The rich colours of some of the fynbos
Three of the main growth forms - Proteoids, Ericoids and Restoids.
Proteoids encompass a wide range of shapes and floral forms.
Ericoids comprise the richest growth form in fynbos.
Restoids are ancient precursors of the true grasses
Fynbos has the world's richest flora of geophytes (bulbous plants)
The Cape Fynbos is a wonder of the world. It is the term given to a collection of plants (a vegetation type) that are mainly shrubs and is comprised of species belonging to South Africa's southwestern and southern Cape. Fynbos makes up four-fifths of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which covers an area of less than 90 000 square kilometres (the size of Malawi or Portugal) and hosts 8 600 plant species. To put this in perspective, the British Isles, three and a half times larger, have only 1 500 plants and less than 20 of those are endemic. Table Mountain alone has almost 1 500 species in 57 square kilometres.
So special is the Cape Floral Kingdom that it has been designated as one of the earth's six plant kingdoms, alongside for instance, the Boreal Forest Kingdom. It is the smallest Floral Kingdom in the world and in quite a league of its own. The Cape Floral Kingdom contains 526 of the world's 740 erica species, 96 out of the world's 160 gladiolus species and 69 proteas out of 112 on earth.
The Fynbos Biome bears a certain resemblance to the vegetation in other Mediterranean or winter rainfall regions in so far as it has had to adapt to wet winters and dry summers.
In the Mediterranean countries this vegetation is called "macchia". The fynbos in South Africa differs from the vegetation of the other areas in that it resembles that of both the southern and northern Mediterranean areas and comprises a much larger diversity of species.
ORIGIN OF THE NAME
Rural folk have long known fynbos for its poor grazing quality and its soils for having little agricultural value. The vegetation's apparent worthlessness may explain the origin of the term, "fynbos". The term has been used since the time of the Dutch settlement at the Cape. The predominant vegetation on the Cape Peninsula had timber too fine and slender for harvesting (for building) and was thus given the name "fijnbosch". The name may also refer to the dominance of small- or fine-leafed shrubs.
To many people, fynbos is merely seen as the drab covering on mountain slopes. At a distance fynbos does seem like inconspicuous clumps of spiky grass. It is only when you experience it closely that you discover the rich variety of its exquisite flowers.
Fynbos can be defined as a shrubland with an unusual mixture of plant types of different shapes and sizes that have been termed, "growth forms". There are four of these growth forms; the proteoids - tall protea shrubs with large leaves; the ericoids - heath-like shrubs; reed-like plants - the restoids; and bulbous herbs - the geophytes.
THE GROWTH FORMS
The tallest shrubs in fynbos are the proteoids they are 1 to 3 metres in height and have large, leathery leaves. They include the Aulas, Leucadendron, Leucospermum, Mimetes, Orothamnus, Paranomus, Protea and Vexatorella species.
Proteoids encompass a wide range of shrub shapes and floral forms. Of all the fynbos groups, the proteoids have been most extensively studied as they are conspicuous and as cut flowers, have tremendous economic potential
The heath-like ericoid growth form comprises about 3 000 species, including the family Ericaceae and many of the largest fynbos genera such as Aspalathus, Agathosma, Cliffortia, Muraltia and Phylica. The leaves of ericoids are small and mostly hard and the edges rolled under. With one of two exceptions, the ericoids store their seeds in the soil.
The restoids comprise all 310 species in the Restionaceae, a family closely related to the grasses. Large genera in the Restionaceae include Elegia, Ischyrolepis, Restio and Thamnochortus. Restoids comprise the growth form, which uniquely characterises fynbos. All members of the restoids have separate male and female plants. The seeds of many of the plants are dispersed by ants.
The final group is the geophytes with 1 400 species. Fynbos has the richest geophyte flora in the world. Some of the larger genera are the irid Gladiolus, the lily Lachenalia and the orchid Disa. The geophytes appear only in the wetter months - they are less visible in the dry summer months when the leaves die back.