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South Africa

Discover the Strange World of Fynbos and the Cape Floral Kingdom

Posted on Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Story by: Ken Lovering | Travel Writer


Discover the Strange World of Fynbos and the Cape Floral Kingdom

Looking for splendid views in South Africa? Cast your gaze downward.

Amidst all the majesty and grandeur of the Rainbow Nation, there are delicate details to behold in the Cape Floral Kingdom – one of the world’s most fragile ecosystems and host to an unrivaled array of flowers and brushland that comprise the famous South African fynbos.

This is the most diverse area in the world for plant species: 30% of them are found nowhere else on Earth. Think that’s impressive? Well, some ecological organizations, including the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, put this number as high as 69%!

The World’s Most Unique Floral Kingdom

First, a little background puts the kingdom into context: Scientists have divided the world into six floral kingdoms, each one distinguished by its unique group of species. The flora of far northern Norway, for instance, is dramatically different than that found in the Amazon rainforest.

What makes the Cape Floral Kingdom so singular is its size. Among the six regions of the world, this one is by far the smallest and the most biodiverse, measuring just over 1 million hectares, or almost 2.5 million acres. Its biodiversity is explained by the hugely varied topography and microclimates here, from rugged mountains to fertile lowlands, from dry shrubland to coastal dunes.

Botanists aren’t the only ones rightly impressed by the fantastic festival of flowers found here. This truly remarkable place captures the attention of ecologists, biologists, geologists, bird-watching ornithologists, insect-loving entomologists, and many others. What’s more, plants here are so dense and varied that UNESCO added the Cape Floral Kingdom to its list in 2004 as “one of the world’s great centers of terrestrial biodiversity.”

You can see why some refer to it as “the hottest hotspot” for scientific research.

The Facts About Fynbos

Think of a fynbos (from the Old Dutch, meaning “fine bush”) as a biome, in the same way you think of the rain forests of the Amazon, or the savannahs of the Serengeti. This stunning swathe of protected land hosts a specific vegetation type, one that survives in these nutrient-deficient soils.

Some hardy vegetation thrives here. Some 9,000 species of non-tropical plants crowd this tiny corner of the globe. And every month of the year, mesmerizing blossoms from one species or another color the landscapes. Dozens upon dozens of species of orchids, lilies, heather and grasses blanket the landscape. But the stars of the show are the proteas, bowl-like blooms from which long, tubular flowers emerge. Once you see these incredible flowers, you don’t forget them – especially if you’re lucky enough to come across the King Protea, whose bowl can reach up to 12 inches in diameter. It’s no surprise that this beauty lays claim as South Africa’s national flower.

These plants are so special because they help botanists turn the clock back millions of years. How so, you ask? For one simple reason: The region has been free of environmental catastrophe for millennia, so all of its species have adapted—uninterrupted—to every nook and cranny and microclimate that these mountains have experienced.

The result is a collection of floral variety unseen anywhere else, providing you a glimpse of floral tenacity and perseverance at work in one of the world’s most magnificent settings.

Just a Part of the Rich Diversity of South Africa

The fynbos of South Africa will surely lure your gaze downward. But there are endless sweeping, dramatic vistas to captivate you on the saddle and off.

For soul-stirring panoramas, marvel at the massive Table Mountain soaring above Cape Town. Look out toward the roiling surf where two oceans meet. Admire the lush vineyards of the French-inflected Franschhoek Valley. Behold the craggy cliffs and secluded coves along the scenic Garden Route and Tsitsikamma National Park.

As you’ll see, the fynbos only begins to tell the tale of this spectacular nation’s splendor. Learn the rest of the story during our South Africa: Cape Town & the Garden Route Bicycling Vacation.

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