The importance of trees and other plants across South Africa

Becoming a skilled gardener is great for personal gains, but also helps to contribute to something bigger. Understanding a plant and its unique properties is truly an essential skill, not only to uphold traditional knowledge — but in protecting the environment, too. Grasping the importance of trees and indigenous plant knowledge is central to a thriving natural world. Get a sneak-peek into some of the invaluable elements of plants and trees with this brief guide.

From blooming bushes to growing gardens

South Africa holds an incredibly vast collection of plant life, found in the wilds of the bush and urban garden spaces. We’re saluting the tremendous value of the natural world, highlighting the importance of trees and plants, especially our indigenous wonders. We look at iconic indigenous aloe plants and also fabulous small trees to add to your garden. No matter how large or small your garden plans are, every plant addition makes a difference. Prepare to explore, celebrate and honour the indigenous plants of our great nation.

Indigenous insights into the importance of trees and plants

South Africa’s unique plant life

If there was ever a country with a uniquely rich environment, South Africa is one of the top rankers. From housing an entire plant kingdom inside its borders, this area has incredible flowering facts. It is home to 20% of the African continent’s plant life and contains 10% of the world’s flowering species.

As such, there is a huge responsibility for biologists, researchers, and small scale gardeners to protect and educate on the importance of trees and plants. Especially indigenous ones. They hold great value in providing natural shelters and resources for creatures and humankind alike, through edible and medicinal properties.

Terrific trees

Have you heard of the saying ‘tree of life’? Not only an iconic symbol and spiritual concept, trees genuinely provide so much for our lives. From holding the ground together and controlling soil erosion, to providing shelter, generating oxygen, growing natural resources (wood, fruit, nuts, and flowers) and oh, so much more. And in a biologically diverse space like South Africa, there is so much value in appreciating local trees and plants.

False olive

Found in the western regions of southern Africa, Buddleja saligna is an evergreen favoured by bee farmers, homeowners and traditional healers. This tree not only provides shelter for birds’ nests but also produces large quantities of pollen and nectar, attracting bees and butterflies. It is a great option for those wanting more wildlife in their gardens. As for the unique properties of the False olive tree, its leaves are traditionally used for treating coughs and colds, whereas the roots are used as a natural laxative. Found in small furniture pieces, fence posts and tool handles, its fine-grained wood is great for carpentry and makes for choice fuelwood. It thrives in full sun and is cold and frost hardy.

Sausage tree

A name that couldn’t be more fitting — this tree grows fruit in the shape of sausages. Indigenous to the tropical and wet savannah regions, its dangling fruit aids in many illnesses. From treating fungal infections, burns and numerous skin ailments, to pneumonia, rheumatism, diabetes and in some cases, postpartum haemorrhaging. It is additionally used in fermenting beer and styling hair with a gel made from the fruit.


This tree ranges on the smaller side, classifying it as a sprawling shrub. Though native to the Eastern Cape, this hardy hedge can be grown anywhere easily. Also known as the Elephant bush tree, this bush is a popular choice for snacking the wilds — not limited to just animals! Humans can enjoy the highly nutritious leaves in salads and stews and can apply them for medicinal uses. Spekboom quenches thirst, soothes skin ailments and is sometimes used as a building material for huts. Not only a handy plant in the garden, it is also a water-wise climate change warrior, absorbing between four to ten tonnes of carbon per hectare. A real carbon sponge.

Plentiful plants

African wormwood

This plant is sure to ‘worm’ its way into your heart with its great uses. A medicinal must in the garden, this plant aids in treating asthma, pneumonia, fevers, colds, flu, and symptoms like sore throats, coughs, earaches and headaches. It works its magic in medicine but also as a flavour infused cocktail garnish. African wormwood off-cuts compost well and is an ideal plant for areas prone to drought.

Wild garlic

Unlike commercial garlic bulbs, wild garlic is wholly edible! From the flowers and leaves to its roots, it is also great as a garnish in salads and stews. It acts like chives in that it also has insect repellent properties. Medicinally, it behaves similar to regular garlic in helping with coughs and colds.

Confetti bush

Are you dealing with a pungent odour? Look no further than the confetti bush’s delightful deodorising powers. Its flavour is as great as its scent in both sweet or savoury dishes. This heathery foliage thrives in sunny spots and produces tiny sweet fragrant pink flowers. A true treat for all the senses.

Get the ‘in’ on indigenous wonders

While this was just a small collection of local wildlife legends, there is so much to explore on the importance of trees and plants. To get specialised recommendations for your garden, call or visit one of our experts at any of our Plantland branches for advice.