South Africa is a large country on the southern tip of Africa. To the north the country is bordered, from west to east, by Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Swaziland and Lesotho are small countries and are virtually situated within South Africa.
South Africa is a very dry country, with a desert inland on the west coast that stretches almost halfway into the country. The central area of the country is not quite a desert but extremely dry. The average annual rainfall approximates to 10 inches per year. Dry grasslands with rocky outcrops and a few small mountain ranges dominate this central area.
On the central mountains very few fern species are encountered and these are mainly xerophytes. Along the very few perennial streams a handful of other species can be found. Along the border of the central area, almost like the ridge on a teacup, larger mountain ranges divide the country and the climate. These mountain ranges are high and a lot wetter, especially on the outer sides, than the rest of the country. Although they are many miles inland, the rising moisture from our oceans delivers rain in abundance.
Here small pockets of forest have survived the loggers and farmers and here, in these forest patches, many fern species can be found. Most of these indigenous forests are along deep gorges or "kloofs" and have only survived because harvesting was too difficult. These are now protected areas. The percentage of land area thus protected, is small. High altitude fern species are found only towards the tops of these mountains, and the rest of South Africa, although at high altitude relative to European countries, has none.
The coastal region is wetter and greener than the rest of the country but totally overdeveloped, be it by farmland or urbanization. Here only small areas rich in fern diversity are found. In the Cape provinces, the mountain belt extends almost into the ocean and many more ferny retreats are found because 'protection' of natural areas started shortly after all the giant indigenous trees were logged, in the 1800's. The climate is also more conducive to the survival of ferns. Behind the Cape mountains, towards the centre of the country, the habitat changes drastically and specific 'Cape/karoo' xerophytes dominate.
South Africa is home to approximately 260 fern species. Some of these are endemic to specific regions in South Africa, some also occur in the rest of Africa and Madagascar and others have a worldwide distribution.