On a hot summer’s day, when you’re driving somewhere around the Cape Peninsula with the windows of your car wide open, you may get a whiff of it: a pungent, peppery smell that is synonymous with summer.
It’s the smell of fynbos, the flora that is endemic to the Western Cape. And what a flora kingdom it is!
Not many people know that, but the Cape fynbos is famous in many ways.
- There are only six floral kingdoms in the world, and fynbos not only constitutes one kingdom (the smallest) all on its own, but is the only one occurring entirely within one country.
- There are 9 000 species of fynbos occurring in the Cape area, and over 2 000 species on Table Mountain alone – which is more plant species than occur in the whole United Kingdom.
- For this, it was declared one of the world’s 34 biodiversity ‘hot spots’, and in 2004, was confirmed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
South African fynbos grows in a 100km- to 200km-wide coastal belt stretching from the West Coast to the south-east coast. It makes up 80% of the Cape Floral Region, a world of finely branched plants exquisitely adapted to flourish in poor sandstone soils and unpredictable rainfall.
South African fynbos vegetation includes proteas, ericas and restios (reeds). This flower kingdom is the origin of some of the world’s favourite plants: gladioli, freesias, nerines, agapanthus and ixia. And, of course, those beloved geraniums and pelargoniums.
Proteas, South Africa’s national flower (and the name of our national cricket team), are part of the fynbos family, as is rooibos, a plant increasing in international popularity as a herbal tea.
You can see and walk in fynbos in many areas in and around Cape Town, including on the slopes and top of Table Mountain, at Cape Point, in the Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden and in the Silvermine Nature Reserve.
The word ‘fynbos’ is a Dutch word derived from ‘fine bush’, and the miracle in fynbos is indeed in the fact that it’s such hardy vegetation, yet the flowers are tiny, delicate and often look like mini orchids. So keep your eyes peeled when you walk or hike, and you’ll son fall under the spell of the magic of fynbos.