Cameron & Rhoda McMaster's

Wildflower Tours in the Eastern Cape

Most tourists to South African  visit us in spring (August/September) for the Cape and Namaqualand flowers, and so miss the wonderful offerings of the summer rainfall regions in the East of the country. With this in mind we
arranged a number of Wild Flower tours in the Eastern Cape over the past few years.  This account,  based on a tour we did earlier this year, illustrates the possibilities that exist for botanical touring in the East Cape and  should
stimulate greater interest in the region.   The months of November to
February are the best time for summer rainfall flora in South Africa. 

There are many special destinations well off the usual tourist routes that may be visited, staying mostly on farms and in small villages so as to be right in the countryside.  Each day hikes or 4X4 excursions to areas that would not normally be accessible to ordinary tourists can be arranged.  While farm
accommodation is excellent, it comes at a fraction of the price of the 4 and 5 star establishments used by tour operators, making such tours most

There are a number of major vegetation types in the East Cape from Valley Thicket and Karroo/Namib vegetation to Alpine grassland and Sub-Tropical coastal flora.  We started in  Port Elizabeth, our first stop being a private game reserve in the Somerset East district where the first sighting  was a group of Ammocharis coranica in flower and thousands of Drimia altissima with their meter high spikes of flowers as well as a number of Crinum macowanii in flower.  The highlights here were the rare cycads Encephalartos longifolius and E. lehmannii in deep ravines behind the Zuurberg and many species of
antelope.  The next day included a visit to the Waainek Wild Flower reserve on the Bosberg Mountain above Somerset East where we were rewarded with hundreds of the rare Haemanthus carneus in flower, a species that grows only in this locality. Other sightings here included Cyrtanthus macowanii, Eucomis autumnalis and the rare cycad, Encephalartos cycadifolius.

The third day took us through the Karoo via Bedford and Cradock to Tarkastad we saw Nerine laticoma subs. huttoniae, Haemanthus montanus and various Aloes, Gasterias and Haworthias.  Our next destination was the montane and alpine grassland in the Barkly East and Rhodes districts.  Near Dordecht we came upon some spectacular bright red Brunsvigia radulosa.   The mountains were very rewarding; the lists of sightings were long.  Of the bulbous species the most interesting were Gladiolus dalenii, oppositiflorus, saundersii and
edulis.  Dierama robustum was flowering everywhere.  We came across a
vigorous population of the magnificent orange orchid, Disa porrecta, and huge stands of Kniphofia caulescens and K. porphyrantha.  Other pokers we saw
included Kniphofia northiae, K.  ritualis, K. linearifolia, K.  Triangularis,
K. stricta and K. parviflora.  The mountainsides were covered with large
populations of Asteraceae such as Berkheya purpurea, B. multijuga, Senecio macrospermus and many Helichrysums.  One of our hikes was to rock shelters with magnificent San Rock Art which is widespread in the Eastern Cape.  One of the rock panels depicted a hunting lion - a very unusual subject.  At Rhodes we found a population of Haemanthus humilis hirsutus in seed.

Going south we stopped at Satan's Neck near Engobo where we were
privileged to find the rare endemic Crocosmia masoniorum in flower. 
It was quite spectacular festooning the cliffs next to a small waterfall. 
The ground orchids were numerous at this site - including the large and
impressive Pterygodium magnum. 

We spent four days in the Cathcart and Stutterheim districts covering various habitats including rocky outcrops, river banks, grassland, thicket and afro-montane forest.  Worth mentioning are Dierama pulcherrimum and Dierama atrum, Nerine filamentosa, Brunsvigia gregaria, Haemanthus humilis humilis and Hesperantha huttonii and a dark blue form of Agapanthus campanulatus.  Highlight of this area was a hazardous 4X4 trip with Neil and Carmen Potter up very steep roads to Moonstone Mountain where we hiked over the mountain to some pristine grassland on the other side.  We have called this hike "The Moonstone Magic Cycad Trail" since it is the only place in South Africa where three species of Cycad occur together - Encephalartos frederici, E. princeps and  E. caffer.  We also saw three species of Cyrtanthus in flower - C. obliquus, C. macmasteri and C. macowanii, as well as Scadoxus puniceus,
Haemanthus albiflos and some very large specimens of Boophone disticha. 

A visit to the seaside resort of Kei Mouth afforded the opportunity to see large pristine populations of both Clivia miniata and Clivia nobilis in riverine and dune forest, although only a few C. nobilis were in flower at this time of the year.  Here we also saw Scadoxus membranaceus.  On a grassland walk there were spectacular orchids - Disa polygonoides, as well as Albuca batteniana and Gladiolus ochroleucus which are  endemic to the East Cape Coastal region.  It was fascinating to find Gladiolus guenzii growing on the beach in sea sand at Kei Mouth.

On the journey to our last destination in the Grahamstown region, we stopped in the Keiskamma River Valley and were fortunate to find Cyrtanthus sanguineus in flower in a hot and dry stream bed and some magnificent epiphytic orchids in full flower - Mystacydium capense.  On the second last day we hiked through the riverine forest in the Kap River Nature Reserve where there was another population of Clivia nobilis.  Here we also walked amongst the animals which were very tame  - zebras, giraffe and numerous antelope species.   
On the final day we visited the Ecca Pass Nature Reserve where we were
accompanied by local expert, Tony Dold, curator of the Schonland Herbarium in Grahamstown.  This reserve consists of succulent thicket vegetation. 
He showed many of the local endemics including Bergeranthus species,
Haworthias, Euphorbias, Faucarias and Ceropegias.  We also saw many Strelitzia regina, some specimens of the local cycad, Encephalartos trispinosis and some Crinum macowanii in flower and in seed.  On the final leg back to Port Elizabeth we stopped for Haemanthus coccineus which had just burst into flower at Colchester.

The East Cape not only has spectacular flowers but a wide variety of habitats and magnificent scenery - well worth a visit at any time in the spring and summer.  A spin-off is the opportunity to meet with the local farmers and nature lovers, all of whom are very hospitable and anxious to show you all they have to offer on their farms. 

Also see -
Andrew Lanoe's account of the East Cape Tour in February 2009

In search of Wild Nerines April 2010

Plants and Tours