Forest Biome

1. COASTAL FOREST Coastal Forest


Typical Coast Belt Forest (Al a), Transitional Coastal Forest (Al c), Dune Forest (Al d), Alexandria Forest (A2); Tongoland-Pondoland Undifferentiated Forest.


947 km²; ± 43% transformed; 9.51 % conserved.

Locality & Physical Geography:

Confined to a narrow belt of the high dunes with Dune Forest, more often on the leeward side. This type is best developed in the Alexandria region and locally in protected areas, such as Kei Mouth and in the eastern Eastern Cape.


Coastal Forest develops where rainfall is usually greater than 700 mm per year, and is more prevalent in summerrainfall regions. Temperatures are never extreme due to the moderating maritime influence and species distributions may be limited in the south by the colder climates. For example, Natal Wild Banana Strelitzia nicolai is a common tree in the forest as far south as East London. Apart from rainfall and temperature, important environmental parameters are wind and salt spray. The tall trees may be severely "pruned" by high winds and salt damage and this restricts the distribution of forest on exposed dunes, especially along the Eastern Cape coast.

Geology & Soil:

The vegetation develops on deep consolidated calcareous sands and there is generally little soil development. An orthic A horizon generally overlies regic sand giving a Fernwood soil form. Soils are generally alkaline and mediumto coarse-grained.


The flora has Tongoland-Pondoland and Afromontane affinities, although the former are generally stronger. Common species include Coast Red Milkwood Mimusops caffra, Natal Guarri Euclea natalensis, Cape Plane Ochna arborea, Apodytes dimidiata, Cassine aethiopica, Sideroxylon inerme, Combretum kraussii, Tricalysia lanceolata, Buxus macowanii, Millettia grandis, Heywoodia lucens, Protorhus longifolia, Bequaertiodendron natalense, Drypetes spp. and Strychnos spp. Shrubs and scramblers may be particularly important in Coastal Forest, common species being: Cat-thorn Scutia myrtina, Wild Caperbush Capparis sepiaria var. citrifolia, Numnum Carissa bispinosa, Grewia occidentalis, Cynanchum spp. and Dracaena hookeriana. Plants of the forest floor include Durban Grass Dactyloctenium australe, many Acanthaceae spp., Panicum spp., Cyperus albostriatus, and Achyranthes aspera. In its best-developed form it has trees up to 30 m tall and distinct strata of trees, shrubs and herbs.

Key Environmental Parameters:

The higher rainfall and more stable climate allow a richer forest than that of Afromontane Forest. Dune Thicket is found in more exposed situations, and reaches forest proportions only in sheltered areas, such as behind dunes. Dune Thicket differs from Dune Forest in being much lower and having no distinct strata.

Economic Uses:

Trees are utilized mainly for firewood and structural timber. Many species are used for muti.

Conservation Status:

Coastal Forest is well-conserved in some reserves in KwaZuiu-Natal and Eastern Cape. The main threat is due to holiday resort expansion along parts of the coastline, dune mining in some limited localities, and the use of firewood, building materials and muti plants in rural regions.

Key References:

Moll & White (1978), Lubke et al. (1988).


Roy Lubke & Bruce McKenzie.

Vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. A companion to the Vegetation Map of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Edited by A Barrie Low and A (Tony) G Robelo.

To quote a vegetation type, please use the following format (using an example for Moist Sandy Highveld Grassland (38)):

Bredenkamp, G., Granger, J.E. & van Rooyen, N. 1996. Moist Sandy Highveld Grassland. In: Low, A.B. & Robelo, A.G. (eds) Vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Pretoria.


Copyright © Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, 1998