Ladislav Mucina and Michael C. Rutherford
The vegetation of
South Africa, Lesotho
© Published by and obtainable from: South African National Biodiversity Institute,
Private Bag X101, Pretoria, 0001 South Africa. Tel: +27 12 843-5000. Fax: +27 12 804-3211.
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© Photographs: photographers as cited.
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MU CINA, L. & RUTHERFORD, M.C. (eds) 2006. The vegetation of South Africa,
Lesotho and Swaziland. Strelitzia 19. South African National Biodiversity Institute,
This series has replaced Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa and
Annals of Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens
which SANBI inherited from its predeces-
The plant genus Strelitzia occurs naturally in the eastern parts of southern Africa.
It comprises three arborescent species, known as wild bananas, and two acaules-
cent species, known as crane ﬂowers or bird-of-paradise ﬂowers. The logo of the
South African National Biodiversity Institute is based on the striking inﬂorescence of
Strelitzia reginae, a native of the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal that has become
a garden favourite worldwide. It symbolises the commitment of the Institute to pro-
mote the sustainable use, conservation, appreciation and enjoyment of the excep-
tionally rich biodiversity of South Africa, for the beneﬁt of all people.
Department of Botany & Zoology, Stellenbosch University
Kirstenbosch Research Centre, South African National Biodiversity Institute
TECHNICAL EDITING: G. Germishuizen and E. du Plessis
GIS AND TECHNOLOGY MANAGEMENT: L.W. Powrie
PRODUCTION MANAGEMENT, DESIGN, Keith Phillips Images, PO Box 5683,
LAYOUT AND REPRODUCTION: Helderberg, 7135 South Africa
COVER DESIGN: Keith Phillips
COVER PHOTOGRAPH: M.C. Rutherford
(Fynbos vegetation dominated by
Leucadendron laureolum on the
northern slopes of the Riviersonderend
Mountains, Western Cape)
Janine B. Adams
Robert J. Anderson
Ronald G. Bennett
John J. Bolton
Thomas G. Bornman
George J. Bredenkamp
John E. Burrows
Kelson G.T. Camp
Sarel S. Cilliers
Richard M. Cowling
Willem de Frey
Philip G. Desmet
Anthony P. Dold
P. Johann du Preez
Holger C. Eckhardt
Karen J. Esler
Doug I.W. Euston-Brown
Coert J. Geldenhuys
Peter S. Goodman
Barend J. Henning
David B. Hoare
Brian J. Huntley
P. Johan H. Hurter
John A.M. Janssen
Steven D. Johnson
Irma C. Knevel
Jan J.N. Lambrechts
Annelise le Roux
Richard G. Lechmere-Oertel
J. Wendy Lloyd ✟
Amanda T. Lombard
Mervyn C. Lötter
John C. Manning
Wayne S. Matthews
David J. McDonald
Guy F. Midgley
Susanne J. Milton
Theo H. Mostert
Edward G.H. (Ted) Oliver
Anthony R. Palmer
Leslie W. Powrie
Şerban M. Procheş
Frans G.T. Radloff
Anthony G. Rebelo
David M. Richardson
Michael C. Rutherford
Robert J. Scholes
C. Robert Scott-Shaw
Erwin J.J. Sieben
Stefan J. Siebert
Andrew L. Skowno
Jacobus H.L. Smit
Walter J. Smit
Valdon R. Smith
Simon W. Todd
Bertie van der Merwe
Johannes H. van der Merwe
Adriaan van Niekerk
Noel van Rooyen
Erich van Wyk
Catharina E. Venter
Jan H.J. Vlok
Graham P. von Maltitz
Benjamin A. Walton
Robert A. Ward
Pieter J.D. Winter
Authors who participated in the mapping project and/or the text of the Book,
alphabetical according to surname.
1 Introduction 2
2 The Logic of the Map: Approaches and
3 Biomes and Bioregions of Southern Africa 30
4 Fynbos Biome 52
5 Succulent Karoo Biome 220
6 Desert Biome 300
7 Nama-Karoo Biome 324
8 Grassland Biome 348
9 Savanna Biome 438
10 Albany Thicket Biome 540
11 Indian Ocean Coastal Belt 568
12 Afrotemperate, Subtropical and Azonal
13 Inland Azonal Vegetation 616
14 Coastal Vegetation of South Africa 658
15 Vegetation of Subantarctic Marion and
Prince Edward Islands
16 Ecosystem Status and Protection Levels of
Vegetation Types 724
17 Vulnerability Assessment of Vegetation
18 Vegetation Atlas of South Africa, Lesotho
and Swaziland 748
Glossary of Selected Scientiﬁc and Vernacular
Why another vegetation map of South Africa, especially considering that Acocks (1953) Veld types of South
Africa has served two generations of scientists so well?
