International Day of Forests: Getting to know South Africa’s forests

The Knysna forest. Picture:

The Knysna forest. Picture:

Published Mar 21, 2024


Nestled within South Africa's vast expanse, natural forests and savannah woodlands cover approximately half a million hectares, representing 0.4% of the country's landmass.

Despite their modest footprint, these ecosystems play a pivotal role in conserving biodiversity, safeguarding soil integrity, and purifying water sources, enriching the nation's natural heritage and offering a sanctuary for both wildlife and humans alike.

While timber plantations may not replicate the intricate biodiversity of natural forests, they serve as crucial carbon sinks, absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide and storing it within their biomass.

According to Forestry South Africa, these cultivated forests, spanning over 1.2 million hectares, contribute significantly to carbon sequestration efforts while providing sustainable sources of timber and fibre, supporting industries and livelihoods across the country.

In regions such as KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, where forestry landscapes dominate the terrain, they stand as testament to South Africa's commitment to sustainable forest management.

These plantations, lush canopies of pine, eucalyptus, and wattle trees, covering approximately 70% of the forestry landscape, exemplify the coexistence of nature and industry, balancing economic prosperity with environmental stewardship.

Amidst the breathtaking vistas of South Africa's forests, a rich tapestry of indigenous flora and fauna thrives, with over 649 woody and 636 herbaceous indigenous species calling these ecosystems home.

From the iconic yellowwood trees to rare endemic plant species, these forests harbour a treasure trove of botanical gems, some found nowhere else on Earth.

South Africa's largest forests are predominantly located in the southern and eastern parts of the country. Some of the notable forests include:

Knysna Forest

Situated in the Garden Route region of the Western Cape Province, Knysna Forest is one of South Africa's largest indigenous forests. It is known for its lush vegetation, diverse wildlife, and scenic beauty.

Tsitsikamma Forest

Adjacent to the Tsitsikamma National Park along the Garden Route, the Tsitsikamma Forest is another significant forested area. It is characterised by ancient trees, deep gorges, and numerous hiking trails.

Knysna-Amatole Montane Forests

This forested region encompasses several areas in both the Western Cape and Eastern Cape Provinces, including the Outeniqua, Tsitsikamma, and Amatola forests. The area is renowned for its rich biodiversity and unique montane forest ecosystems.

Mistbelt Forests

Found in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal Province, the Mistbelt Forests are an important ecological zone known for their misty conditions and diverse plant and animal species.

The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 21 the International Day of Forests in 2012 to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. Countries are encouraged to undertake local, national and international efforts to organise activities involving forests and trees, such as tree planting campaigns.