Zandvlei Trust

Discover Fynbos.  (Extract article from the volume 2005/1 Newsletter)

Living in in Cape town we often take our natural environment for granted. We forget that our mountain chains form a wonderful ecosystem of life and that we have a whole floral kingdom within the boundaries of one country. 

The uniqueness and diversity of plant species found in the Fynbos region earned itself a special recognition as one of the six main floristic kingdoms and its known as the Cape Floristic Kingdom.

Fynbos is characterised by having restios, proteas and ericas.Millions of years ago Africa, North and South America, Europe Australia etc formed part of one big continent known as Gondwana. Gondwana began to break up some 140 million years ago and plant and animal species became adapted to their specific environment through evolution. When studying the Fynbos region pollen of the Protea has been recorded from 95 million years ago. Recent research on fossilised pollen in sediments indicates that there has been a rapid increase in the number of species in the past 3 million years.

What has made this plant kingdom so special is the fact that it has 2600 species of flowering plants in an area of about square 500kms. This is more species than the total number of species found in South Australia (Kidd 2000). The kingdom also has about 360species of proteas of which more than 330 species are confined to the Cape floristic Kingdom (Rebelo 2201).


Fynbos plants are adapted to grow in sandy soils with low nutrient content derived from Table Mountain Sandstone. The Western cape is also known for being a winter rainfall region with warm dry summers and strong south easterly winds. In order for the Fynbos to survive the summer weather they usually have small ericiod leaves covered with waxy, waterproof covering to prevent water being lost. Stomata (pores/openings) are usually present or placed on the lower surface of the leaf where they are in shady hollows surrounded by hairs to reduce air movement thus minimising water loss. Another adaptation is that leaves tend to point to the sky so that only a small surface is exposed to the sun (Branch 1999).

Seed dispersal / pollination

Besides plants being pollinated by insects and birds and seeds being distributed by wind, ants also play an important role in the Fynbos ecosystem.
Ants will carry seeds into their nests where they will feed on the outer layer of the seeds. The seeds will then stay in their nests until such time as weather conditions are suitable for the seeds to germinate. In the ant nests the seeds have a better chance to survive a fire (Branch 1999).
Seeds are also stored in cones of Proteas. In order for these seeds to be released a fire is needed.

Fire in the Fynbos

As previously mentioned certain fynbos plants need fire in order for the seeds to germinate. The fire will break the dormancy of the seeds.
However too frequent fires in Fybos will cause valuable species to become extinct. With the recent fires on the Steenberg Mountain chain it is feared that one of the Protea species is only found at Cape Point and up to recently on the Steenberg Mountains.
Fires of very high temperatures caused by build up of dead plant material and alien (exotic) vegetation can also have a negative impact on seed germination and the survival of our Fynbos plants.

How to prevent fires;

  • Only make fires in designated braai areas and make sure you put them out completely after use
  • Get rid of alien (exotic) invasive plant species
  • Only plant indigenous plants since they are more resistant to fires
  • Do not throw cigarette butts out of motor car windows
  • Report any fires immediately to your local conservation division or fire station

Together we can preserve the floral treasure of our region.

Erika Foot (Manager Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve)


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