One answer to this, and to most questions on the purpose of scientiﬁc endeavour, is that we live in a
knowledge-driven society, where informed, environmentally sensitive and rational decisions are the cornerstones
of sustainable socio-economic development. But more directly, despite the utility of Acocks’s map for more
than half a century, our knowledge base, technologies and demands for detailed spatial information on natural
resources make a new, spatially detailed map and description of our vegetation both possible and necessary.
South Africa and the continent as a whole have set ambitious development goals for the ‘African
Century’, goals which simply cannot be met without an underpinning of sound decision support. Such growth
initiatives, infrastructure needs and wise land use demands were behind the establishment, in 2004, of the South
African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), the successor to the former National Botanical Institute (NBI)
which itself had roots in the Botanical Research Institute and the National Botanical Gardens of South Africa,
established in 1903 and 1913 respectively.
The parliamentary mandate given SANBI through the Biodiversity Act of 2004 includes monitoring and
reporting on the status of the Republic’s biodiversity, the conservation status of species and ecosystems, and on
the diverse impacts on these. Such reporting requires a detailed vegetation baseline and an understanding of the
dynamics of constituent ecosystems. The production of The vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland
(which includes the new Map) is therefore particularly timely, given the high expectations placed by our stake-
holders on SANBI and our many partners in biodiversity science.
This volume marks yet another major milestone in the history of biodiversity knowledge development
in southern Africa. Over the past two centuries, the process of discovery, description, evaluation and synthesis
of information on and understanding of our ﬂora and vegetation has followed a regular cycle. Benchmarks along
the way include the early botanical explorations of Thunberg, Sparrman, Masson and others at the close of the
18th century, the publication of Flora capensis from the mid-19th
century (Harvey & Sonder 1859–1860), the
pioneer ecological studies of Marloth, Bews and Adamson in the early 20th century, and the production of the
ﬁrst vegetation map for the country by Pole Evans in 1936.
A new wave of ﬁeld work and synthesis came with Acocks’s 1953 map, and the stimulus to plant
taxonomy anticipated by the launch of the Flora of southern Africa project in the 1960s. The taxonomic agenda
of the late 20th century has focussed on regional ﬂoras (Bond & Goldblatt 1984, Retief & Herman 1997, Goldblatt
& Manning 2000) and some major monographs (Van Jaarsveld 1994, Goldblatt & Manning 1998, Smith & Van
Wyk 1998, Linder & Kurzweil 1999, Van Jaarsveld & Koutnik 2004). Towards the end of the 20th century, slow
progress with the Flora of southern Africa project resulted in a decision to prepare a ‘Concise ﬂora of southern
Africa’ while a regional programme of taxonomic capacity building—SABONET—addressed the human and
institutional resource needs in this ﬁeld of botany. Signiﬁcant results of these initiatives are illustrated in the two
mega-volumes published this year—Checklist of ﬂowering plants of Sub-Saharan Africa (Klopper et al. 2006)
and A checklist of South African plants (Germishuizen et al. 2006).
Research on the structure and function of South African ecosystems received a signiﬁcant stimulus
during the 1970s and 1980s, through a network of major interdisciplinary studies in the Savanna, Fynbos and
Karoo Biomes, leading to several comprehensive syntheses on these (Cowling 1992, Scholes & Walker 1993, Dean
& Milton 1999). Cowling et al. (1997) drew together the ﬁndings of the surge of ecological activity during these
two decades in the multi-authored Vegetation of southern Africa, a classic synthesis with few equals elsewhere
around the globe.
The succession of ﬁeld research and resulting taxonomic and ecological syntheses prompted the need
for a new generation vegetation map and descriptive memoir. While vegetation surveys had been active through
the later decades of the 20th century, they had been widely scattered and unco-ordinated—responding to the
needs of conservation agencies and land use planners rather than to establishing an integrated regional synthesis.
In 1996 the VEGMAP Project was initiated to prepare a successor to Veld types of South Africa.
