Few people may be aware that Cape Town and its surrounds is one of the six floral kingdoms of the world!

Sounds crazy, but that is the scientific case!


Just our Cape peninsula alone has more bio-diversity than the whole of the UK – a peninsula less than one hundred kilometers north/south and about twenty kilometres or so east/west!

I discovered this quite per chance one day on the top of Table Mountain, when I started chatting to a professor of botany from Europe!

Okay, I was new to Cape Town but as a wannabee Capetonian I felt quite ignorant.

This is the fynbos that readers of past articles of mine will recall.

When I first came down to Cape Town, it was ‘fynbos here’ and ‘fynbos there’  and ‘fynbos everywhere’, on people’s tongues that is.

The locals all seemed to talk about the fynbos.

I thought it was just the local Afrikaans word for bush because fynbos is in many visual ways a ‘fine bush’ as in thin foliage bush.

That is an impressionistic generalization, just a visual impression I have.

I had certainly never seen that type of vegetation before until I came to Cape Town.

The Protea, one of the fynbos species, of course is our national South African flower, and it comes in a myriad colours.

Our cricket team, currently the best in Test Cricket (sorry Australia, I love your spirit but we also deserve a chance too … ) are called the Proteas.

To me the fynbos is the awesome stuff that I ran through up and down mountain trails, scenting the waters in the streams that I drank from, brushing my legs and my arms, and a visual feast of plants, foliage, flowers for my eyes …

I will leave it to the scientists to research and explain the scientific beauties of the fynbos, its sensory beauties are enough for me.

So too for most hikers, trail runners, tourists etc.

You will know you are in fynbos when you see it because you will never ever have seen it any where else in the world, no matter how much you may have traveled.

Perhaps you will love it, perhaps you will not.

However there are two specific characteristics of the fynbos that make it so special – in my layman opinion.

One is its diversity!

A plant subtype might only exist on the southern slopes of a single valley -  and nowhere else in the entire Universe!

Facing it on the northern slopes may be a related sister species!

And there they are, southerners and northerners and only there and nowhere else!

Again this is layman speak so there is no attempt to be scientifically rigorous in my example of diversity but you should be able to get the gist of the uniqueness of many fynbos plants.

The other characteristic is its resilience!

I have always loved that word ‘resilience’ – it seems to roll wonderfully off the tongue.

For me it has connotations of efficiency, effectiveness.

The ability to rise out of the ashes, like a Phoenix.

And for fynbos this is literal.

It has evolved to survive fire (by the way not through a planning committee of its Elders who decided to explore strategies for survival – as explanations of evolutionary processes figuratively seem to imply).

And you all know by now of the devastating fires in Cape Town in early March.

Fire has played its part through natural selection to shape the resilience of the fynbos.

The fynbos seeds can survive infernos and in an ironical way fire also seems to be an accelerator for its rebirth.

In a sense fire is not unhealthy for fynbos!


Now there are limits to this of course.

Provided many crucial parameters are within their bounds fynbos thrives through natural patterns of fire.


Just because fires through the ages have naturally selected a certain floral outcome.

However, should this set of environmental parameters start moving out of their natural bounds through accelerated climate change then fire can in turn become a true enemy of fynbos.

Throw in a massive fire with some ‘fire parameters’ breached, followed by a breach of seasonal parameters such as excessive winter rainfall soon after the fire etc and fynbos too could be moving into an apocalyptic scenario.

There are classical fields of maths that can calculate this if the models are sufficiently comprehensive: differential equations, partially differential equations, chaos theory etc.

Climate change is taking place, seemingly at a faster rate than ever in recorded history, so the argument is now between those who believe it is man made, and those who believe it is natural.

Most of the latter seem to emanate from powerful camps like the fossil fuel sector and similar high carbon footprint sectors.

Most of the former range from peace loving hippy types through to ‘eco-terrorists’.

In time the scientific truth will out …

In the meantime, how magnificent is that photo by Ryan Sandes!

In the ash, those green sprouts … mere days later … now is that not Resilience!?

Copyright © 2015 G. Rigotti



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