They contribute to the air we breathe, childhood memories of being high in their branches and relaxing days in their shade. From the forest giants to the guards of the barren desert landscape, we’ve gathered some of those special trees to spot in your favourite national park this spring.
Words by René de Klerk. Originally published in SANParks Times.
Outeniqua Yellowwoods (Podocarpus falcatus)
The true giants of our indigenous forests remained long after the woodcutters left. Some stand more than 40m tall today and are protected. Trees are male or female and produce cones and fleshy yellow fruit that take about a year to ripen.
Where: Giants can be seen in Woodville, Wilderness, Diepwalle in Knysna and next to the N2 highway in Tsitsikamma.
Flowers: Female cones are produced in spring, male in early summer.
Baobab (Adansonia digitata)
When without leaves, baobabs look like upside down trees with the roots facing upwards. These trees grow to be massive, especially in width. In South Africa, some have even reached a girth of over 15m. Many alive today are thousands of years old.
Where: Pafuri and Punda Maria in Kruger. See your first one right near the entrance when you arrive at Mapungubwe.
Flowers: October – December.
Camel thorn (Vachellia erioloba )
As one of the major tree species in the desert biome of South Africa, this tree varies from a small spiny shrub to a tree of up to 16m tall. You will often find sociable weaver nests in them.
Where: The trees grow throughout Mokala, Kgalagadi, Augrabies and more.
Flowers: Late winter through to summer.
Three species grow in the Richtersveld: giant (Aloidendron Pilansii), maidens (Aloidendron ramosissima) and common (Aloidendron dichotoma). Augrabies is known for the common quiver tree. You’ll also find some in Namaqua. Tree aloes are adapted to live in the harsh desert conditions.
Where: Scattered throughout Richtersveld, but find the most photographed one between road sign R14 and R16. In Augrabies, there are giant monitoring plots in the western side of the park.
Flowers: Common quivers flower in winter while the giant quivers flower in October.
Spekboom (Portulacaria afra)
Studies show that one hectare of spekboom plants can remove up to 4.2 tonnes of carbon per year. They are about 10 times more effective at reducing carbon than tropical rainforest trees.
Where: Most parts of Addo. Spekboom covers large sections in the eastern side. You’ll also find them on the mountain slopes en route to the Valley of Desolation in Camdeboo.
Flowers: After the first rains, in spring or early summer.
Waterberg cycad (Encephalartos eugene-maraisii)
Naturalist, author and poet Eugene Marais lived in the Waterberg and this cycad was named in his honour. You will find only them in the Waterberg region, where they grows to 5m tall.
Where: In Marakele’s rocky hills and on steep inclines in open grassland and savanna.
Flowers: Cones appear around December.
Shepherds tree (boscia albitrunca)
It is known as the Tree of Life as it offers sustenance and much-needed shade to humans and animals. The roots can make porridge and it is a good substitute for coffee.
Where: There are only a few national parks where you won’t find them as they enjoy a large distribution across the country, though they prefer the drier regions.
Flowers: July to November