Forests KZN

Our Ancient Forests

This months article by Glynne Howels is a thorough introduction to forests, and how they have adapted life around them since the beginning of time.

Today, forests occupy approximately one-third of Earth’s land area, account for over two-thirds of the leaf area of land plants, and contain about 70% of carbon present in living things. They have been held in reverence in folklore and worshipped in ancient religions.

Forests KZNThreatened

However, forests are becoming major casualties of civilization as human populations have increased over the past several thousand years, bringing deforestation, pollution, and industrial usage problems to this important biome.

Forests in South Africa consist of many small, fragmented and widely distributed patches. They persist in a relatively dry landscape. Fires driven by hot, dry winds during the dry season determined this fragmented location pattern of the forests. Human use and clearing of forests have aggravated this fragmentation.

Largest Forest in KZN

In KwaZulu-Natal the Dukuduku forest is the largest (3 500 ha) but is seriously threatened by uncontrolled settlement of people.

This accentuates the importance of natural forests in South Africa, covering about 0.1 per cent of the country.

Areas of forest in KwaZulu-Natal grow mostly on south facing slopes in higher rainfall areas and along the humid coastal areas.

Forests KZNForest Types

Different types of forest can be identified by their species composition which depends mostly on the altitude, latitude and substrate (soil and rock types) in which they grow. South facing slopes are favourable for the development of forest as they are more shaded, and therefore cooler and retain more moisture than the northern slopes.

The extra moisture on the south slopes is not only favoured by forest trees, but also helps to prevent or subdue wildfires. The coastal regions are conducive to forest formation because of high rainfall and humidity which are favoured by forest trees and also help to prevent or subdue fires.

Forests are collections of trees and woody plantsand are divided vertically and horizontally. The canopy, midlevel and forest floor describe layers and the ecotone and climax forest delineate its spread on the ground.

Animal Adaptation

Forest conditions require a special set of adaptations for animals to successfully survive and flourish there. The ability to climb or fly will allow escape from predators and easy access to choice food.

Many types of primate live in forests and a number of rodents have evolved the ability to glide from tree to tree using flaps of skin between their limbs. The ability to blend into the shady and leafy habitat makes camouflage an important adaptation.

Striped tigers and spotted leopards and antelope are examples of this. Tree frogs and butterflies, some of them very brightly coloured, are more examples of the ability to blend into the background.

Larger birds of prey such as Crowned Eagles, owls and goshawks who hunt amongst forest trees, have wing shapes that enable them to manoeuvre between trees and also remain silent as they fly.

In tropical forests, being active at night or nocturnal, avoids the high temperatures of the day and the competition from diurnal animals. Good hearing, thick skin, and good eye sight all aid forest dwellers succeed in this environment.

Feet for climbing and gripping forest branches; Tails for balancing or as a third hand; large or long bills for dealing with fruit and hard nuts or seeds.

Forests KZNLeaves

The leaves of forest trees have adapted to cope with exceptionally high rainfall. Many tropical rainforest leaves have a drip tip. It is thought that these drip tips enable rain drops to run off quickly. Plants need to shed water to avoid growth of fungus and bacteria in the warm, wet tropical rainforest.

Many large trees have massive ridges near the base that can rise 30 feet high before blending into the trunk. Buttress roots provide extra stability, especially since roots of tropical rainforest trees are not typically as deep as those of trees in temperate zones. Forest plants have shallow roots to help capture nutrients from the top level of soil.

Prop and stilt roots help give support and are characteristic of tropical palms growing in shallow, wet soils. Although the tree grows fairly slowly, these above-ground roots can grow 28 inches a month.

Epiphytes are plants that live on the surface of other plants, especially the trunk and branches. They grow on trees to take advantage of the sunlight in the canopy. Most are orchids, bromeliads, ferns, and Philodendron relatives. Tiny plants called epiphylls, mostly mosses, liverworts and lichens, live on the surface of leaves.

Tropical Deltas

On tropical deltas and along ocean edges and river estuaries, trees have adapted to living in wet, marshy conditions. These trees, called mangroves, have wide-spreading stilt roots that support the trees in the tidal mud and trap nutritious organic matter.

Flowers on the forest floor are designed to lure animal pollinators since there is relatively no wind on the forest floor to aid in pollination. In deciduous forests, plants on the forest floor flower in early spring before the trees have grown new leaves so they get adequate sunlight.

Article and Images: G Howells KZN Wildlife

Image Source: Zululand Birding Route

oNgoye Forest Nature Reserve

Ngoye, oNgoye, Ongoye – no matter how you spell it or pronounce it, with an estimated 605 bird species this is regarded as one of the gems along the Zululand Birding Route.

Large stem of Encephalartos woodii at Durban Botanic Gardens

This is reputedly the only place in the world where the rare Woodward’s barbet or green barbet is found. Located only 150 kilometres north of Durban, between Mtunzini, Eshowe and Empangeni, makes this a very accessible destination, along a culturally rich part of KZN. It is wise to note though that a 4×4 vehicle is required due to the condition of the roads.

