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Cape Floral Region Protected Areas*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Fynbos in the Western Cape.
State Party  South Africa
Type Natural
Criteria ix, x
Reference 1007
Region** Africa
Inscription history
Inscription 2004  (28th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

Fynbos (Afrikaans pronunciation: [ˈfəinbɒs], or anglicised as /ˈfeɪnbɒs/, meaning "fine bush" in Afrikaans) is the natural shrubland or heathland vegetation occurring in a small belt of the Western Cape of South Africa, mainly in winter rainfall coastal and mountainous areas with a Mediterranean climate.


Cape Floral Kingdom

Fynbos grows in a 100-200 km wide coastal belt stretching from Clanwilliam on the West coast to Port Elizabeth on the Southeast coast. It forms part of the Cape floral kingdom, where it accounts for half of the surface area and 80% of the plant varieties. The fynbos in the western regions is more rich and varied than in the eastern regions of South Africa.

Of the world's six floral kingdoms, this is the smallest and richest per area unit. Contrast it in size with the Holarctic kingdom, which incorporates the whole of the northern hemisphere apart from the tropical regions. The diversity of fynbos plants is extremely high with over 9000 species of plants occurring in the area, around 6200 of which are endemic, i.e. do not occur anywhere else in the world, this level of variety is comparable with tropical rainforests or large islands and is unique in a relatively dry continental area. Of the Ericas, 600 occur in the fynbos kingdom, while only 26 are found in the rest of the world. This is in an area of 46,000 km² - by comparison, the Netherlands, with an area of 33,000 km², has 1400 species, none of them endemic. Table Mountain in Cape Town supports 2200 species, more than the entire United Kingdom. Thus although the Fynbos comprises only 6% of the area of southern Africa it has half the species on the subcontinent, and in fact has almost 1 in 5 of all plant species in Africa.

Five river systems dissect the Cape floral kingdom: the Oliphants River of the Western Cape; the Berg River which drains the West Coast Forelands plain that stretches from the Cape Flats to the Olifants; the Breede, which is the largest river on the Cape; the Olifants River (Southern Cape), Gourits and the Groot Rivers which drain the Little Karoo basin and the South Coast Forelands; and the Baviaanskloof and Gamtoos Rivers to the east.


The name fynbos is Afrikaans for fine bush and refers to the fine, needle-like leaves of many fynbos species. The majority of the plants are evergreen sclerophyll (hard-leaf) plants. The characteristic fynbos plant families are proteas, ericas, and restios. Proteas are represented by many species and are prominent in the landscape as one of the few large-leaf plant types, generally with large striking flowers which may be pollinated by birds. Ericas or heaths are generally smaller plants with many small, tubular flowers and needle-like leaves. The grass-like restios - only a few species of which are known outside the fynbos area - grow in wetter areas. More than 1400 bulb species occur among the fynbos, of which 96 are gladiolus and 54 lachenalias. Areas that mainly consist of ericas are known as Renosterveld.


Proteas after a fire. Greyton, South Africa.

Fire is a necessary stage in the lives of almost all fynbos plants, and is common during the dry summer months. Many of the seeds germinate only after the intense heat of a fire. In readiness for fire, most proteas retain their seeds on the bush for at least one year, a habit known as serotiny. They do this in structures which resemble the original flowerheads. In some species these structures are strikingly beautiful and long-lasting, which accounts for their use in dried floral arrangements. Around 30% of plants in the Fynbos produce seeds with an elaiosome which attract ants that carry the seeds into their burrows. In this way, the seeds are protected from fire. This relationship is an example of myrmecochory (the distribution of seeds by ants) [1] Perhaps the continual renewal of the foliage by fire and myrmecochory has generated the explosion of plant speciation in the Cape.


The fynbos area has been divided into two very similar ecoregions, the lowland fynbos (below 300m) on the sandy soil of the west coast and the montane fynbos of the Cape Fold Belt.

The Lowland Fynbos and Renosterveld experiences regular winter rainfall, especially to the west of Cape Agulhas. The ecoregion has been subdivided into nine areas: the West Coast Forelands from the Cape Flats to the Olifants River (Western Cape); the Warm Bokkeveld basin around the town of Ceres; the Elgin Valley around the town of Elgin; the sandy Agulhas Plain on the coast; the Breede River valley around the town of Worcester; the South Coast Forelands from Caledon west to Mossel Bay; the south-eastern end of the Little Karoo; Langkloof valley; and the Southeastern Coast Forelands west from Tsitsikamma to Port Elizabeth.

