iSimangaliso’s Tree Labelling Project

iSimangaliso’s Tree Labelling Project

15 Jan 2018

The interpretation of cultural and natural heritage in the Park

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park recently completed a tree labelling project aimed at the interpretation of natural and cultural heritage in the World Heritage Site. During this intensive exercise, over 2000 tree labels have been placed on common, rare and endemic species of indigenous trees at public access points in the following tourism nodes: Maphelane, St Lucia, Sodwana Bay, False Bay, Eastern Shores, Western Shores, uMkhuze, Coastal Forest and Kosi Bay.

South African tree expert, Geoff Nichols, led the project assisted by iSimangaliso’s Sifiso Vumase, Nerosha Govender and local isiZulu/Thonga naturalists who are respected izinyanga and izangoma in their communities.

Many fruitful hours were spent walking the trails and discussing the intricacies of the plants and trees and their cultural, scientific and medicinal characteristics. Above left: Inyanga Mbuyase, Sifiso Vumase and Geoff Nichols discuss the trees in the False Bay section of iSimangaliso, considered by Nichols to be one of the most biodiverse pieces of sand forest that he has ever encountered. Above right: A towering Newtonia hildebrandtii (Lebombo wattle) at False Bay.

Tree labels for 294 species of trees were created with each label giving the scientific, English, and local isiZulu and Thonga names of each tree. Working with isiZulu/Thonga naturalists has led to the correction and addition of many of the isiZulu/Thonga tree names for northern KwaZulu-Natal. Nerosha Govender, iSimangaliso’s manager for research and development states, “It is important to capture the many different isiZulu and Thonga names of trees in this area. Due to the different dialects spoken in northern KZN one tree species can have many isiZulu and Thonga names depending on the area in which the tree is found. Much of this local knowledge is being lost although it forms an important part of isiZulu and Thonga cultural heritage. The iSimangaliso tree labelling project has allowed for some of this history and heritage to be recorded”.


The tree labels are also linked to smart technology. Many of the tree labels contain QR codes, which by means of smart-phone technology allow tourists access to more detailed natural and cultural information about the trees on the SANBI website. This project has also updated the tree lists for the Park which have been incorporated into the national species lists for South Africa.


Sifiso Vumase (above right), a former iSimangaliso bursary student and intern, now permanently employed at the iSimangaliso Authority, says he is passionate about trees. “When I was a boy herding cattle back home at Manguzi, my father, a traditional healer, taught me a lot about trees. This project has allowed me to develop my skills further and I have had the pleasure of interacting with various local tree experts and botanists.” Sifiso, whose knowledge has increased immensely under Nichols’ tutelage, is now responsible for managing the tree labelling project and he continues to add to the Park’s extensive tree lists. Part of his work also includes the maintenance of tree labels.

Due to the fact that trees continue to grow and broaden, labels are loosely fixed by a single screw. Unfortunately these labels are easily vandalised and need frequent replacement. Every six months, Sifiso needs to loosen the screw around the label so that the growing tree does not warp the label. He also replaces lost or damaged labels.



Three of the trails that have labelled trees are St Lucia’s Igwalagwala Trail through the estuarine forest, the St Lucia Crocodile Centre, and the Sand Dune Trail at Maphelane.

There has been widespread public interest in the tree labelling project, including neighbouring tourism establishments who are asking for the project to be extended into their areas. The labels make it possible for tourists and tour guides to interpret the Park in a new way thereby enhancing iSimangaliso’s tourism offering. Says Vumase: “Together with the benefits of the SANBI website and a thoroughly updated reference book, visitors can now add yet another dimension to their enjoyment of our World Heritage Site.”

Where to see labelled trees in iSimangaliso

Lake St Lucia Estuary: Igwalagwala Trail; St Lucia Crocodile Centre; Bhangazi Gate Complex; St Lucia Game Park trails; Estuary Boardwalk

uMkhuze: eMshophi Gate Complex; eMshophi Camp Site; KuMahlala Hide; kuMasinga Hide; kuMalibala Hide; Mantuma Camp; Fig Forest Walk; Ophansi Gate Complex; iNhlonhlela Bush Camp; iNsumo Pan and Hides

Maphelane: Umphafa Trail; Sand Dune Trail

Kosi Bay: Kosi Bay mouth; Lake Nhlange Campsite and trails

Coastal Forest: Mabibi Campsite; Black Rock car park

Eastern Shores: kuMfazana Hide; Mission Rocks Picnic Site; kuMziki Picnic Site and Lookouts (lower and upper); Cape Vidal resort area; Amazibu Hide; Catalina Bay visitor area; kwaNkoboyi Picnic Site

Western Shores: uMthoma Aerial Boardwalk; uBhejane Picnic Site; kuMgadankawu Hide; Dukuduku Gate Complex

Sodwana Bay: uMgobozeleni Trail; Sodwana Gate Complex; Sodwana Bay beach node and parking areas; Sodwana Bay chalet boardwalk

False Bay: Ingwe, Mphophemeni and Dugandlovu Trails and entrance gate parking area.

Media enquiries should be directed to Slindile Msweli at sli@isimangaliso.com or on 079 632 0363.