A brief introduction to the Fynbos Biome of South Africa

Fynbos is an evergreen, hard-leaved Mediterranean type shrubland that occurs on nutrient-poor soils. The name is derived from the Dutch word Fijnboch which when literally translated means ‘fine bush’. Most Fynbos is found along the coast and in the Cape Fold Mountains between Nieuwoudtville in the north-west and Port Elizabeth in the east.

Although Fynbos covers only about 6.7% of South Africa (about 85 000 km2) it has the largest number of plant species of any biome in the country. (A Biome can be described as a large naturally occurring community of flora and fauna occupying a major habitat, e.g. forest. There are nine biomes in South Africa). The species diversity of fynbos is one of the main things that makes it so special. Table Mountain alone has more species of plants than the whole of the British Isles.

The Fynbos Biome includes two major botanical components namely Fynbos from which the biome gets its name and Renosterveld vegetation. The major distinction between the two is the species composition which is influenced by the fact that Fynbos tends to grow on poor soil and is extremely rich in plant species while Renosterveld grows on richer soil and can support more animals.   

Fynbos is also characterised by the presence of an enormous diversity of species from several key families: Restionaceae, Proteaceae, Ericaceae, Rutaceae and Iridaceae. The species diversity of fynbos is one of the main things that makes it so special.The Fynbos Biome is home to one of the world’s richest floras, with more than 9,000 species of plants occurring within an area the size of Malawi or Portugal.

Two thirds of these species are endemic to the region, thus meaning that they occur nowhere else on earth. In addition, when looking at diversity at the macro-scale within fynbos vegetation, it is home to between 150-170 unique species per 1,000 km thus making it two to three times more species diverse than the world’s rainforests.

This region is considered to be one of the world’s six floral kingdoms and is the only one that occurs within a single country. The area encompassed by the Fynbos Biome is known as the Cape Floristic Region (CFR).

The Cape Floristic Region is recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its rich and diverse flora as well as levels of endemism. It is also considered to be one of the world’s thirty Biodiversity Hotspots.

The vegetation of both the Fynbos Biome and the Cape Floristic Region comprise not only fynbos but several other vegetation types that deserve mention. We will touch on the various types of fynbos occuring in the Swartland / West Coast region of South Africa in future posts.  

 Fynbos is one of the most diverse vegetation types in the world and the fynbos biome is home to approx. 9000 plant species. Many of these are endemic and occurs nowhere else in the world! The fynbos biome comprises of two vegetation types namely Fynbos and Renosterveld and both these can be further classified based on the unique species composition and area in which they occur.

Within the Darling/Yzerfontein region there are a several types of fynbos and renosterveld including Hopefield and Atlantis Sand Fynbos, Saldanha Flats and Langebaan Dune Strandveld, Cape Inland Salt Pans, Swartland Shale and Swartland and Saldanha Granite Renosterveld as well as Cape Seashore vegetation.  Each of these vegetation types have a unique composition of species that assist in classification.

The vegetation of the Darling Renosterveld Reserve is classified as Swartland Granite Renosterveld which is rich in bulb species including several iris and orchid species as well as the famous chinkerinchee that grows in the area in turn the vegetation that grows on the frontal dunes along the West Coast is known as Cape Dune vegetation.