Fynbos (delicate bush) is a unique Plant Kingdom relative to the vegetation of the rest of Africa and the world. Some 8550 individual plant species are found in an area of the Western Cape that represents only 0.04 percent of the earth's surface. Nearly 6000 of these species are endemic (found naturally only in the SW Cape), as a result the Fynbos region has earned the title of the 'Cape Floral Kingdom' from the international botanical community. The Cape Peninsula alone has over 2500 species, which is more than occurs in all of the British Isles.
They range from Restios (reed-like plants) to Protea bushes, and over 100 heath species (Ericas) with their bell-like blossoms. The environment and ecology can be described as rugged (because of the hot dry summers with howling winds), yet fragile at the same time. The prolonged winter storms lash the rocky mountainous terrain with its nutrient-poor and acid sandy soils, whilst fire has shaped the ecology of the vegetation. Fragile, because Fynbos is easily destroyed or radically altered by human activities. Large areas have succumbed to the aggressive spread of exotic tree species. Many local plant species are endangered to the point of extinction by plants imported from places like Australia. Do not touch the Blister Bush, looks rather like Celery - causes blisters on the skin when exposed to sunlight. Keep away from this plant!
Of the many trees that visitors will see on the Peninsula, most will be exotics (of foreign origin). The reasons for this are largely historic. Indigenous trees were heavily exploited since the start of the settlement at the Cape in 1652, increasingly so as more settlers arrived at the Dutch Colony. Wagon building, ship repairs, furniture and construction required large amounts of timber and much of the good indigenous timber was wiped out. The settlers planted oaks, gums and also pines. These have thrived in many areas of the Peninsula. Some Eucalyptus species provide spectacular red blooms during the summer months. Various other Australian tree species (notably Acacia and Hakea) were planted during the 1800's as hedge plants and dune binders.
There are only some 125 indigenous tree species in the Peninsula, mostly confined to patches of forest in sheltered gorges and valleys with ample moisture and richer soils. Of particular interest are trees such as the Silver Tree (Leucadendron argenteum), Yellowwood (Podocarpus spp.), Ironwood (Olea capensis), Wild peach (Kiggelaria africana) and Cherrywood (Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus). Along the coast the Milkwood (Sideroxylon inerme) is an endangered protected species.
The best place to view these trees is at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden or on a hiking trail on the Peninsula. Table Mountain has been a National Monument since 1957 and a National Park since 1997. Short hikes can take you into the splendour of Fynbos, where numerous species flower at any time of year.
Springtime (September and October) sees a peak in flowering. A myriad of interesting insects, reptiles, small mammals and birds also inhabit this area, including Lynx, Grysbok, porcupines, dassies, Grey Rhebok, baboon, mongoose, Genet, tortoise, reptiles, insects and amphibians. Bird lovers can look out for orange-breasted and malachite sunbirds; cape sugarbirds; ground woodpeckers; rock kestrels; kites; buzzards and the Black Eagle.Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town, a World Heritage Site, is a place to spend the day, explore the magical gardens manicured by over 100 gardeners, with a changing daily display of the local indangered Cape Floral Kingdom. The Largest Garden in Africa extends all the way up the slopes of Table Mountain, restaurants and Sunday Summer afternoon live music concerts. These Sunday Summer Concerts draw thousands of locals, this is a favourite haunt for families - for picnics, birthday parties and celebrations of all kinds. The concerts are also a major lifeline of funding for the Gardens and they have opened the venue up to a whole new demographic of people who now enjoy the gardens on a regular basis.
Take a Golf Buggy Tour of the gardens, or join a free guided walk at 11h00 every day, buggy tour fees and entrance fees applicable, discounts for students and pensioners. Phone to book the Golf Buggy Tour, it leaves hourly and is one of the best ways to appreciate the enormity of the gardens, it will take you on a circular route up the slopes and round the top. You will enjoy spectacular views, strange and fascinating plants which are divided into different planting areas, streams, birds, picnic lawns like you could only dream of and a wonderful place for children of all ages.
See local press for news of regular events in the conference hall, includes art exhibitions, floral displays and a daily selection of what is flowering in the gardens during the time of your visit. Inside the Gardens you will find a huge very special Succulent Glass Hot House which protects the succulent plants which grow in hot dry areas to the north of the Cape Fynbos region. Find the South African Vegetation Maps at the entrance , behind the lower Ticket Office, between the Conference Hall and the Public Rest Rooms, this has been developed by the University of Cape Town who host regular Plant Identification weekends with their students to continue research on the Cape Fynbos - they are still discovering new species! See the daily display of the flowers that are flowering at that particular time of the year, then look out for them on your journey through the maze of paths inside.
Be sure to spend some time walking the Camphor Avenue planted by Cecil John Rhodes, and the old hedge which goes back to the time of the first Dutch East India Company settlers. The gardens have many bird species nesting, and if you are lucky you may even see the resident owls during the day - they have even been seen in the midst of the Sunday Summer Concerts. There are also performing Guinea Fowl who prance and dance accross the lawns in big groups, the wildlife is seemingly undisturbed by us visiting their home!
Inside the valley of the gardens you will find the Braille Trail & the Medicinal Plant Trail - with herbs planted specially to give Sight Impared folk a sensory explosion - the smell of the local Cape Fynbos plants are very potent and in many cases they are used medicinally - this and other trails in the Gardens explain the uses of just some of the medicinal plants that occur uniquely in Southern Africa. Open daily. September - March 08h00 - 19h00, April to August 08h00 - 18h00. Admission fee payable. Restaurant, gift shop, garden centre, guided walks, musical concerts on Sundays in summer.