Flower season – exploring the blooms of the West Coast and Namaqualand
South Africa’s flower season is upon us. Here is a handy guide to visiting the blooms this spring.
Flower season is one of the most stunning periods in the Northern and Western Cape, as flowers bloom in thick carpets in a rainbow of colour from August to late September.
One popular place to visit to see this natural wonder is the West Coast National Park, located close to Saldanha Bay and just an 88km drive from Cape Town.
According to the park, more than a third of its visitors each year visit during the two months of the flower season, and as the landscape comes alive after the rainy season, it’s not difficult to see why. “Although the landscape is rich in biodiversity, it is quite bland, especially in the summer months,” the park’s Lauren Clayton says.
“In the springtime, after the winter rains, the flowers open and add wonderful colour to this landscape. This only lasts for about eight weeks and is a cheerful and happy experience for all.”
The best day to take a trip to view the flowers is on a sunny day, since most blooms do not open up when the sun is behind the clouds. The West Coast National Park, for example, is also busiest over weekends, so try to visit on weekdays to avoid crowds and long queues at park gates.
South African National Parks Week is another good opportunity to seize, with most parks being free to enter from 11 to 16 September 2022. According to Clayton, the Postberg and Mooimaak areas are among the best to see the spring flowers.
While the Namaqua National Park is excluded from National Parks Week, it also hosts spectacular scenes of blooming flowers, most notably the Namaqualand daisies, for Northern Cape visitors.
“People can look out for our famed Namaqualand daisies, Glansogies and coastal vygies and many more hidden flowers. Spring flowers will satisfy all the visitors with their beauty,” Genevieve Maasdorp from the Namaqua National Park tells Maverick Life.
Daisies are the most prominent, because they are among the first to pop up. Geophytes are some of the more elusive ones and are hard to find – some are really tiny and hide in shady places.
The Skilpad Rest Camp and the Coastal Section within the park, and of course Namaqualand, are some of the best places to view flowers, Maasdorp says.
What to do and not to do during your visit
For those wishing to visit the blooms in coming weeks, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Clayton encourages flower visitors to avoid walking among the flowers, no matter how tempting that Instagram photo-op may be, because this can cause flowers to be trampled and can damage them and other vegetation.
“In nature reserves and many parks, picking flowers is prohibited, and it is important to respect these regulations. Plants produce seeds from the flowers, so by picking flowers you are reducing the seeding potential of the plant, and you could also be damaging the plant,” explains Jennifer Fitchett, an associate professor of physical geography at the University of the Witwatersrand, who specialises in the effects of climate change on nature in South Africa.
“When trying to take photographs of the blooms, or with them, try to do so from the roads or officially designated pathways, rather than stepping into (and onto) the flowers themselves.”
“The flower display happens only once a year. If you really want to respect nature, do not walk in the flowers, do not pick the flowers, and view the carpets of flowers from a distance. Do not leave anything behind except footprints,” adds Maasdorp.
“Spring flowers are very sensitive. If you want to take photos, stay on the designated walking trails.”
Flowers blooming in the West Coast National Park
Suurvy (Carpobrotus edulis). Also known as a sour fig, this succulent is a robust, flat-growing plant that covers the ground with its juicy petals of yellow. Suurvy can be found flowering from August to October on the coastal and inland slopes from Namaqualand in the Northern Cape down to the Western Cape’s West Coast.
Elandsvy (Carpobrotus acinaciformis). Related to suurvy plants, this succulent flower blooms pink, white and purple in the coastal rocks and sandy dunes of the western coastal fog belt in the winter-rainfall area of the Western and Northern Cape. Elandsvy are known for their bigger flowers and fanning, angular leaves.
Gousblom (Arctotis hirsuta). These captivating plants flower in feisty orange, yellow and creamy whites, and are found on sandy slopes and flats in the Western Cape from August to December.
Bokbaai vygie (Dorotheanthus bellidiformis) is, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, one of South Africa’s most famous wildflower exports. Each flower has many lance-shaped petals, and can be found in a variety of colours, including white, yellow, orange, pink, purple and red – some even with contrasting colours at the base, fading up to a new colour with an ombré effect. These flowers can be found blooming in August and September in the sandy flats of the Postberg region in the Fynbos and Succulent Karoo biomes.
