Countries around the world all have their own national symbols; these represent a nation; its people, culture and history. Besides a national coat of arms, seals and flags; flowers, trees, birds and other animals have cemented their role as global ambassadors. Below are the fauna and flora that represent South Africa:
NATIONAL FLOWER: GIANT or KING PROTEA
The giant or king protea is widely distributed in the south-western and southern areas of the Western Cape, from the Cedarberg up to just east of Grahamstown.
The artichoke-like appearance of the flower-heads of the king protea lead to the specific name ‘cynaroides’, which means ‘like cynara’ (the artichoke). The name does not do justice to the beautiful flower-heads of this protea, which is the largest in the genus. A number of varieties in colour and leaf shapes are found, but the most beautiful is the pink coloured flower.
NATIONAL TREE: REAL YELLOW WOOD
The yellowwood family is primeval and has been present in this part of Africa for more than 100 million years. The species is widespread and is found from Table Mountain, along the southern and eastern Cape coast, in the ravines of the Drakensberg up to the Soutpansberg and the Blouberg in Limpopo.
In forests, they can grow up to 40 metres in height with the base of the trunk sometimes up to 3 metres in diameter. In contrast, trees that grow in unsheltered places like mountain-slopes, are often short, bushy and gnarled. The bark of the real yellowwood is khaki-coloured to grey when it is old, deeply split and peels off in strips. The crown is relatively small in relation to its height and is often covered with grey lichen. Male and female cones resemble pine cones and are white, light green or pink. The female cone has a fleshy podocarpium on which the seed, which takes on the shape and colour of a cherry, develops.
NATIONAL BIRD: BLUE CRANE
This elegant crane, that stands about one meter high, is almost entirely restricted to South Africa in its distribution. The blue crane is a light blue-grey, has a long neck supporting a rather bulbous head, long legs and elegant wing plumes which sweep to the ground. It eats seeds, insects and reptiles. Blue cranes lay their eggs in the bare veld, often close to water. They are quite common in the Karoo, but are also seen in the grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal and the highveld, usually in pairs or small family parties.
The blue crane has a distinctive rattling croak, fairly high-pitched at call, which can be heard from far away. It is, however, usually quiet.
The habitat of the blue crane is open grass fields or Karoo-like plains with low shrubby bushes. It likes wet parts and lays its eggs on the ground. It grazes in the field and eats seeds, insects and small reptiles.
NATIONAL ANIMAL: SPRINGBOK
Typical of this species is the pronk (jumping display), which led to its common name. Both sexes have horns but those of the ram are thicker and rougher. This species has adapted to the dry, barren areas and open grass plains and is thus found especially in the Free State, North West province and in the Karoo up to the west coast.
They are herd animals and move in small herds during winter, but often crowd together in bigger herds in summer. They eat both grass and leaves and can go without drinking-water, because they get enough moisture from the succulent leaves. Where drinking-water is available they will use it.
Springbuck stand 75 cm high and weigh about 40 kg. They breed throughout the year and lambs are born after a 6-month gestation period.
NATIONAL FISH: GALJOEN
The galjoen is found only along the South African coast. It keeps to mostly shallow water, is often found in rough surf and sometimes right next to the shore and is known to every angler. Near rocks, the colour of the galjoen is almost completely black, while in sandy areas the colour is silver-bronze. It is also known in KwaZulu-Natal as blackfish or black bream. The record size is over 55 cm and 7 kg, however the average is much smaller. The galjoen is a game fighter.
The diet of the galjoen consists mainly of red bait (ascidians), small mussels and barnacles. The scales are very firmly attached. The fins are well-developed with prominent spines.