Southern Cape Fynbos
The Cape Floristic Region, also known as the fynbos biome or the Cape Floral
Kingdom is the smallest of the six recognised floral kingdoms of the world. It is an area of
extraordinarily high diversity and endemism (plants found nowhere else on earth) with the
highest number of species per square hectare. The fynbos of the Southern Cape is an integral
part of the Cape Floral Kingdom with a very high floral diversity and many endemics of its
own. The Southern Cape is under-explored botanically and new species are still being
Mountain Fynbos – Dense vegetation grows on the nutrient poor,
moist, but very well drained mountain southern and eastern slopes that face the sea. The plants’
mass of roots form a peaty layer over shallow soils. Tannins in the roots give the rivers their
dark brown colouring, while the saponins in the roots produce the typical patterns of white
foam. On the northern and western slopes the fynbos is sparser and shorter with rocks showing
among the plants whose grey-green or grey leaves are often hairy to preserve moisture.
The Protea family (Proteaceae), Heath family (Ericaceae), and
Reed family of restios (Restionaceae) are the dominant plant families in fynbos. “Fynbos”
means “small, fine leaved bushes” - only one strategy adopted by fynbos plants to conserve
precious water. Other strategies are also used to survive hot, dry seasons.
Erica leaves are small and normally rolled under at the
edges to prevent water loss. Protea leaves are often large and leathery
protected by a waxy skin or hairs and Restio leaves have virtually
disappeared. Their hard green stems have taken over the photosynthestic
Coastal fynbos – Coastal fynbos is uniquely adapted to the
harsh conditions of wind and salt spray. It is being severely threatened by insensitive
development along the coastal strip and should therefore be treasured and encouraged in
coastal gardens and golf courses where little else grows successfully.
Rhenosterveld fynbos – Rhenosterveld skirts the base of both
the coastal mountains and the Swartberge and is now severely depleted due to farming.
Typically grey and very fine-leaved it contains many rare and beautiful bulbous species,
succulents and many potentially valuable garden plants.
Many industries are based on fynbos – such as grazing for livestock, agriculture
based on indigenous species, landscapes for tourism and movie locations, and medicines and
other products made from indigenous plants. Direct revenue is also generated from the fynbos
through harvesting (and cultivation) of indigenous rooibos tea, wildflowers like proteas,
buchu for its aromatic oils, reeds for thatching, and various traditional and commercially
marketed medicinal plants.
Natural resource economists estimated the total economic value of the fynbos
region’s biodiversity – including plants animals, scenery, ecosystems and ecosystem services
like water purification and erosion control – as over R10 billion per year in 2005, the
equivalent of over 10% of the Western Cape province’s Gross Geographic Product at the
time. Increasing pressure from human development is threatening this precious
resource. A total of 1 736 fynbos plants are now critically endangered, endangered or
For more pictures, see "Gallery"