Secrets of the Soutpansberg

Cyrintha Joubert, the EWT’s Soutpansberg Protected Area, Water Conservation Project Coordinator


There are 18 recognised centres of endemism in southern Africa – localised areas with high species diversity found nowhere else. The Soutpansberg Mountain Range is one of these and has the highest plant diversity of all these centres. Many of the Soutpansberg endemic species are rare and threatened. Around 3,000 vascular plant species occur in the 6,800 km² Soutpansberg Mountains. Six biomes are found in the mountains: forest, thicket, savannah, grassland, fynbos, and wetland.

Not only are the species living in the mountains of high conservation value, but they also hold cultural value and have medicinal properties that are sought-after for traditional healing practices and mainstream pharmaceuticals. The EWT strives to conserve these plants in collaboration with partners in the Soutpansberg, ensuring that those who depend on them for any purpose can legally access the species they need sustainably. Here are a few secrets of the Soutpansberg that you may come across should you be lucky enough to visit the area or hike the recently established Old Salt Trail.

Monkey Orange tree with fruit

Monkey Orange

Strychnos spinosa

The genus name, Strychnos, is taken from the Greek word for deadly, which refers to poisonous alkaloids contained in the seed integuments. “Spinosa” refers to the spines. The poison strychnine is derived from an Asian species of Strychnos. The seeds should be avoided as they are poisonous or could have purgative effects. The fruit only appears after good rains and has a smooth, hard, yellow look when ripe. Inside the outer ‘shell’ is tightly packed seeds surrounded by a fleshy, edible covering. Most of this plant is used medicinally, with the roots and leaves used to treat certain snake bites. After the seeds have been removed, the dried fruits are used as musical instruments.

Sour Plum tree

Sour Plum or Monkey Plum

Ximenia caffra

A sour worm with no added sugar! This is an extremely versatile plant, and all parts are used. While the fruit can be eaten fresh, it tastes slightly sour and is often made into jams, desserts, or jellies. As the wood is hard, it is used for making pot handles, firewood, and even for construction purposes. The oil extraction from the seeds has various uses, from cosmetics to the softening of leather. The fruit is high in potassium, and the leaves and roots are used to treat coughs, body pains, and even malaria.

Stem Fruit Tree

Stem fruit

Englerophytum magalismontanum

This small to medium-sized evergreen tree has delicious fruits which are extremely high in Vitamin C with a content of 40 mg per 100 g. The fruit is fleshy and contains sticky, milky latex when picked and the skin removed. The tree fruits from December to February. When ripe, the fruit is bright red and can be eaten fresh or used to make jam, wine, and even vinegar. These plants’ roots are also used medicinally to treat rheumatism and abdominal pain. They have beautiful silky golden hairs on the back of the leaves, and the tree has a silvery look from afar.

Stem Fruit Tree

Transvaal Red Milkwood

Mimusops zeyheri

The botanical name is derived from the Greek mimo, meaning ape, and ops, meaning resembling an ape. This might reference the flowers’ colour or the corolla’s shape. This tree is fairly popular amongst humans, birds, and various primates as it has tasty ripe yellow fruit with a high Vitamin C content.

Some more mobile endemic species to find in the Soutpansberg Mountains
Endemic Pienaar's Flat Gecko

Pienaar's Flat Gecko

Afroedura pienaari

A widespread and abundant gecko that shelters in rock cracks and under loose barks in trees. At night, it forages on rocks, trees, vegetation, and the ground.

Endemic Cryptic Dwarf Gecko

Cryptic Dwarf Gecko

Lygodactylus incognitus

This shy gecko lives on trees and rocks and is restricted to the higher altitudes in the mist belt.

Endemic Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko

Soutpansberg Dwarf Gecko

Lygodactylus soutpansbergensis

A shy gecko that lives in the rocky areas throughout the Soutpansberg

Endemic Soutpansberg Worm Lizard

Soutpansberg Worm Lizard

Chirindia langi occidentalis

This lizard is rarely encountered as it spends its life underground. It is locally common in certain areas and absent in others.

Endemic Soutpansberg Purple-glossed Snake

Soutpansberg Purple-glossed Snake

Amblyodipsas microphthalma ssp. nigra

A near-endemic to the Soutpansberg. These snakes spend most of their time underground and occasionally come to the surface to feed and disperse. They can be found in virtually any habitat, from the hot bushveld areas to the montane grassland on top of the Soutpansberg and throughout the mountain range. Limpopo’s only near-endemic snake!

Endemic Soutpansberg-Hadogenes-scorpion

Soutpansberg Hadogenes Scorpion

Hadogenes soutpansbergensis

The only described endemic scorpion in the Soutpansberg. These large flattened scorpions prefer to live in rock cracks and are widespread and abundant in the Western Soutpansberg.

Endemic Soutpansberg Flat Lizard

Soutpansberg Flat Lizard

Platysaurus relictus

Endemic to the western Soutpansberg, these colourful lizards live on rocks in warm and hot areas. They live in small colonies and feed on insects, fruits, and plants.