Acocks’s (1953) classic study was the last of the great, single-authored works on the ﬂora or vegetation
of South Africa. By the turn of the 20th century, South Africa had built an uncommon ability, by global standards, to
bring together large teams of natural scientists to tackle national priorities. The power of electronic information
management, while never able to replace the critical importance of humble ﬁeld natural history observations,
has nevertheless made possible the collection and integration of vast databases—not achievable just a few dec-
ades ago. In particular, the power of Geographical Information Systems has aided the immense task of integrating
spatial information at widely differing scales and detail.
The task of preparing a new Vegetation Map fell to a succession of co-ordinators, and acknowledgement
should be made to the initial work of David McDonald and Michael O’Callaghan. It soon became clear that a
full-time commitment to the project was needed, and Michael Rutherford’s wide experience in southern African
vegetation science made him an obvious candidate. In assembling a team of about 100 contributors, further
support in the huge task of synthesising diverse datasets was essential, and the wealth of experience of Ladislav
Mucina, who had then recently arrived in South Africa from Europe, was perfectly timed.
The VEGMAP Project soon grew into a major intellectual and organisational challenge. The sheer vol
ume of ﬁeld data, the diversity of vegetation classiﬁcation and mapping methodologies used, and the 10 000 spe-
cies included in the survey data, extended the project well beyond its initial ﬁve-year timeframe. But the resulting
map, released ahead of this descriptive memoir, is already ﬁnding wide application and great utility in both its
hard copy and electronic formats.
SANBI can be justly proud of the achievements of its professional staff, and those of its many collaborating
institutions, as it faces the demands of the new century. This volume, which includes the map, will most surely
serve South Africa and beyond as effectively as its remarkable predecessor, Acocks’s Veld types. The advantages
of electronic information systems will allow more regular revisions to both the map and the memoir than was
possible for Veld types, and users are encouraged to communicate with SANBI should they have suggestions on
improvements to future versions of this study.
The continuing support of the national Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and of the
Norwegian Government to this project, is gratefully acknowledged. Special tribute should also be paid to the
many dozens of dedicated ﬁeldworkers whose collective toil under the African sun is reﬂected in this remarkable
Brian J. Huntley
South African National Biodiversity Institute
Acocks, J.P.H. 1953. Veld types of South Africa. Mem. Bot. Surv. S.
Afr. No. 28: 1–192.
Bond, P. & Goldblatt, P. 1984. Plants of the Cape ﬂora. A descriptive
catalogue. J. S. Afr. Bot. Suppl. Vol. 13: 1–455.
Cowling, R.M. (ed.) 1992. The ecology of fynbos: nutrients, ﬁre and
diversity. Oxford Univ. Press, Cape Town.
Cowling, R.M., Richardson, D.M. & Pierce, S.M. (eds) 1997. Vegetation
of southern Africa. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.
Dean, W.R.J. & Milton, S.J. (eds) 1999. The Karoo: ecological patterns
and processes. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.
Germishuizen, G., Meyer, N.L., Steenkamp, Y. & Keith, M. (eds) 2006.
A checklist of South African plants. Southern African Botanical
Diversity Network Report No. 41: 1–1126. SABONET, Pretoria.
Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J.C. 1998. Gladiolus in southern Africa.
Fernwood Press, Cape Town.
Goldblatt, P. & Manning, J. 2000. Cape plants. A conspectus of the
Cape ﬂora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute
and Missouri Botanical Garden Press, Pretoria & St Louis.
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description of the plants of the Cape Colony, Caffraria & Port Natal.
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Smith & Co., Dublin.
Klopper, R.R., Chatelain, C., Bänninger, V., Habashi, C., Steyn, H.M.,
De Wet, B.C., Arnold, T.H., Gautier, L., Smith, G.F. & Spichiger, R.
2006. Checklist of the ﬂowering plants of Sub-Saharan Africa. An
index of accepted names and synonyms. Southern African Botanical
Diversity Network Report No. 42: 1–894. SABONET, Pretoria.
Linder, H.P. & Kurzweil, H. 1999. Orchids of southern Africa. A.A.
Retief, E. & Herman, P.P.J. 1997. Plants of the northern provinces of
South Africa: keys and diagnostic characters. Strelitzia 6: 1–681.
National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
Scholes, R.J. & Walker, B.H. 1993. An African savanna: synthesis of the
Nylsvley study. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge.
Smith, G.F. & Van Wyk, B-E. 1998. Asphodelaceae. In: K. Kubitzki
(ed.), The families and genera of vascular plants. Flowering plants,
Monocotyledons. Lilianae (except Orchidaceae), Vol. 3: 130–140.
Van Jaarsveld, E.J. 1994. Gasterias of South Africa. Fernwood Press, in
association with the National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.
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