The Knysna Forests

The Knysna forests cover much of the catchment area that feeds the Knysna Estuary - so they have a direct impact on it. And since the Knysna Estuary is part of The Knysna Hope Spot, it’s worth knowing a little about the Knysna forests. (Mission Blue defines Hope Spots as special conservation areas that are critical to the health of Earth’s blue heart - our oceans).

Only abut 0.5% of South Africa’s total land mass is covered by indigenous forest - and the 60,000 hectares of Knysna Forest which grow between George and Tsitsikamma form largest continuous example of Afromontane forest in the country.   

Early colonists at the Cape harvested timber from the small forests they found on the slopes of Table Mountain. But this resource was soon depleted and by the late 1700s the Colony needed an alternate source of supply. For this it looked to the forests of Outeniqualand - the Garden Route - because here, it was thought, the forests were so big that they could never be exhausted (this may have been the source of the misconception that the Garden Route was once almost totally covered by trees - although the area was in fact originally a patchwork of Afromontane forests, fynbos and strandveld).

Harvesting in the Knysna Forests began in the late 1700s, and although there the area probably boasted about 250,000 hectares of forest at the beginning of the nineteenth century, more than 190,000 hectares were destroyed by logging, encroachment and the infamous Great Fire of 1869 before it was realised that these forests, too, would eventually disappear. The 60,000 ha which remained were finally placed under government protection in the 1930s.

Most of the indigenous forests of the area are now managed by SANParks. Tight control now ensures that only small amounts of timber are harvested for the furniture industry and that the Knysna Forests remain protected for generations to come.

Knysna’s furniture industry

Knysna was for many years considered the centre of South Africa’s fine furniture industry: it even had a cabinet makers’ trade school (which occupied the present-day ambulance services building at the Knysna Hospital). The town still supports a number of fine furniture factories, some of which are open to visitors.

Plantation Forestry

South Africa’s plantation forests cover nearly 1.5 million hectares - or 1.2% of the country’s total land mass. The Southern Cape supports a small plantation industry. The preferred species is Pinus radiata - the Monterey pine - a softwood which is grown for its timber.

Invader Plants 

The law requires the removal of invader plants - pests which threaten our indigenous vegetation, use up our water supplies and pose serious fire hazards. Invasive aliens include Hakea spp. (hakea); Acacia mearnsii (black wattle); Acacia saligna (Port Jackson willow) and Acacia cyclops (rooikrans).


Some Trees of the Knysna Forests 

Outeniqua Yellowwood (Kalander) - was used in the past for ships’ masts and is now used for furniture.

Real Yellowwood - is used more often than kalander. To tell the difference between the two in the forests: the kalander’s bark peels off in ragged blocks, while the real yellowwood’s peels off in narrow, vertical strips.

Wild fig - the milky sap is used in traditional medicine for treating burns and conjunctivitis, and an infusion of the leaves and bark is fed to cows which produce too little milk.

Stinkwood - is hard and heavy but easily worked. The wood ranges in colour from golden through brown to almost black, and is amongst the most expensive and highly prized in the world. It was in such great demand in the Cape Colony that the Knysna forests became seriously depleted of accessible specimens by 1812. This was one of the reasons why no indigenous wood was cut in state forests between 1939 until 1967.

Red Alder - produces a rich red to light brown, white-flecked, straight grained, even-textured timber which is used for furniture.

White Alder - is even textured, pinkish-brown and medium-hard. It is used in boat-building, furniture and veneers. A very important honey tree when in flower.

Cape Chestnut - an unmistakable tree in full bloom. Large bunches of pink flowers cover the whole crown in mid-summer.

Cape Beech (Boekenhout) - produces light brown, silky grained, hard and heavy timber which resembles European beech. It is used in construction, furniture, paneling, flooring and violin-making. In traditional medicine, the bark was used as an expectorant and emetic.

Milkwood - produces yellow, strong, very hard and very durable timber which was formerly used in boat building. The species is now protected - largely because it grows in thickets which produce unique micro-environments in the coastal scrub. The bark is used in traditional medicine for treating broken limbs and to dispel nightmares.

Checklist of Trees of the Knysna area

Download this checklist in pdf format here

Numbers according to the National List of Trees followed by English, Afrikaans, Xhosa (where available) and botanical names.

