Fynbos is not easy to define, but it is essentially a term for an evergreen, hard-leafed shrubland vegetation type, or collection of plants, that is primarily associated with nutrient-poor soils and often, though not exclusively, with a winter-rainfall Mediterranean-type climate. It is characterised by four elements – protea shrubs, ericas or heaths, restios or Cape reeds, and geophytes or bulbous plants. Of these, only restios are always present and hence their presence, or absence, actually defines fynbos.
Although the full story of fynbos evolution is very long and stretches back as far as one billion years, it was only between five and two million years ago – as the climate warmed and dried, and as fire became an increasingly significant element in transforming the landscape – that fynbos began to resemble the unique collection of plants that is still present today, the richness and beauty of which is unsurpassed anywhere on Earth.
Within an area of only about 90 000 square kilometres, or less than 0.5% of the area of Africa, the Cape Floristic Region hosts close to 9 000 flowering plant species –nearly 20% of the continent’s flora.
These are extraordinary numbers, but what is even more significant from a biological point of view is that some 5 800 of these plant species, or two thirds, are endemic, occurring nowhere else on Earth. Fynbos covers a little under half of the Cape Floristic Region (CFR), but botanists estimate that it contributes up to 80% of its flora. This means that this vegetation type is two-to-three times more diverse than an equivalent area in the tropical rainforests that are popularly considered to be the world’s real biological treasure chests. Six entire plant families occur only in the CFR, and at least 154 genera are endemic.
Extract from The Table Mountain Fund book – authored by John Yeld.