What is so special about dry and dull bush vegetation that clothes the mountain slopes in the Western Cape? You probably have never even heard of it. Even the locals often consider it just an annoying spiky obstacle on their way and a fire hazard to their homes. We do appreciate the occasional rooibos tea, geraniums in our gardens and proteas in our flower arrangements, however.
But there is a special beauty in fynbos, and to experience it you have to be a true adventurer and get close to discover the rich variety of delicate flowers and a truly fascinating toolkit of adaptations that allows these plants to thrive in harsh conditions through wind, droughts and fires.
With more than 7000 species the potential of discovery is endless. It is little wonder that even experts are often puzzled when trying to identify fynbos species.
If you are like me and just starting your botanical journey into the Cape Floral Kingdom, I think, a good place to start is to learn to distinguish between the main fynbos families: Ericas, Proeas, Restios and Geopythes(this last one is actually a group of families).
1. Ericas (Ericaceae) or heather.
Found in moist acid soils, on the seaward facing slopes. These are the brightest flowering shrubs. You can identify them by small, often folded, hard and dryish leaves.
2. Proteas (Proteaceae).
Usually taller than 1.5 meters and can have colourful flowers in the winter when in bloom. They occur at lower altitudes, deep and well drained soils, but require a more fertile soil than most fynbos. Identify them by larger, greener leaves and special shape of flowers.
3. Restios(Restionaceae) or Cape Reeds.
Shallow-rooted group of species related to grass plants. Can be found in the drier parts of the fynbos region. Distinguishing restios from grasses and sedges is quite easy: they have no leaves, just scalelike bracts.
4. Geophytes (bulbous plants).
These are mine and, perhaps, every girl’s favorite. You are probably the most familiar with this group of plants since it includes gladioluses, irises and orchids. The pretty geophytes usually flower during the cool wet months, but I have seen some already in March. Often flowers appear after the leaves have died, to give all the nutrition to the flower. The most spectacular sights is the mass flowering of bulbs after the fire.
I hope this mini guide in fynbos would be useful for you. Now it’s just time to pack water and snacks and head out for your fynbos identification hike. Some of the nature reserves close to Cape Town where you can explore fynbos biodiversity and start identifying plants like a pro-adventurer:
- Table Mountain Nature Reserve Don’t forget to check their website, there are always tips on plants that are in bloom this month.
- False Bay Nature Reserve Here is where I started and took some of the pictures above.
- Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens has everything and then some more.
A couple of hours drive away from Cape Town are also: