There is something quite magical about walking through Knysna’s lush forest realm. It cloaks so much life, both big and small ensuring something new and interesting to see, touch, smell and hear. You could walk here every day and be surprised by something different each time.
While all life in the forest is wondrous, the unique characteristics of certain fauna and flora make them more eye-catching than others. Take, for example, some of the big daddies of the forest - the Outeniqua Yellowwoods (Podocarpus falcatus). These majestic trees soar upward towards, and occasionally beyond, the forest canopy. If you want to see just how spectacularly big they can grow, head to the Diepwalle Forest east of Knysna to admire out the King Edward VII tree, which has been rooted there for almost 700 years. This beautiful tree is more than 40m tall and has a bole circumference of a whopping 7m. It stands sentinel over this protected tract of forest like a living natural monument - one that has stood the test of time.
Another fascinating and otherworldly species that is often seen is ‘old man’s beard’ (Usnea barbata). This specie is wispy, pale green lichen that dangles delicately from the boughs of many tree species. All lichens are the product of a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a photosynthetic partner, usually algae, which have evolved together to behave and look like an entirely new being.
What is interesting about this particular lichen is that it is highly sensitive to environmental disturbance, especially pollution, and has thus been hailed as a valuable indicator for air quality. Old man’s beard grows prolifically in our forests, and is therefore a wonderful sign of our untainted air quality.
Green obviously dominates the forest colour palette. Therefore the brightly coloured profusion of various species of bracket fungus is so eye-catching. Occurring in various shapes, colours and sizes and seen protruding like a shelf on both live and dead and decaying trees, bracket fungus plays an important role in the decomposition of wood in the forest.
Another plant that is often lit up by the early morning dappled forest light, is the common forest grape (Rhoicissus tomentosa) – an attractive, vigorous climber with velvety tendrils and pretty vine-like leaves and sprays of grape-like fruit. These forest grapes are loved by forest dwelling birds such as the Knysna Loerie. They can climb towards the tops of the tallest trees in the forest, often as high as 20 metres.
The leaves of the common forest grape exhibit an interesting natural phenomenon called guttation. This happens when glistening drops of clear, watery fluid collect on the margins of the leaf and is best seen in early morning after humid windless nights. Do not confuse these drops of moisture for dew, they are not. These are drops of liquid forced out of the plant when soil moisture is high and atmospheric conditions are not good for transpiration (evaporation of water via the leaves). The root pressure builds up and the plant cannot rid itself of water fast enough so the liquid is pushed out of the tips of the veins in the leaves.
The complex web of life in our Knysna Forests tells a captivating tale and is what makes a forest walk here so richly rewarding!
For more information on Knysna’s network of forest trails visit: www.visitknsyna.co.za