White rain daisy (Dimorphotheca pluvialis). These daisies bloom from August to October, and can be found on the sandy and clay flats and slopes from the Western Cape and Northern Cape to Namibia. The blooms, with their bright white petals and purple centre, can cover large patches of land like snow, and open to the sun from about 10am to 4pm, turning to follow its path through the day. These carpets of daisies are among the first to bloom at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, and are, according to Clayton, the most prolific flowers in the West Coast National Park.
Sporrie (Heliophila coronopifolia). Sporrie blooms are the only blue flowers in the West Coast National Park, and bloom upright with white centres, turning green fields into swaying seas of blue.
Magriet (Ursinia anthemoides). These bright-yellow flowers are eye-catching wonders, and are prolific in Nieuwoudtville in Namaqualand, as well as in Postberg on sandy gravel slopes and flats. They stand solitary on long stalks, with brown centres encircled by yellow florets.
Soetuintjie (Moraea fugax). These bulbs bloom in yellow, white or purple, and are distinguishable by their beak-like shape. They are some of the more elusive flowers in the West Coast National Park, Clayton says, but can be found in the Uitkyk area or Postberg, growing in sands, rocky sandstone and granitic soils.
The future of flower season
These natural beauties are not exempt from climate threats, however. Research has shown that flowers of the Namaqualand are flowering earlier than before, setting off alarm bells for scientists.
In her piece for The Conversation, Fitchett explains that the Namaqualand daisies have evolved to survive the dry conditions of their home, and their flowering is triggered by a phenological event; a change in temperature and rainfall during winter.
“Phenological events – such as the timing of spring blossoming, fruit development in summer and the hibernation, hatching and mating of animals – are among the most sensitive bioindicators of climate change. Across the world, the timing of phenological events is shifting as a result of climate change. Plants and animals experience “spring” as happening in what used to be “late winter”. Simply put, temperatures in the late winter months are increasingly higher than they used to be, she writes.
“When considering spring flowering plants, we could look to the apple and pear blossoms in the Western Cape, the cherry blossoms in Fiksburg, the Jacarandas in Johannesburg and the Namaqualand Daisies along the West Coast. All of these plants are flowering earlier and earlier as the temperatures increase. To give you an idea of the rate of change, the Namaqualand Daisies are flowering between 2.1 to 2.6 days earlier per decade and the flowering dates are also becoming increasingly unpredictable in their timing,” Fitchett explains.
These changes can have major effects on both the environment and people who live in the area.
First, with flowering dates advancing, towns that depend on flowering for tourism will have to adjust their timing for peak season, as well as advertise and book accordingly, according to Fitchett.
The flowering attracts tourists and events, such as weddings, and could negatively affect the tourism sector in the region and the people in the region who depend on visitors.
“This is a warning sign for the future of these flowers; and could mean that flower-dependent towns need to start diversifying their tourist offerings,” Fitchett says.
“The second issue is the increasing lack of predictability in flowering dates, which means that tour groups or weddings which have been arranged to coincide with the flowering may arrive too early or too late and be disappointed. This can have a knock-on impact on the long-term success of the destination as these disappointments can now very easily be communicated by word of mouth and through social media and travel platforms.”
Finally, Fitchett warns that the advance in flowering dates cannot continue indefinitely, as the “dormant period for the plants becomes contracted, and the risk of frost damage becomes heightened”.
“Flowers have a critical role to play in the ecosystem. Mismatches between pollen and pollinators, and plants and the animals that eat them, are a concern to scientists. This is because different species have different cues for spring, and so while they might have appeared at the same time for many centuries, if they advance at different rates, they could fall out of sync. While there is some debate about whether the mismatches will resolve themselves in the longer term, there could be seasons where large mismatches occur, placing insects and plants at risk.”
What can be done? Fitchett sees both short and long term solutions.
In the long term, the flowers can be protected through climate change mitigation and reduced reliance on fossil fuels.
“In the shorter term, it’s important to understand the rates of change in flowering dates and then communicate those to the various stakeholders in regions that are dependent on flowers for the tourism and wedding industries so that they can adjust,” Fitchett says.
“For the flowers themselves, important work in greenhouses to prevent the extirpation of species is important, as well as retaining large green-belt areas to allow for range shifts in endemic species.” DM/ML
In case you missed it, also read “Nieuwoudtville: A blooming marvel to behold in the springtime”