Fynbos is a fighter! Plus more reasons why Cape plants are so unique

The fynbos plants that dominate Cape Town’s vegetation are cleverly adapted to the Cape’s poor soils, wet winters and dry, windy summers.

The vegetation of Cape Town and its surrounds is dominated by fynbos – —shrubby, narrow-leafed plants that are well adapted to the Cape’s Mediterranean climate of wet winters and dry, windy summers.

Fynbos comprises three main groups: proteas, ericas (heaths) and restios (Cape reeds). Fynbos grows on the coarse-grained, low-nutrient acidic sands generally characteristic of the region, extending from the mountain peaks, down hill slopes, across the coastal plains to the seashore — typically in areas prone to summer droughts, constant wind and recurring fires. Fynbos plants are renowned for their ability to regenerate after, or withstand, fire.

Adaptations to these conditions include the extra thick, waterproof layer around the skin of most proteas, which minimises evaporation loss. The silver tree, for example, has a thick layer of hairs that lie flat, protecting the leaf from air circulation and water loss in hot weather. Most ericas have a curled leaf that creates an enclosed micro-habitat from which little moisture is lost, and the leaves of the restios are papery leaf-sheaths that require little hydration.

Other typical species of the Cape region include succulents, which store water in their stems, and geophytes, which store water in their bulbs. Members of the orchid, citrus, pea, carrot, mango and potato families are all widespread, as are daisies; there are over 1 000 daisy species in the fynbos.

Cape Town can’t match South Africa’s best-known spring-flower-viewing region, Namaqualand in the Northern Cape, when it comes to spring flowering splendour, but Cape Town’s daisies — along with delicate orchids, lilies, irises, pelargoniums, proteas, pincushions, conebushes and fields of brightly coloured ericas and restios — put on a pretty impressive display in spring. And it’s worth noting that Namaqualand’s attention-grabbing displays of colour are often dominated by a few common daisy species that are excellent colonisers of disturbed ground, as opposed to the huge variety of flowering species in and around Cape Town!

Fynbos can take many different forms according to soil type, season and incidence of fire. These are named by habitat, for example “mountain fynbos” (the dominant type of fynbos in the Western Cape), or according to a distinctive component, such as “grassy fynbos”.

Fynbos shrubland occurs adjacent to the coast with thicket patches of trees and larger, mainly bird-distributed, shrubs on alkaline, marine sands. On finer, slightly richer soils in the valleys and forelands there is a form of colourful, fine-leaved shrubland known as renosterveld. Renosterveld is rich in daisies and extremely rich in geophytic (bulbous) plant species, although proteas are poorly represented.

While proteas, ericas and geophytes may be absent in certain form of fynbos, restios occur in all the different habitats and are thus the defining plants of fynbos.

Restios are the ultimate fynbos survivors. The tougher the conditions, the more restios will dominate. Edible substances called eliaosomes are attached to their seeds, so when they fall ants take them down to their underground nests and eat the eliaosome as their reward. The fact that the seeds are buried protects them from other predators and fire, after which they germinate.

Fynbos is a mean system; its lack of nutrients means that it supports few bugs, birds and animals, so sightings of endemic fauna are something of a treat. There are only six bird species endemic to fynbos, for example: the Cape sugarbird, orange-breasted sunbird, Cape siskin, Cape rockjumper, Victorin’s warbler and protea seedeater.

Cape Town Weather Basics

It must be said that the mother city usually has no common decency to keep your hair in the same style that you walk out the house with. Winds in Cape Town Weather Basics have been known to reach up to excessively Gale-force speeds and the nickname for these types of insane winds that blow you round the corner without you lifting a foot is ‘the Cape Doctor’. There have been severe storms which are mainly linked to cold front and low pressure systems that move from the West to the East, however these occur mainly in the Winter months.

Continue reading “Cape Town Weather Basics”