Indigenous Flora

Monday, 12 April 2010 14:33 administrator
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South Africa - and more particularly the Western Cape province - is a botanist's heaven!


The Cape Floral Kingdom, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, is one of the world’s bio-diversity hotspots. It is one of six floral kingdoms in the world – the other five being :

# Boreal / Halarctic – Northern Hemisphere – 42% of earth’s surface
# Paleotropic and Neotropical – the Tropics – 49%
# Holantarctic – the rest of South Africa and New Zealand – 1%
# Australian – 8%.

The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest – a mere 0.04% of the earth’s surface! – but is strikingly different to any of the other plant kingdoms, and is the most species-prolific. Here you’ll find a staggering 8 995-plus species, 6 191 of them endemic (i.e. occurring nowhere else in the world!) There are 1 300 species per 10 000km, compared to 400 in the South American rain forests! The Table Mountain National Park, for example, has more plant species in its 22 000 hectares than the entire British Isles or New Zealand.

The Cape Floral Kingdom has recently been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. More accurately, a stretch of land spanning 90 000 square kilometres, comprising eight protected areas stretching from the Cape Peninsula to the Eastern Cape, has been included in the site.

The Cape Floral Kingdom contains within it a number of distinct plant communities – Fynbos, Sandveld, Strandveld, Renosterveld and Afro-Montane forest. The dominant vegetation type is Fynbos, the popular name for the plants endemic to the winter rainfall region of the Western Cape. Because of the climate – hot, dry, windy summers; cold, wet winters – and soils – sandy and acidic – these plants are all smallish, ground-hugging and hardy.

Four main families make up Fynbos :

1. Fine-leafed bushes such as the Buchus and Ericas
2. Tallish, large-leaved woody shrubs known as Proteas, the most spectacular floral symbol of South Africa
3. The Geophyte family of flowering bulbs, such as Disas, Orchids, Watsonias and Lachernalias
4. Hardy, wiry, reed-like plants known as Restios.

The most visible plant in fynbos is obviously the Protea, named by Carl Linneaus for the Greek sea-god, Proteus, who was able to change his shape whenever he wished. There are at least 360 species of Protea, including the largest of them all, the King Protea (Protea cynaroides), the national flower of South Africa.

The amazing floral wealth of the Western Cape was first noted in the 17th century by European botanists and explorers. Carl Linneaus, the Swedish botanist, referred to the region as “this paradise on earth” – and scientists took thousands of specimens back to Europe, many of which became, over time, the most common garden plants in the world. Pelargoniums (geraniums), Agapanthas, Gladioli, Freesias, Strelitzias, Crassulas and Gazanias are just some of the plants that South Africa gave the world!

One of the finest places to see the incredible wealth of the Cape Floral Kingdom is in the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town. Set against the slopes of the back of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is one of the seven major botanical gardens in the world – and the first botanical garden to be included in a World Heritage Site. Also spectacular is the Harold Porter Botanical Garden near Betty’s Bay, just outside Cape Town. See www.sanbi.org.

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 February 2012 09:33