A reserve of almost 4000 hectares, the dense forest is on a ridge of hills overlooking the Indian Ocean. Trees reaching up to 30m in hight share the area with ancient cycads, orchids, epiphytic ferns and other rare plants. It is here that one of the rarest plants in the world, the Wood’s Cycad,  was last found that is now extinct in the wild since the early 1900’s.

Amongst the animals found here is the samango monkey, bushbabies, babboons and mongoos, as well as the elusive blue duiker. Endemic to the forest is the Ngoye red squirrel, whilst the unique and rare Forest Green Butterfly can also be found. Found in abundance is the Zululand dwarf chameleon.

A permit is required to visit the site, and a gate fee and community levy is charged, although both at a nominal fee. While tourism is feared to have a possible negative impact on this unique area,  the rural community rely on the forest as their main natural resource. A community project is underway to aid in providing the means of improvement in their socio-economic development, whilst ensuring the sustainability of the reserve.

Ancient Forests of KwaZulu Natal and Zululand


Taken from Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Rhino Club November News. For enquiries regarding the Rhino Gold Club, simply contact the Helpdesk by email to or fax 033 8451015 or Tel 033 8451011/13

Situated in southern Zululand, near the town of Eshowe, are two beautiful indigenous forests Dlinza and Entumeni. Both consist almost entirely of coastal scarp forest with a few glades of grassland. Known for their birds and plants, the forests are also home to a number of mammal species. The forests are currently visited by bird watchers from all over the world with the hope of catching a glimpse of one of the rare species which occur there.
Both forests have hiking trails which allow easy access for visitors to enjoy their unique cool atmosphere. In addition there is a magnificent canopy walk in Dlinza which takes visitors high into the tree tops. Early morning is the best time to visit as the forests echo with bird calls befo
re the heat and cicada beetles take their toll a little later in the day. Shaded picnic sites are available. No entrance fee or booking is required. Accommodation and camping facilities are available at numerous establishments in Eshowe. An interpretive display on the fauna and flora in the area is situated in the Eshowe Fort Museum. The town of Eshowe also forms the epicentre of the Zululand birding route.
For more information contact the Eshowe Tourism Association on (035) 4741141.

Situated on the Northern Drakensberg escarpment Ncandu Reserve is managed as an extension of Chelmsford. The area consists of steep forest filled gorges, divided by grassy plateaus with trails that wander down through the sandstone cliffs into yellowwood forests an d follow the Ncandu river valley with its beautiful waterfalls. Accommodation is provided in a 4 bed rustic mountain hut. Ncandu is 40 kilometres from Chelmsford where booking must be made.
Camp Telephone (034) 3511753/4/5 and Fax Number (34) 3511755

Throughout Zulu history the Nkandla forest has been a place of mystery, the home of supernatural beings, and a formidable stronghold and place of retreat. The Chube are the iron-workers associated with the Nkandla and they were never conquered by Shaka. It has always been the last retreat of the Zulu from Shaka’s time to that of Bhambatha.

The Nkandla Forest is one of the m
ost outstanding examples of surviving mist belt forest in South Africa. The forest covers the crown and south-western slopes of the ridge which lies above the Mhlatuze and Thukela rivers at a height of between 1100 and 1300 m above sea level. Streams rising in the forest form deep gorges leading into the Nsuze river which runs along the base of the ridge.

Apart from being an area of great, often pristine, natural beauty, the Nkandla Forest represents a rare relict type of high wet rain forest, of which very few examples survive. They are relicts of times in the distant past when the climate was wetter, and even colder. The forest has an exceptionally high species diversity with many species that are associated with scarp forest occurring. This indicates that Nkandla may be positioned in a transitional zone between mist and scarp forest. The many rare plants, and the rarity of the habitat type as a whole, are in themselves sufficient reasons for conserving this rare forest type.

There are currently no visitor facilities at Nkandla, though people who wish to hike or camp may do so with the prior permission of the Officer in Charge. Any person wishing to visit the reserve or camp in the designated area must contact the Officer in Charge on the telephone number 035 4745020.

Ongoye Forest is an exceptionally rare and diverse habitat. It is probably the most famous example of the extremely rare scarp forests. The Ongoye range is well-drained by numerous fast-flowing streams such as the Umlalazi and its tributaries the Thondo and the Intuze arising from valley-head springs and is of great importance as a water catchment area. It has large array of rare and endemic tree and plant species that make it “a must” for the more discerning nature lover.
The many tree rarities include magnificent giant umzimbeet, Millettia sutherlundii, forest mangosteen Garcinia gerrardii, forest water berry, Syzygium gerrardii and pondoland fig Ficus bizanae amongst others. The cycads Encephalartos ngoyanus and Encephalartos villosus are also found here. Birding and hiking are also very popular all year round. There are about 130 bird species found on the reserve. The green barbet is endemic to the forest. Bushbuck, red duiker and red squirrel are also found. The giant Wood’s cycad, Encephalartos woodii, now extinct in the wild, but surviving at the botanic gardens in Durban only occurred here.

The Officer in Charge of Ongoye is resident on station but does not have a phone due to the remoteness of the area. People wishing to visit Ongoye for the day, or to camp must contact this official on arrival. Gate opening and closing times winter and summer 06h00 – 18h00 There are no visitor facilities at Ongoye so people wishing to camp must be fully self contained.