South Africa’s National Symbols

South Africa's flagNo self-respecting South African trivia website would be complete without a look at some of our national symbols. Here then are South Africa’s national animal, fish, tree, flower and bird.

National Animal – The Springbuck

The springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) is a medium-sized brown and white antelope-gazelle of southwestern Africa. It is extremely fast and can reach speeds of 100 km/h and can leap 4 metres through the air. The common name “springbok” comes from the Afrikaans and Dutch words “spring” = jump and “bok” = male antelope or goat.

The Springbok - South Africa's National Animal
The Springbok – South Africa’s National Animal

The specific epithet marsupialis (Latin: marsupium, “pocket”) derives from a pocket-like skin flap which extends along the middle of the back from the tail onwards. When the male springbok is showing off his strength to attract a mate, or to ward off predators, he starts off in a stiff-legged trot, jumping up into the air with an arched back every few paces and lifting the flap along his back. Lifting the flap causes the long white hairs under the tail to stand up in a conspicuous fan shape, which in turn emits a strong scent of sweat.

This ritual is known as “stotting” or “pronking” from the Afrikaans meaning to boast or show off.

National Fish – Galjoen

Also known as a black bream (Coracinus capensis), or blackfish, the Galjoen fish is unique to the South African coast. It can grow up to 55cm in length and weigh up to 7kgs, however the average is much smaller.

The Black Galjoen - South Africa's National Fish
The Black Galjoen – South Africa’s National Fish (Photo credit: Dagny Warmerdam)

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.

National Tree – Real Yellowwood

The real yellowwood is South Africa’s National Tree, and one of South Africa’s most valued timber trees.

The Real Yellowwood - South Africa's National Tree
The Real Yellowwood – South Africa’s National Tree

The yellowwood family is ancient, having grown in this part of Africa for over 100-million years. The real yellowwood (Podocarpus latifolius), South Africa’s national tree, 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, the trees can grow up to 40m in height with the base of the trunk sometimes up to 3m in diameter.

Trees that grow in unsheltered places such as 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.

National Flower – King Protea

The giant or king protea (Protea cynaroides) is widely distributed in the south-western and southern areas of the Western Cape, from the Cedarberg up to just east of Grahamstown.

The King Protea - South Africa's National Flower (Photo credit: Nigel Dennis)
The King Protea – South Africa’s National Flower (Photo credit: Nigel Dennis)

South Africa’s national flower is the largest of the proteas which make up an important part of the Cape Floral Region, a major global biodiversity hotspot and a unesco world heritage site.

The proteas also give their name to South Africa’s national cricket team.

National Bird – Blue Crane

The national bird of South Africa is the blue crane (Anthropoides paradisia), the distribution of which is almost entirely restricted to the country. Standing about a metre tall, the bird is a light blue-grey, with a long neck supporting a rather bulbous head, long legs and elegant wing plumes which sweep to the ground.

The Blue Crane - South Africa's National Bird
The Blue Crane – South Africa’s National Bird

Blue cranes lay their eggs in the bare veld, often close to water. They are common in the Karoo, but are also seen in the grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal and the highveld, usually in pairs or small family parties. Although usually quiet, the blue crane can emit a distinctive high-pitched and rattling croak which can be heard from some distance.

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