain, growing only along a narrow band between Franskraal and Struisbaai and makes a striking appearance between the brown restios during the second half of the year.
The magnificent belladonna lily (Amaryllis belladonna) grows along the coast of the park, flowering from February to April. It has large, strongly scented red flowers that are particularly spectacular after fires and provides an important nectar source for sunbirds at a time when not much else is flowering. After its spectacular flowering display the flower head dries out and tumbles in the breeze, dispersing its precious seed load as it goes. The tortoise berry (Nylandtia spinosa) is a spiny bush that grows along the coast in the park. It is covered with numerous pink to purple flowers from April to October and then produces round, red, fleshy berries. These are a favourite food source for tortoises and other animals during the summer.
If you’re lucky you may catch site of the curious Cat Nails (wolwekos – Hyobanche sanguinea). This parasitic plant spends the entire year underground ‘feeding’ off other plants root systems. Its bright red flowers make a seemingly miraculous appearance above ground in late winter and spring. The clustered, fury flowers have projecting white anthers that look like cat’s nails. After flowering it once again disappears from the landscape, living its secretive underground existence until the following flowering season.