Flora of Southern Africa
by Michael L. Charters

Plant geographers divide the world into six floristic kingdoms, each of which has a characteristic flora and numerous endemic species.  The largest of these kingdoms is the Boreal Kingdom, at 20 million square km comprising almost the entire northern hemisphere north of 30°.  The smallest (90,000 km2) yet most diverse of all the kingdoms is the Cape Floral Kingdom, which consists solely of the Mediterranean vegetation of the Western Cape Province of South Africa and some adjacent areas, a biome which contains the greatest concentration of plant species in the world.  In an area less than one quarter the size of California, there are approximately 9,000 species, of which an astounding 6,200, or 68%, are endemic!  I travelled to South Africa in 1998, but due to the constraints of being with a group was not able to do much on my own.  I spent only one week in the Western Cape Province both north and east of Cape Town, and another week in the vicinity of Kruger National Park.  Regrettably, since I had such a limited amount of time and no good floras with me, I was not able to properly determine the identifications of many of those lovely flowers which I saw and photographed, and therefore they were displayed here originally mostly with incomplete or with no identifications, and even those that were given were in some cases incorrect. I made a return trip to South Africa, this time to the East Cape, in January 2008, and spent two wonderful weeks botanizing from morning to night with the noted South African plant authority Cameron McMaster. I made a second two-week trip with Cameron, this time to the Western Cape and Namaqualand regions, in August and September of 2010, and a third to the West Cape in August/September 2012. Additional photographs presented here were taken in the South African section of the Los Angeles Arboretum, in the protea garden at the Wild Animal Park, and at the Quail, University of California Riverside, Mildred Mathias (UCLA) and Huntington Botanical Gardens. The identifications given are as were recorded on garden signs or given to me by garden staff.  Also, although I am primarily interested in the Cape Floristic Region, some photos displayed here are from other parts of Southern Africa. Although some might think there are a lot of taxa displayed here, it is but a small representation of the phenomenal diversity that exists in South Africa.

    The taxonomy as indicated here follows that of the Plants of Southern Africa checklist (https://www.sanbi.org/link/plants-of-southern-africa/), which is an online version of the checklist of the same name published by the South Africa National Botanical Institute, Praetoria, in (2003) in a volume entitled Strelitzia 14. I should also say something about the common names. In South Africa, common names could be in any of the 11 official languages, which include English, Afrikaans, IsiZulu, IsiNdebele (Ndebele), Sepedi or Northern Sotho, Sesotho or Southern Sotho, Setswana (Tswana), SiSwati or Swazi, IsiXhosa (pronounced KO-sa), Tshivenda (Venda) or Xitsonga (Tsonga). Common names are not standardized as are Latin names, and even with Latin names there is oftentimes a confusing lack of taxonomic agreement. The common names I here use have been derived from a number of sources, South African floral guidebooks, signs at Kitstenbosch Botanical Garden, signs at local California botanical gardens, websites both South African and American, and personal communications with authorities or other knowledgeable people in South Africa. Some of these names may have been made up by local South African or American horticulturists and may not be generally recognized. Even with all these sources, it is undoubtedly true that with the incredible number of plant species in southern Africa, most species simply have no common names. I originally only included names in English, but then decided that was a language-biased decision on my part, so I have started adding other names when English ones were not recorded. Viewers of this site are welcome to contact me with additional names, but please recognize that I am not South African and thus have very limited knowledge about or access to information about South African plant common names.

    I am extremely indebted to Mr. Eugene Nel who contacted me from Worcester in the Western Cape and very kindly went to a lot of trouble to help me put correct identifications on many of the photographs for which I had either sketchy or no identifications at all. I further express my gratitude to Mr. Deon Viljoen of the Karoo Botanical Gardens in Worcester for his time and effort, to Mr. Hugh Clarke (co-author with Deon Kesting of Botanical Names What Do They Mean), to Professor Leonard Newton, the co-author of the superb volume Etymological Dictionary of Succulent Plant Names (2004), to Dr. Tony Rebelo at the South African National Botanical Institute, and to Alice Notten at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Anyone who is able to shed further light on any of the uncertainties is welcome to contact me at the e-mail address given below. My hope is that the photos will impress the viewer with their beauty and diversity, and quite possibly stimulate an interest in this vastly complex and interesting floral community. One major caveat is that I am not an authority on South African plants and while the likelihood is that most of the identifications in my South Africa site are correct, I can in no way guarantee that. Some pictures were taken in botanical gardens where the signage was wrong, and I have tried to correct those when they come to my attention, but almost certainly some errors remain that I am as yet unaware of.  Some pictures have been identified for me by other people for whom I cannot vouch as to the level of their knowledge. And especially with regards to South African flora, there are so many genera that have so many similar-looking species that even experienced botanists have troubled identifying them.

    For a more detailed discussion of Cape flora, please click HERE. For an etymological listing of South African generic and specific epithets derived from personal names, you may click HERE. For a list of shared genera between Southern Africa and California, click HERE. And for a list of species in the site, click HERE.

    Lastly, I hope that some of you may get a chance to have a look at the book that Hugh Clarke (mostly) and I published in South Africa in 2016. We worked on it for several years and I was immensely pleased when it turned out to be a much more beautiful book than I had ever anticipated. I want to express my wholehearted appreciation to Hugh for allowing me to be part of the project, and for the friendship that we have developed.

All photos by Michael L. Charters
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© 2003-2021 Michael L. Charters, Sierra Madre, CA.