Five unfamiliar fynbos facts you ought to know

May 4, 2024 | Activities

There are many reasons why the Kogelberg region was first declared a biosphere in 1998. But top of that list is the incredible plant diversity found here.

The Kogelberg Biosphere is in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom. We’re home to around 1 880 species, of which 77 species are found here, and nowhere else in the world.

Many Kogelberg Biosphere residents will know and value fynbos, the largest component of the Cape Floral Kingdom. And many have likely walked through and enjoyed the incredible colours, sizes and patterns you’ll see in a fynbos landscape.

But fynbos is the keeper of many more secrets – some that botanists and scientists have uncovered, but others still hidden from our understanding.

Corlie Hugo, Coordinator of the Kogelberg Biosphere shared some of these secrets during a recent Wild Wednesday workshop with Kogelberg Biosphere residents. She brought to life some of fynbos’s lesser-known qualities – for fynbos lovers to better understand this unique vegetation type.

Here are five things that you might not know about fynbos. This is a tiny snapshot of Corlie’s presentation, ‘Getting to know the Fynbos Floral Kingdom’. 

1

There are four factors that determines WHERE fynbos grows: summer drought, low soil nutrients, wind and recurring fire. In fact, fynbos only likes soil that’s poor in nutrients – often acidic course-grained soil. While it needs the heat of summer, it usually grows in areas where rainfall (usually in winter) is more than 400mm per year. Fynbos has evolved to such an extent that you could find between 150 to 170 unique species every 1 000km.

 

2

While the importance of fire to fynbos is well documented (it was even a theme during a recent State of the Nation address by President Cyril Ramaphosa), what is less known is HOW fynbos survives the devastation of fire.

Fynbos has adopted four survival strategies:

  • Seeds are kept in the flower heads, and are only released during a fire (serotiny);
  • Seeds are taken underground by ants, where they are protected against fire (myrmechochory);
  • Stems underground send out shoots after a fire (rhizomes);
  • Or fleshy leaves underground function as food storage organs, surviving fire and dry conditions (bulbs). 

3

Fynbos has adapted to conditions over millions of years – with many incredible results. For example, fynbos roots enjoy a symbiotic relationship with a soil fungus known as mycorrhiza. The fungus can reach into the soil beyond the fynbos roots. Here it extracts nitrogen and phosphorous, which it feeds to the fynbos plant in exchange for carbohydrates.

 

4

Fynbos is clearly reliant on pollinators to survive. But the role of monkey beetles and horse flies in pollinating fynbos is less well known. Here colour and smell are vital. Because these beetles and flies see in ultraviolet, blue and yellow, they only visit (and therefore pollinate) flowers with these colours. Some fynbos species have adapted to give off odours that are dreadful to humans (like the rotten meat smell of Stapelia), but are a great attractor for the flies.

 

5

Fynbos also has a rich cultural connection, with many species harvested for medicinal purposes. For example, Everlastings are considered to cure high blood pressure and to calm a racing heart. And by smoking the leaves, patients can experience pain relief. The leaves are also used as bedding in order to keep the bed bugs away.

 

Wild Wednesday talks

To learn and enjoy more tips and tricks regarding the natural world of the Kogelberg Biosphere, be sure to join our Wild Wednesday talks. They’re hosted at the Kogelberg Biosphere Wildlife Rehabilitation and Training Centre, outside Betty’s Bay. Keep an eye on our social media for the next theme and date.

Remember that all proceeds from our Wild Wednesday talks go towards developing a world-class Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre.

For more info, contact Coordinator Corlie Hugo: admin@kogelbergbiosphere.org.za

Images: Corlie Hugo and LoveGreen Communications

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For more information, contact admin@kogelbergbiosphere.org.za

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