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Executive Summary


Study Area




Rock Art

Sociology: Human Component

Living Culture and Creative Cultural Assets

Arts Heritage: A Case Study

Mission History


Botanical Diversity

Endemic Flora

Orchidaceae of the Soutpansberg

Medicinal Plants

River Health and Water Quality

Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)


Spiders (Araneae)



Indigenous Birds


Private Game Reserves and State Reserves

Vegetation Down load PDF version

P. J. Weisser*, N. Hahn**, C. van der Waal***, P. Tshisikhawe****, C. B. Todd****
* Institute of Conservation and Natural History of the Soutpansberg, Herbarium Soutpansbergensis (ZPB),
*** Mara Research Station,
**** University of Venda for Science and Technology

Sources of information

Data sources

Private recompilation, bibliography available from different publications.


University of Venda, private collection on request. Not up to date.

Period over which data has been recorded: 15 years.


100% on a macro scale, landscape management units 10%, plant communities at structural level 2%, exotic plantations 50%, landtype maps (1: 50 000), land cover map 2000 version (1: 250 000?).

Summary statistics

  • Acocks defines 7 veld types, Low & Rebelo 2 Biomes and 7 veld types.
  • No statistics available for more detailed vegetation studies.
  • Endemic vegetation types: North Eastern Mountain Sour Veld (Acocks, 1988),
  • Soutpansberg Arid Mountain Bushveld (Low & Rebelo [eds], 1996)

Statistics on indigenous vegetation

Some isolated statistics are available from local vegetation studies. Studies, often in the form of reports, are not sufficiently known, and could be a valuable source. For example the species list from plots done at the Mutshidudi catchment area revealed the presence of 109 plant families, 397 Genera and 619 species (Weisser & Todd, 2001).

The same situation exists in relation to quantitative data on vegetation. For example, in the Matondoni area, near Thohoyandou, a pristine forest was studied using the point quarter method. (Weisser et al., in prep). Schefflera umbellifera was the tree with the highest importance value, followed by Bridelia micrantha, Cussonia spicata, Albizia adianthifolia, Brachylaena discolor, Combretum molle, Croton sylvaticus and Parinari curatellifolia.

Statistics on invasive alien vegetation

Statistics on the presence and distribution of invasive alien plant species can be accessed through the national data base coordinated by Ms Henderson (SAPIA) and Honours studies done at the University of Venda. The Working for Water Project also has information about the presence of and control methods for noxious weeds.

Comments and statistics on the conservation status of vegetation in the area

The area, being in a semi-arid climate (periodic droughts), is highly vulnerable to human degradation. Iron Age sites dating back about 1 200 years still show irreversible degradation. Growth rates of trees are usually slow (except exotic timber species) and abandoned fields are slow to recover.

Extrapolating from the information of Low & Rebelo (1996) one could assume that 65% of the area is transformed by human activities and about 12% formally conserved.

The transformation of many cattle farms into game ranching and tourist facilities, as well as the creation of conservancy areas, has enhanced conservation conditions considerably. On the other hand, population pressure, urban sprawl, clearing for agriculture, forestry plantations and overgrazing have caused the disappearance of extensive natural and semi-natural habitats.

Major studies and publications

Currently intensive work on the conservation status of riparian plant communities is in progress (Fouche, pers. comm.). Veld types of the Western Soutpansberg is currently under study by T. Mostert (Univ. of Pretoria, PhD project).

In relation to specific species, information is available on Brackenridgea zanguebarica (Todd, 1999; Tshisikhawe, 2002; and Todd et al., 2003.). Milletia stuhlmanni was studied by Todd & Mukwevho (unpublished). Both species are highly endangered. However, these species are common in Zimbabwe and Mozambique, where they are not endangered.

The greatest problpem is the commercialization of trading in the parts of these plants. Original use was sustainable, however, with the profit motive behind the muti trade, both plant species are highly endangered in this area. Although traditional healers still observe the rituals of collecting medicinal plants, the impact of middlemen involved in the trade cannot be ignored (Tshisikhawe, 2002).


An extensive list of references is available in Hahn, N (2002) “Endemic Flora of the Soutpansberg”, & in Weisser & Todd (MS) “Some main Plant Communities in the Venda Region”.

BUTT, M. J., EVERARD, D. A. & GELDENHUYS, C. J. 1994. The distribution and composition of vegetation types in the Soutpansberg-Blouberg Mountain Complex. Report for DEA-814, CSIR.

EVERARD et al. 1995. Natural Resource Planning in the Soutpansberg Region.

