Platbos is an ancient indigenous forest situated at the foot of Africa. Described by well-known botanist and author, Professor Eugene Moll, as a “unique South African forest jewel”, this is a forest that enchants and inspires all who come to visit.
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 Overstrand´s 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.