The flora of the lowlands contains a high number of endemic species and tends to consist of larger plants than that of the hillier areas, including restios and proteas such as King Protea (Protea cynaroides) and blushing bride (Serruria florida). Particular types of lowland fynbos include: the shrubs and herbs of the coastal sand dunes; the mixture of ericoids and restoids with thickets of shrubs such as Maytenus and other (Celastraceae), Sideroxylons and other (sapotaceae) and Rhus and other (Anacardiaceae) on the coastal sands; the classic fynbos of the sandplains of the West Coast Forelands, and the Agulhas Plain; the grassy fynbos of the hillier and wetter areas of the South and South-Eastern Coast Forelands; areas where fynbos and renosterveld are mixed; coastal renosterveld on the West and South Coast Forelands; and the inland renosterveld of the drier inland Little Karoo and Warm Bokkeveld [2].

The area is also home to a large number of endemic animals that have adapted to life in this area include the monkey beetles which pollinate Ixia viridiflora. There are endemic species of fish in the five river systems in the area. Endemic reptiles include a number of tortoises and the chameleon-like Arum frog (Hyperolius horstockii).

The same level of floral variety including all three characteristic fynbos families is found in the Montane Fynbos and Renosterveld, the areas above 300m a total of 45,000 km2 of the Cape Fold Mountains, but ericas predominate. Original flora is more intact in these higher and wetter areas, which contain more protected areas and important water sources, than in the lowlands but agriculture and global warming are stll threats. The region includes: in the west the mountains from the Cape Peninsula to the Kouebokkeveld Mountains; the south coast hinterland from Elgin to Port Elizabeth; the mountains north of the Little Karoo from Laingsburg to Willowmore; and the inselberg hills within the Little Karoo. About half of these areas are originally fynbos and about half renosterveld.

Many different microclimates occur so the flora changes from west to east and varies with altitude up the hillsides away from the coast and according to compass direction. Lower elevations are covered with protea fynbos with ericas taking over further up. Plant species include pincushions (Leucospermum). The wildlife includes a number of endemic bees, beetles, horseflies and ants, and birds such as Cape Sugarbirds and the Orange-breasted Sunbird. Many of these birds and insects are important and specific pollinators for the fynbos, such as the Mountain Pride butterfly (Aeropetes tulbaghia) which only visits red flowers such as Disa uniflora and pollinates 15 different species. Larger animals include the antelopes Cape Grysbok (Raphicerus melanotis), Common Duiker (Sylvicapra grimmia), and Klipspringer (Oreotragus oreotragus).

Economic uses

Rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and Honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) are of economic importance, grown and harvested in large quantities in the Cederberg area, and making up an important export. Proteas and other floral species are grown in many areas and their flowers harvested for export. Restios continue to be used for thatching as they have for hundreds or even thousands of years.

In many areas with Mediterranean climates, fynbos species are popular garden plants, in particular aloes and geraniums, and in cooler regions are used as window plants.

Threats and conservation

Large parts of the fynbos region have been inhabited for centuries. The lowland areas are prone to be developed for agriculture and viticulture or through the urban expansion along the coast especially around Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, and only a small portion is protected. Fynbos areas are also threatened by the spread of alien species, in particular wattle and acacia species from Australia, as well as pine plantations in the Cape Fold hills. Many species have gone extinct, and more than 1000 are endangered. Their conservation is a priority, and reserves have been established in many areas. Fynbos areas are a popular attraction for tourists, especially in the vicinity of Cape Town, and are also important recreational areas for locals. The Western Cape coast is travelled by the Garden Route while large areas of natural fynbos can be seen in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park which covers most of the Cape Peninsula and in Tsitsikamma National Park to the east. There are a number of published hiking routes from Cape Town and other towns such as Elgin. The centre for visiting the Little Karoo is the town of Oudtshoorn.



See also


  1. ^ de Kock, A. E. & Giliomee, J. H. (1989) A survey of the Argentine ant, Iridomyrmex humilis (Mayr) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in South African fynbos. J. Entomol. Soc. S. Africa 52:151-164.
  2. ^ Lowland fynbos and renosterveld (AT1202),

External links

Coordinates: 34°10′0″S 18°22′30″E / 34.166667°S 18.375°E / -34.166667; 18.375


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