The characteristic vegetation of the Western Cape of South Africa, at the southernmost end of Africa is called fynbos. Fynbos constitutes 80% of the Cape floral kingdom, the sixth and smallest of the floral kingdoms of earth.

The name fynbos comes from the old Dutch, fijn bosch (fijn bos in modern Dutch) meaning "fine forest".

Fynbos is not the plural, and nothing to do with the cheese called fynbo.

Fynbos is characterised by evergreen shrubs, often tough and prickly, with small firm leaves, often rolled; and woody plants with hard flat leathery leaves. There are few trees. There are also small annual flowers and bulbs.

The Cape floral kingdom occupies about 90 000 square kilometres (35 000 square miles) at Africa's southern tip, stretching along the coast either side of The Cape of Good Hope. It is slightly larger than Scotland.

It covers a triangular area from Vanrhynsdorp north of the Cedarberg, to the Cape Peninsula and Boland mountains, then in an easterly direction to Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.

The Cape Floral kingdom is isolated by the combination of geography and climate. It corresponds with the southernmost region of Africa that has a Mediterranean climate (i.e. hot dry summer with little rain, cool wet winter with much rain but frost only on mountaintops).

For instance, it is normal to have only a few light drizzles of rain during the period from the start of December to the end of February, and daytime temperatures during this period regularly exceed 30 centigrade (86 Farenheit). Thus there is the Annual summer drought

Fynbos naturally resembles vegetation found in other Mediterranean climate areas.

Fires occur occasionally in summer, and the vegetation is adapted to them, and in some cases depends upon them.

The terrain of this area is often mountainous or uneven, with much sandstone, and some granite, shale and limestone. The soils are often infertile.

This is not great grazing, and so the stereotypical large African mammals are present in smaller numbers than usual. The common smaller animals are baboons, dassies, klipspringers and mongooses. Fynbos does not support high numbers of birds, but all six bird species endemic to the south-west Cape are fynbos species, e.g. the Cape sugarbird and orangebreasted sunbird

In order to be classified as fynbos, the vegetation should include either proteas, ericas and/or reeds. Generally, mountain fynbos is found in sandstone habitats, on the mountains; and coastal fynbos in the more sandy areas, on the flats. Renosterveld occurs on the clayey mountain slopes, and remnants of indigenous forests in the mountain valleys. Milkwood thickets occur, mainly on the western side of the Peninsula.

Characteristic Fynbos plants:
Proteas have flat, leathery leaves and large,striking flowers. They are named after proteus due to their varied floral forms
Ericas (heath) have small, spiny leaves.
Restios (Cape reeds) have long thin green stems and no leaves.
Lilies are bulbs that resprout in the wet months
Daisies are annuals that grow from seed each year.

Cape Autumn is like a little spring, a friend of mine once said. The rains return, and there is a flurry of shoots, flowers and growth as the hillsides turn from dark green and brown back to bright green.

Facts and stats

The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest of the six floral kingdoms of earth, yet it has the highest number of species, 8 500, of which 5 800 are found nowhere else in the world.

Table mountain, 60 square kilometers, is home to 1 470 plant species. The whole of the Cape Pensinsula (including Table Mountain) is home to about 2 256 different plant species. This is more than in the British Isles at around 1 500, despite the British Isles being 5 000 times larger.

1 400 species are thought to be critically endangered and close to extinction.

Although South Africa occupies less than 1 percent of the world's land mass, it contains 10 percent of all the Earth's species of plants.

The Cape Floral Kingdom is both the smallest and richest floral kingdom, with the highest known concentration of plant species--about 1 300 per 4 000 square miles. Its nearest rival, the South American rain forest, has a concentration of only 400 plants per 4,000 square miles.

Many species occur in the same area - up to 121 in an area of 100 square meters have been recorded without one dominating the other.

There are 600 speacies of Erica (heath) in the Cape, compared to 26 in the rest of the world, and Scotland (home of the heath) with a grand total of ... four.

Threats to fynbos

The major threat to fynbos is the spread of alien plants such as hakea, the Australian wattles Acacia Cyclops (commonly known as rooikrans) and Acacia saligna (commonly known as Port Jackson), and pine trees from Europe.

Other significant threats include too frequent fires and fires in the wrong season caused by people; commercial afforestation (which is mostly pine planations for paper and timber); and the development of housing estates and farms.

Most of this information is compiled from sources on the Web.

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