Vegitation & Habitats

A Overview of Vegetation and Habitats

The area has a unique combination of vegetation types, which can be attributed to its location and topography. It is a mix of bushveld, forest, open grassland and wetlands. The southern and eastern slopes of the mountain ranges catch the orographic rainfall that blows in from the Indian Ocean. This allows for the development of moist Afrotemperate Mist-belt Forests along the upper southern slopes of the mountains. The lower southern slopes are dominated by semi-deciduous Scrub Forest and semi-deciduous Mixed Forest. These forest types have a strong coastal forest influence, which allows for an unusual diversity of bird species. On the very tops of the mountains occurs a unique combination of Afromontane Grassland with Fynbos elements. The northern and western slopes are hot and dry as they fall in a rain shadow where Arid Mountain Bushveld is found. A variety of Bushveld types occur on the plains; these are dominated in the south by Sour Bushveld and in the north by Mopani Veldt and Mixed Bushveld with Kalahari elements to the west. Around Polokwane, Polokwane Plateau Bushveld is found and to the east of Polokwane one finds a unique vegetation type called Mamabolo Bushveld. A relict patch of Brachystegia Woodland is found in Venda. Although the region is predominantly dry, riverine and wetland habitats are dispersed throughout.

Afromontane Grassland

Afromontane Grassland is also known as Sourveld or North-eastern Mountain Grassland. It occurs on the very tops of the Eastern Escarpment (Wolkberg), Soutpansberg and Blouberg Mountains. Not very much of this habitat is left as it has been replaced by forestry in many parts. It also requires to be sustained by regular burning and the lack thereof has allowed invasion of pioneer shrubs. A Fynbos element, characterised by Proteas, Ericas and succulents, is present in some parts. A mosaic woody association forms part of these grasslands. These are usually dense thickets on quartzite outcrop dominated by Mountain Waterberry Syzygium legatii and Stamvrug Englerophytum magalismontanum. These grasslands are generally poor in bird species. Some birds specific to this habitat are Cape Grassbird, Cape Eagle-Owl, Cape Rock Thrush and Gurney´s Sugarbird.

Afrotemperate Mist-belt Forests

Afrotemperate Mist-belt Forests occur in patches on the southern and eastern slopes of the Magoebaskloof, Soutpansberg and Blouberg mountains. They have a closed canopy, 15 - 25 m in height consisting of single stemmed trees with no emergents. There are at least 1 - 2 sub-canopy tree layers. A shrub layer is usually present although the herb layer is very poorly developed to absent. Characteristic tree species are Broad-leafed Yellowwood Podocarpus latifolius, Lemon Wood Xymalos monospora, Wild Quince Cryptocarya transvalensis and Strangler Fig Ficus craterostoma. Here are a number of bird species that are forest-specific i.e. that occur exclusively in Afrotemporate Mist-belt forest, not to be found in other vegetation types. Examples are White-starred Robin, Orange Ground Thrush, Black-fronted Bush-shrike and Knysna Turaco.

Arid Mountain Bushveld

Arid Mountain Bushveld occurs on hot, dry and rocky northern slopes. The vegetation is open to thicket-like in parts. Characteristic species are Lebombo Ironwood, Androstachys johnsonii, Lavender Croton Croton gratissima, Hairy-leafed Monkey-Orange Strychnos madagascariensis, Silver Cluster-leaf Terminalia sericea and Kiaat Pterocarpus angolensis. Bird life is interesting and one can sometimes spot birds not common to other bushveld types.

Brachystegia Woodland

This Brachystegia Woodland was recently discovered near Gundani village in the north-eastern Soutpansberg. It was previously thought that the closest community, to South Africa, of Brachystegia trees was in Zimbabwe. This community is not very large, only 40 hectares at most. Tree species seem to be dominated by False mufuti Brachystegia utilis and Msasa Brachystegia spiciformis although there is some debate as to possible inter-pollination of the two species. Despite its small size and isolation, some Miombo specials have been recorded in the woodland. These are Southern Hyliota and White-breasted Cuckooshrike. Isolated records of Tree Pipit, Spotted Creeper and Red-throated Twinspot have come from here.

Farm Dams

Farm dams are dotted throughout the area. They mostly have permanent water. The edges are usually well vegetated. The water surface is often covered with water lilies and they have well developed reed beds on the edges.

Lowveld Riverine Forest

Lowveld Riverine Forest is well represented along the Limpopo, Levhubu and Letaba rivers. These gallery forests are tall, almost closed canopied forests forming narrow bands along the riverbanks on nutrient laden soils. Characteristic tree species are Sycomore Fig Ficus sycomorus, Ana Tree Faidherbia albida, Nyala-berry Xanthocercis zambesiaca, Matumi Breonadia salicina, Waterberry Syziguim cordatum and River Bushwillow Combretum erythrophyllum. Birding is excellent in these gallery forests.

Mixed Bushveld

Mixed Bushveld occurs in the western area of the Soutpansberg, around Blouberg and up to the Limpopo. Due to low rainfall grasses are sparse and trees do not grow tall. The vegetation is very varied with a mixture of Mopane Colospermum mopane, Leadwood Combretum imberbe, Baobab Adonsonia digitata, Knob-thorn Acacia Acacia nigrescens, Shepherds Tree Boscia albitrunca and Sesame Bush Sesamothamnus lugardii. In these areas a strong Kalahari element is seen in the protruding red sands. Birds are typically those associated with drier climates.

Mopane Woodlands

Much of the northern and western parts of the province is covered with Mopane Woodlands. The woodlands have pockets of Mixed Bushveld and Lowveld Riverine Forest. Typical species are Mopane Colophospermum mopane, Red bushwillow Combretum apiculatum, Apple-leaf Lonchocarpus capassa and Baobab Adonsonia digitata. Tall Mopane Woodland is the best place to find Arnot´s Chat.

Semi-deciduous Mixed Forest

Semi-deciduous Mixed Forest is a mixture of afrotemperate species and low lying riverine forest species. The canopy is rough, 10 - 15 meters in height and dominated by Flat crown Albizia adianthifolia. There is at least one sub-canopy layer and a shrub and herb layer is present. Other species typically found here are Forest Mahogany Trichilia dregiana, False Cabbage Tree Schefflera umbellifera, Forest Fever Tree Anthocleista grandiflora and Broom-cluster Fig Ficus sur. Birding is rewarding in this forest-type as the canopy is relatively open and a wide range of species occur here.

Semi-deciduous Scrub Forests

Semi-deciduous Scrub Forests are widespread along the lower slopes of the Soutpansberg & Eastern Escarpment. It is a forest type that has developed most probably due to the lack of regular fires and past overgrazing. It has an open canopy that is low, on average 3 - 6 meters high, with a high proportion of deciduous trees. Trees are mostly single stemmed. The forest does not have a clear sub-canopy, but has a definite shrub and herb layer consisting of a high proportion of grasses. Characteristic tree species are the Lavender Tree Hetropixis natalensis, Flame Thorn Acacia ataxacantha, Forest Currant Rhus chirendensis, Forest elder Nuxia floribunda and Bushman´s Tea Catha edulus.

Sour Bushveld

This vegetation type occurs on deep, sandy soils. The vegetation structure is generally open, except where overgrazing has caused bush encroachment. Dominant species are Silver Cluster-leaf Terminalia sericea, Mobola-Plum Parinari curatellifolia, Common Spikethorn Gymnosporia boscifolia, Marula Sclerocarya birrea and Sickle-bush Dichrostachys cinerea.

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