2 Cyathea capensis Tree fern Bosboomvaring isiHihi
16 Podocarpus falcatus Outeniqua Yellowwood Kalander umKhoba
18 Podocarpus latifolius Real Yellowwood Opregtegeelhout umCheya
32 Strelitzia alba Wild banana Wildepiesang
38 Myrica serrata Mountain Waxberry Bergwasbessie uMakhuthula
39 Celtis africana White Stinkwood Witstinkhout umVumvu
50 Ficus capensis Wild Fig Wildevyeboom umKhiwane
74 Faurea macnaughtonii Terblans Terblans umKhubane
118 Occotea bullata Stinkwood Stinkhout umNukani
139 Pittosporum viridiflorum White Cape Beech Witboekenhout umKhwenkwe
140 Cunonia capensis Red Alder Rooi-els umQashube
141 Platylophus trifoliatus White Alder Witels
142 Trichocladus crinitus Witch-hazel Onderbos iThambo
147 Prunus africana Red Stinkwood Rooistinkhout iNyazangoma
221 Virgilia oroboides Keurboom Keurboom
254 Fagara davyi Knobwood Perdepram umLungamabele
256 Calodendrum capense Cape chestnut Wildekastaiing umBhaba
261 Vepris undulata White ironwood Witysterhout umZane
298 Ekebergia capensis Cape ash Essenhout umGwenya-wezinja
380 Rhus chirindensis Red currant Bostaaibos umHlakothi
397 Ilex mitis Cape Holly Without umDuma
398 Maytenus acuminata Silky bark Sybas umNama
399 Maytenus heterophylla Spike thorn Pendoring umQaqoba
401 Maytenus peduncularis Indigenous blackwood Inheemseswarthout umNqai
409 Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus Candlewood Kershout uGobandlovu
410 Cassine aethiopica Cape Cherry Kooboebessie umBovane
414 Cassine peragua Bastard saffron Bastersaffraan iKhukhuzi
415 Cassine papillosa Saffron Saffraan umBovane
422 Apodytes dimidiata White Pear Witpeer umDakane
452 Rhamnus prinoides Dogwood Blinkblaar umGlindi
457 Sparrmannia africana Stock rose Stokroos
463 Grewia occidentalis Dewberry Kruisbessie umNqabaza
479 Ochna arborea Cape Plane Rooihout umThentsema
494 Kiggelaria africana Wild Peach Wildeperske Idungamuzi
496 Scolopia mundii Red Pear Rooipeer iQumza
498 Scolopia zeyheri Thorn Pear Wolwedoring  iQumza elinameva
503 Trimeria grandiflora Wild Mulberry Wildemoerbei umNqabane
513 Olinia ventosa Hard Pear Hardepeer iNqudu
520 Passerina falcifolia Gonna  Gonnabos
570 Curtisia dentata Assegai Assegaai umGxina
578 Rapanea melanophloeos Cape Beech Boekenhout isiQwane sehlathi
579 Sideroxylon inerme Milkwood Melkhout umQwashu
603 Diospyros dichrophylla Monkey Plum Tolbos umBongisa
611 Diospyros whyteana Forest Monkey Plum Bostolbos
615 Chionanthus foveolata Ornate-Leaved Ironwood Fynblaarysterhout umNqumaswele
617 Olea capensis Wild Olive Swartolienhout umNquma
618 Olea capensis subsp. capensis Bastard Ironwood Basterysterhout
618.2 Olea capensis subsp. macrocarpa Ironwood Ysterhout Ugqwangxe
634 Nuxia floribunda Wild Elder Vlier isiKhali
636 Buddleia saligna False Olive Witolienhout umGqeba
637 Buddleia salviifolia Wild Sage Wildesalie iGqange
639 Acokanthera oppositifolia Poison Bush Gifboom iNtlungunyembe
641 Gonioma kamassi Kamassi Kamassie iGala-gala
670 Halleria lucida Tree fuchsia Notsung umBinza
688 Burchellia bubalina Wild Pomegranate Wildegranaat unFincane
693 Rothmannia capensis Wild Gardenia Wildekatjiepiering iBolo
708 Canthium inerme Turkey-berry Bokdrol umNyushulube
710 Canthium mundianum Rock Alder Klipels umSantulane
711 Psydrax obovata Quar Kwar umGupe
733 Tarconanthus camphoratus Camphor Bush Saliehout
736.2 Chrysanthemoides monilifera Bush-tick Berry Bietou ulwAmfithi

Text: Martin Hatchuel www.thistourismweek.co.za