We explore South African rainforest facts.
South Africa’s only rainforest rests on the edge of the Crocodile River on the outskirts of Nelspruit, in a place so unlikely that hardly anyone knows it exists.
It isn’t a naturally occurring rainforest.
South Africa’s erratic dry periods mean that the chances of a tropical rainforest, as they occur in Africa, is virtually impossible.
Rainforests receive, on average, 80 inches of rain a year – an average highly unlikely in a place like Nelspruit (just outside the Kruger National Park), which gets an annual rainfall of about 800 mm, and light frosts during the winter, which would also affect the growth of certain species of plant.
And yet the 15 000-sq-m botanical garden decided to introduce a representative African rainforest – a first – for nowhere else are the forests of tropical Africa represented in a botanical garden.
Nelspruit Botanical Garden’s reasons for introducing a rainforest were twofold:
- to promote the fast-disappearing rainforest
- to provide a glimpse of forest magnificence to visitors who might never get any further into Africa to see the ‘real’ thing
South African rainforest facts:
- Tropical rainforests cover about 2 million km² of Africa. You’ll only find more rainforest in the Amazon (6 million km²).
- African rainforests are being lost to deforestation at a rate of 0.3% every year – that’s 40 hectares per minute (whilst slower than the Amazon and South East Asia, this is still deeply worrying).
- To recolonise a devastated forest area takes roughly 1 000 years.
- Combined, the tropical rainforests of the world store 250 billion tonnes of carbon that the earth cannot afford to release into the atmosphere.
- The Paris climate summit of 2015 officially recognised incentives to conserve forests for their carbon.
- Look up into the canopy of Nelspruit’s rainforest and you’ll spot staghorn ferns, orchids pollinated by moths, and other orchids whose special roots catch fallen leaves that provide food, once they’ve decomposed.
- Nothing goes to waste in a rainforest – every little leaf or insect body is recycled.
- The Nelspruit rainforest was planted with a series of pioneer trees – trees and seeds (now grown into a selection of trees in the garden’s nursery)from state organisations in Africa, like the Entebbe Botanic Garden in Uganda and departments of forestry in Kenya and Malawi, initially to act as the forest’s giants. Quick growers they form the protective canopy under which the forest lives out its secret life.
- Nelspruit’s 2 hectare rainforest now stands where there was an existing riverine scrub forest.
- The forest is watered by an overhead watering system with water from the Crocodile River on whose bank it stands.
- Four 17-metre high steel towers are each mounted with huge ‘rain gun’ sprinklers, delivering around 27.5 cu. metres of water an hour over the full radius of the forest. When it comes on, the very realistic ‘rain’ is magnificent, and the ensuing smell of moist forest humus intoxicating.
- Through the rainforest canopy is an incredible, raised wooden boardwalk (the forest floor is way too soggy to walk through) – the highlight of any visit to the garden.
- A similar rainforest has been recreated in the Harare Botanical Garden in Zimbabwe to represent the regional forest flora
- The last of our South African rainforest facts: if you want to visit the rainforests of Africa, then you need to head to central Africa – where rainforest covers large parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic, Cabon, Congo, Uganda and Rwanda.
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