The fynbos biome is the name given to the indigenous vegetation that puts the “garden” into the Garden Route.
The wonderful diversity and vastness of species attributed to fynbos is the result of its antiquity. The southern hemisphere did not experience the last ice age of 10,000 years ago that smothered and wiped out the vegetation of the northern hemisphere.
Although the biome occupies a mere .04% at the southern tip of Africa in a tiny crescent of the Western Cape, it boasts of at least 45000 different plants, over 69% of which are endemic to the region and found nowhere else on earth.
The European botanists that landed in the Cape in the 18th and 19th centuries were astounded by the variety of new species they encountered at every step.
The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest of 6 Floral Kingdoms in the world and is entirely within one country. It occupies 6% of the land area of South Africa and yet one third of all plant species are found here. It contains more plant species in a 10 km radius than tropical forests that are generally recognised to contain the highest biodiversity anywhere in the world.
It has such a wide range of shrub shapes and distinctive floral forms that it has proved to be richer than the plant life of the whole British Isles. However, many of the species recorded by the early naturalists are now extinct.
Many plants that are popular worldwide today had their origins in the fynbos biome. Flowers such as Pelargoniums, Fressias, Sparaxis, Ixias, Gazanias, Gladioli, Irises, Watsonias, Tritonias, some orchids and numerous lilies have gained world-wide acclaim.
The Fynbos biome is made up of 2 vegetation types.
Many fynbos species are typically confined to acidic, nutrient-poor sandstone soils. 5000 species are not found anywhere else in the world, many are rare and some 1700 species exist on the edge of are extinction.
1. Fynbos vegetation can be divided into 4 plant species
· proteas – 330 species
· ericoids – 3000 heathlike shrubs, 600 ericas
· restoids – 310 reed-like plants
· bulbous herbs – 1400
In contrast, Renosterveld soils are fertile so much of this ground has become farmland. Destruction of their habitat through agriculture is eating into these unique floral reserves. Road verges are turning into fynbos preserves of the flora that used to grow on the other side of agricultural fences.
2. Renosterveld has 1500 plant species divided up as follows.
· Daisy family – Asteraceae – the largest – 1000
· Pea family – Fabaceae
· Gardinia family – Rubiaceae
· Cocoa Family – Steruliaceae
· Thyme Family – Thymelaeaceae
And the geophytic category
· Iris family – Iridaceae
· Lily family – Liliaceae
· Orchid family – Orchidaceae