The forest, found on the slopes of the Baviaanspoort Hills, is located on the Grootbos Road between the fishing village of Gansbaai and the seaside town of Hermanus in the Western Cape Province. Southern Right Whales gather each year in Spring to birth their young in the blue waters of Walker Bay, a few kilometers away from the forest. The vegetation surrounding the forest comprises low-growing limestone fynbos (an endangered ecosystem of immense floral biodiversity), coastal thickets, cultivated fields and dense stands of invasive alien vegetation. The discovery that the landscape also nurtures this unusual gem of an indigenous forest, takes many by surprise.
One of the Overstrand’s Best Kept Secrets
“Platbos“, an Afrikaans name, translates as “flat forest or bush“, a perfectly descriptive name. From the approaching valley road, Platbos looks like a flat green swath of fynbos or even alien-invasive vegetation! This has helped to keep Platbos Forest as one of the Overstrands best kept secrets. From the exterior, no inkling is given of the age-old trees found within the forest canopy. Draped in “old man’s beard”, the trees have gnarled, twisted trunks and branches, folded and creased like the wrinkled limbs of elephants. The pure forest air nurtures a myriad of lichens that mottle the tree bark in patterns of orange, pink and white. During the wet, winter months, the mosses and epiphytic ferns that make their home on the trees come to life in brilliant shades of green.
A Botanical Mystery
Since the 1960’s, botanists have puzzled over the very existence of Platbos Forest. Other relic forests survived the gradual temperature increases by retreating into the moister mountain ravines (kloofs) and riverbanks. In stark contrast however, Platbos Forest occurs in deep sandy, alkaline soil on north-facing, gently undulating terrain. No river course feeds the forest and the relatively low rainfall of the region (600 to 800 mm per annum) is generally not considered sufficient to support a forest. Certainly, the occasional coastal mists which blanket the forest in the early hours of the hot summer months are critical for not only sustaining the forest’s moisture levels, but also for the epiphytes and mosses that festoon many of the trees.
Despite these uncompromising conditions, aged trees – some estimated to be over 1000 years old – continue to survive.
Indigenous forests of the Western Cape are normally located in “fire shadows” – that is, in kloofs or on landscapes that have natural features protecting them from run-away veld fires. Platbos grows on a gentle, sunny slope – it is exposed on all sides to the seasonal winds that blow on and off through the summer months. Unlike most indigenous forests, therefore, Platbos does not exist in a fire shadow yet there are ancient trees here that have stood for hundreds of years.
Whilst there is evidence that fire has nibbled at the forest’s perimeters in places, the forest has not only remained largely intact but aerial photographs show that it has even increased in size. This is very encouraging information. There is a popular misconception that indigenous forests do not readily catch fire but as seen during a devastating blaze in the area in 2006, this is not the case. Platbos was fortunate to escape this fire unscathed not so the beautiful kloof forest at neighbouring Flower Valley – an estimated 70% of the indigenous trees burnt.
Many species of alien vegetation contain volatile oils that cause them to burn with a greater heat intensity than natural veld fires. Thus the dense alien stands on neighbouring land, if ignited by a run-away fire, represent a grave fire hazard to the forest.
Funds generated from the Platbos Forest woodland trail;contribute towards the costs of establishing and maintaining firebreaks in the worst infestered areas.;
Hope for Tomorrow
The unlikely existence of this unique forest at the foot of Africa, birth place of humanity, serves as a powerful symbol of hope for the future. In spite of past logging activities, drought and threat from alien vegetation, Platbos Forest persists. This quiet tenacity is all the more compelling in the face of global warming and the threatening climatic changes this poses.
Yet more than a symbol of hope, this forest also offers us a practical means of addressing some of these global challenges, and we are pleased to announce the launch of our Reforestation Project: Trees for Tomorrow.Browse the pages of the website to find out how you can participate in this exciting project.
Check out www.platbos.co.za