There are two main vegetation types in the natural area of Kirstenbosch: fynbos and forest. The natural area can be explored via a number of walks and trails.
Download the list of plants indigenous to the natural area of Kirstenbosch.
Kirstenbosch supports three types of fynbos, each type occurs on soils derived from the different rock types: Peninsula Granite Fynbos on the lower slopes and valleys, Peninsula Sandstone Fynbos on the middle and upper slopes and a bit of Cape Winelands Shale Fynbos on the north eastern edge of the Kirstenbosch estate. The Peninsula Fynbos is characterised by the presence of tall shrubby proteas, dense cover of ericas and other heath-like shrubs, and restios.
The Protea Family is represented by, amongst others, Leucadendron argenteum(silver tree), Protea nitida (wagon tree or waboom), Protea repens (sugarbush), Protea coronata (green protea), Leucospermum conocarpodendron subsp. viridum (green tree pincushion), which can all be seen on the lower slopes. You can see Protea cynaroides (king protea) growing wild at Kirstenbosch, but will have to climb to near the top of Nursery Ravine to do so. They flower at almost any time of the year, but mainly during winter, spring and early summer (Jun-Nov).
Ericas and other heath-like plants with small leaves: You will see Erica hirtiflora(hairy-flower heath), E. baccans (berry heath), E. plukenetii (browntongue heath), E. abietina subsp. atrorosea (rose-pink heath) and many, many more. Other heath-like plants include Roella ciliata (prickly roella), Aspalathus astroites (Cape gorse), Adenandra uniflora (china flower) and Agathosma tabularis (mountain buchu).
Restios, also known as Cape reeds: You will see Elegia tectorum (= Chondropetalum tectorum) (thatching reed or dakriet), Elegia racemosa (rustling restio or fluisterriet), Restio quadratus (square-stem restio) and many more.
There are many more fynbos species that you will see in the Kirstenbosch natural area including: Agapanthus africanus (Cape agapanthus), Oxalis species with their clover-like foliage (wild sorrel or suring), Watsonia species (watsonia or kanolpypie), Pelargonium cucullatum (hooded pelargonium), Salvia africana-caerulea (blue sage), Crassula capensis (Cape snowdrop), Crassula coccinea (red crassula), Drosera species (sundews) and many more.
If you climb up to Vaalkat Waterfall on the Silvertree Trail, or up Skeleton Gorge to the back table you may see Disa uniflora (red disa) flowering in late summer (Feb.).
Afromontane Forest, meaning mountain forest of Africa, covers about 0.5% of Africa and occurs in isolated pockets, like a series of forest islands, in the mountains of the Western Cape, up the east coast through the Drakensberg to Limpopo and through Africa to the Arabian Peninsula. Forests need rich soil and high rainfall, which is why they are usually found only in well-watered kloofs (ravines) and south-facing slopes. Afromontane forest is dominated by evergreen trees that can reach up to 30 m in height.
At Kirstenbosch forest is found in the kloofs and on the slopes below the highest peaks. The oldest and largest trees can be found between Skeleton and Nursery Streams. Thousands of trees were felled for timber in the late 1600s and 1700s, then alien timber trees were planted, reducing the forest even further. The Kirstenbosch forests have been protected since the Garden was established in 1913. In the 1960-70s alien species were eradicated and the forests left to regenerate and recover naturally.
Tree species that can be seen at Kirstenbosch include Ilex mitis (Cape holly), Podocarpus latifolius (real yellowwood), Ocotea bullata (stinkwood), Olinia ventosa (hard pear), Cunonia capensis (red alder or rooiels), Rapanea melanophloeos (Cape beech, or boekenhout) and many more.