CSIR. Forestek Report for Dept. Environmental Affairs and Tourism 143pp.

GERHARDT, K. & TODD, C. B. (in progress). The effect of harvesting practices and social changes on the conservation and sustainable production of tree species in woodlands in Zimbabwe and South Africa.

HAHN, N. 2002. Endemic Flora of the Soutpansberg. MSc Thesis, Univ. of Natal, RSA.

MUDAU, E. 2001. Venda names of 120 herbs growing in the Venda region. Unpublished list, Thohoyandou, South Africa Venda herb species list.

MUKWEVHO, N. E. 2003. The conservation status of Milletia stuhlmannii (Taubert) in the Soutpansberg, Limpopo Province, South Africa. Hons. Project, University of Venda.

NETSHIUNGANI, E. N. & VAN WYK, A. E. 1980. Mutavhatsindi, mysterious plant from Venda. Veld and Flora 66: 87–89.

TODD, C. B. 1999. & RAMBUDA, T. 1999. Aloe lutescens. Veld and Flora 85: 17.

TODD, C. B. 2001. Survey production of Sclerocarya birrea (Marula). Report for Commercial Products from the Wild Programme funded by the Innovation Fund.

TODD, C. B., KHOROMBI, K., VAN DER WAAL B. C. & WEISSER P. J. (2003, in press). Conservation of woodland biodiversity: a complementary indigenous and European approach towards protecting a threatened woodland tree Brackenridgea zanguebarica. Chapter to be published in: Use and Value of Indigenous Forest and Woodlands in South Africa, editors M. Laws, H. Eeley, C Shackleton & B. Geach.

TSHISIKHAWE, M. P. 2002. Trade of indigenous medicinal plants in the Northern Province Venda region: their ethnobotanical importance and sustainable use. M.Sc Thesis. University of Venda for Science and Technology. Thohoyandou, RSA.

VAN WARMELO, N. J. 1989. Venda Dictionary. Tshivenda— English. J. L. van Shaik Publishers, Pretoria, South Africa, 489 pp.

WEISSER, P. J., TODD, C. B., VENTER S, HAHN, N. & NEVHUTALU, S. L. (in progress) Botanical Descriptions of some main plant communities of the Venda Region, South Africa. A regional Study Guide. University of Venda.

WEISSER, P. J., TODD, C. B., VENTER S. & BOND, W. (in progress). Plant communities along a transect from Limpopo to Mutale River. Biology Department University of Venda, Thohoyandou.

Recommendations for priority studies required to fill any gaps identified

Broad Scale Classification of Vegetation

Remote sensing techniques are central for vegetation studies. Up to now satellite imagery have been of limited use in a multi habitat, mosaic forming vegetation such as the Soutpansberg. Better results would be achieved using the latest aerial photo coverage combined with computer aided photo interpretation. This would allow the proposal of “photo derived vegetation units”. These need then to be validated with fieldwork for refining and validation.

Vegetation data, sometimes from local reports (e.g. for veld management and farm planning purposes) should be captured in a form that is compatible with GIS (e.g. Arc View) and used as complementation of a progressively more complete plant communities map.

Detailed studies of selected, higher priority areas

Will be undertaken on the same basis as above.

Historic account of vegetative change

The oldest aerial photos of the region date back to 1936. A comparison between these and the newest available photos should give a clear indication by comparison of vegetation processes and environmental degradation.

Priority studies proposed

  • Broad Scale Classification of Vegetation.
  • Detailed studies of selected, higher priority areas.
    • Financial assistance to currently highly advanced, but still incomplete vegetation works such as:
    • Mostert, T: Veld Types of the Western Soutpansberg.
    • Weisser, P. J. et al.: Some main plant communities of Venda, South Africa (85% completed).
    • Weisser, P. J. et al. A vegetation transect from the Limpopo to the Mutale River (75% completed).
  • Historic account of vegetative change.

“Hot spots” of importance

In a botanical context in the Soutpansberg it is difficult to apply the concept of hotspot. Very few taxa or communities are restricted to a specific region, most of them are widely spread.

Any un- or less-disturbed area can potentially contain rare plant species and communities. One is more likely to find hot spots in the currently officially and privately protected areas or regions far away from settlements. Makuya Park, Madimba Corridor, Nwanedi Reserve, Thathe Vondo Forestry Area, Private Conservancies and Blouberg are some examples.

Recommendations for stakeholders who should be consulted in future

Theo Mostert, University of Pretoria

Copyright: Soutpansberg—Limpopo Biosphere Initiative