Plettenberg Bay Game Reserve stretches over 2200 hectares and embraces two of the natural biomes which occur in South Africa, Fynbos and Forest:
- Fynbos, meaning ‘fine bush’ in Afrikaans, is the natural shrubland or heathland vegetation occurring in a small belt of the Western Cape of South Africa, mainly in winter rainfall coastal and mountainous areas with a Mediterranean climate. The name refers to the fine, needle-like leaves of many fynbos species, the majority of which are evergreen sclerophyll (hard-leaf) plants.
Three of the characteristic fynbos plant families are proteas, ericas and restios. Proteas are represented by many species and are prominent in the landscape as one of the few large-leaf plant types, generally with large striking flowers which may be pollinated by birds. Ericas or heaths are generally smaller plants with many small, tubular flowers and needle-like leaves. The grass-like restios – only a few species of which are known outside the fynbos area – grow in wetter areas. More than 1400 bulb species occur among the fynbos, of which 96 are gladiolus and 54 lachenalias. Fire is a necessary stage in the lives of almost all fynbos plants, and is common during the dry summer months.
Many of the seeds germinate only after the intense heat of a fire. In readiness for fire, most proteas retain their seeds on the bush for at least one year, a habit known as serotiny. They do this in structures which resemble the original flowerheads. In some species these structures are strikingly beautiful and long-lasting, which accounts for their use in dried floral arrangements.
- The Knysna-Amatole montane forests is a subtropical moist broadleaf forest ecoregion of South Africa, covering an area of 3100 square km in the Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces. The ecoregion, which is South Africa’s smallest in area, covers two separate enclaves. The Knysna forest extends along the Garden Route Coast while the KwaZulu-Cape coastal forest mosaic lies along the coast to the north-east.
The Amatole forests lie in the Amatole mountains, which lie inland and 400km to the east of the Knysna Forest. The ecoregion has a subtropical, warm-temperate climate with rainfall occurring year round, and ranging from 525 mm to 1220 mm per year in the Knysna Forest, and from 750 mm to 1500 mm in the Amatole forests. The trees are of tropical and Afromontane origin, and include ironwood (Olea capensis), stinkwood (Ocotea bullata), Outeniqua yellowwood (Afrocarpus falcatus), real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), Cape holly (Ilex mitis), white pear (Apodytes dimidiata), Cape beech (Rapanea melanophloeos), bastard saffron (Cassine peragua), Cape plane (Ochna arborea), assegai tree (Curtisia dentata), kamassi (Gonioma kamassi), white alder (Platylophus trifoliatus), and red alder (Cunonia capensis).
The forests are home to African elephant, African leopard, rock hyrax, and other mammals as well as an assortment of bird species, reptiles, amphibians and insects. Despite the small size of the ecoregion, the Knysna and Amatole forests are South Africa’s largest individual forests. The Knysna Forest has been exploited for valuable timber since the 1700s, and the Amatole forests since the 1900s. Currently the forests are mostly within protected areas, although managed timber harvesting is allowed.