Platbos Forest

Platbos - A Unique South African Forest Jewel

by Professor Eugene Moll

Between Stanford and Gansbaai in the Western Cape, hidden in the gently folded landscape, there are five substantial patches of indigenous forest. The largest and best conserved of these is Platbos (= flatbush/forest). The major portion of Platbos is owned by Francois and Melissa Krige, two ex-Capetonians who sold up everything they owned in the city to buy Platbos. They have dedicated themselves to conserving the forest and are assisted with this by two well-trained staff members from Gansbaai’s Masakhane township.
Platbos is unique, not only because of the composition of the canopy tree species but also because to find forest in South Africa on gently undulating terrain, covered by deep, alkaline sandy soils, is rare. The nearest similar forests are around Alexandria (just east of Port Elizabeth) and then into KZN (the Hawaan at Umhlanga, Hlogwene at the Tugela mouth, Dukuduku close to St Lucia and then into the forests of Maputaland and on into southern Mozambique).

What also makes Platbos unique is that it is still home to Bushbuck, and according to Skead is about the southwestern limit of this shy forest and scrub dweller. It seems too that the tiny and increasingly rare Blue Duiker also once occurred here.

Walking through Platbos on one of the trails is indeed a privilege. The terrain is essentially flat so the walks are not onerous, and the forest is relatively open so visibility is good. What also makes Platbos unique is that structurally the canopy is low – a maximum of ~10m. Thus the biggest canopy trees have minimal trunks, so it is akin to walking through the lower canopy, which means leaves, flowers and fruits are close at hand – making the identification of the vascular plants easier.

The dominant tree species are the Afromontane species of Celtis africana (African White-stinkwood) and Olinia ventosa (Induqu Hard-pear), and the coastal Forest species Sideroxylon inermeApodytes dimidiataEuclea racemosa (Dune Guarri) are most common – and all are easily identifiable albeit with a little practice/help. (White-milkwood). In the understorey Chionanthus foveolata (Pock-ironwood), (White-pear) and

Many of large tree branches are covered with epiphytes such as Peperomia, ferns, mosses and lichens (that after rain or fog are bright green, but in dry times all but the Peperomia are shriveled and brown waiting for moisture). Also many of the exposed branches are festoon with the old Man’s Beard lichen (Usnea cf barbata).

Woody climbers of lianas are locally common, and where they occur in dense concentrations many of the more common forest birds seek refuge in the dense cover.

Because of past disturbance (tree cutting, cattle grazing/ browsing, and fire) Acacia cyclops (Rooikrans) has invaded parts of the forest and all have been either pulled (seedlings and small saplings) or ring-barked – and there were some enormous specimens left as dead stags. Because Rooikrans thickets almost surround Platbos and because frugivorous birds love the red arils that surround the seeds, the whole region has huge supplies of soil-stored seed-banks and for the managers removing rooikrans seedlings and saplings is a never-ending challenge.

For anyone wanting to visit this gem it is easy to find – from Stanford to Gansbaai take the Grootbos turn-off and look for and follow the Platbos signs – pre-booking your walk is essential. Once at Platbos there are interpretative pamphlets concerning the trails (self-guided or with a guide), the majors plant species, and the history of the forest. You can also sponsor a forest tree to be planted on the forest edge as part of their reforestation project, and you are welcome to visit the Platbos Forest Indigenous Tree Nursery. Funds generated from the forest walks go towards the costs of alien clearing, firebreaks and maintenance of the forest paths.