Flowers of South Africa

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Jan - 23 - 2011

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South Africa contains some of the world’s most unique and varied flower and plant species including “Fynbos”, found only in a very small section of the country.

Fynbos (pronounced fain bos) which means “fine bush” in Afrikaans, is the unique shrubland vegetation that is found only in a small belt in the Western Cape of South Africa, known as the Cape Floral Kingdom. There are six floral kingdoms in the world, and of them, the Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest as well as the richest per area unit. The diversity of the fynbos is extremely high with over nine thousand species occurring in the floral kingdom of which, around sixty two thousand species do not grow any where else in the world. Table Mountain in Cape Town supports over two thousand, two hundred species… More than the entire United Kingdom! Although the Cape Floral Kingdom comprises only six percent of South Africa, it has over half the plant species of the country as well as one in five of all the species on the African continent.

The name “fynbos” refers to the fine needle-like leaves of many of the species. The majority of the plants are evergreen sclerophyll or hard leaf plants. The characteristic and most well known families of the species are proteas, ericas and restinos. The proteas are the largest of the species and have large leaves and prominent and striking flowers, often pollinated by birds such as the Sugar Bird. Ericas are smaller plants with tubular flowers and needle like leaves and the restios look more grasslike in appearance.

An interesting thing about fynbos is the species’ reliance on fire. Bush fires are common in the Cape during the hot dry summer months and most varieties of fynbos rely on the fire for the germination of the seeds. In preparation for fire, most proteas keep their seeds on the bush for at least a year, a process known as serotiny. They do this in structures resembling the original flower head. Some of these structures are beautiful and long lasting, and are often used in dried flower arrangements. Around thirty percent of the plants in the Fynbos species produce seeds that attract ants to carry the seeds into their burrows and there, the seeds are protected from fire. Perhaps it is this germination of fore and protection of the seeds by ants that has led to the explosion of floral life in the Cape.

Rooibos (Red Bush) and Honeybush are of high economic importance and are exported worldwide. proteas and other floral species are grown and their flowers harvested for export. In man areas where they can thrive, fynbos species are prized as garden plants, in particular, geraniums and aloes.
Sadly, much of this beautiful fynbos is under threat due to the planting of alien vegetation which absorb all the much needed water in the area. Another huge threat is the need for housing and development in the Cape. However, much of the fynbos land is protected as part of a nature reserve, and is a huge tourist attraction. Visitors can also see the beautiful fynbos that has been planted in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden.

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