The Cape Floral Kingdom (Capensis) - Fynbos
The name of the principal vegetation type of this region is derived from the Dutch word 'fijn bosch' which is the collective name for a myriad of evergreen shrub-like plants with small firm leaves, often rolled - but also includes woody plants with hard leathery leaves, usually broad, often rolled. This unique flora is of particular botanical interest because of the great number of species, many of which are endemic (occurring nowhere else).
The Historical Background
Fynbos has not always been indigenous to the Capensis Region. Fossil pollen evidence has shown that since the Late Cretaceous period (97.5 Ma = million years ago) to the end of the Miocene period (5.3 Ma) subtropical rain forests existed here. These forests belonged to a common South American - Antarctic - African - Madagascan flora, when during the Cretaceous period the Gondwana continents were in close proximity. Plants and animals could still migrate across the links that existed between the drifting continents, until the mid-Eocene period (52- 40 Ma) when these landmasses finally separated. The fragmented flora then evolved separately on the different continents. This accounts for the present distant relationships between plants on the Gondwana continents.
After the continents had separated and reached their present situations major climatic events in the southern ocean profoundly affected the local environment:
- By 14 Ma the east Antarctic ice sheet was established and the Benguela current turned very cold.
- By 10 Ma the cold up welling current caused the hyper-aridity of the Namib region.
- By 5.2 Ma the full glaciation of Antarctica was established, causing a 70 m drop in sea level.
- By this time the Subtropical Rainforests of the South Western Cape were eliminated with many interesting components becoming extinct on the continent but derivatives of these species are still found in relict forests of Madagascar, Australia and South America and are of considerable botanical interest. Fynbos spread relatively rapidly from more northern regions into the present Capensis region occupying infertile soils.
- By 5 Ma the present Mediterranean climate was established, promoting further development of fynbos. Still more diversification and speciation occurred during drastic climatic fluctuations of the last 2 Ma when ice ages ravaged the earth and alternated with warm periods . The last ice age ended as recently as 10,000 years ago having profoundly affected environments worldwide.
- The Age of Fynbos in the South Western Cape thus dates back to about 5 million years ago.
Main Plant communities of the Capensis Region
- Cape Fynbos (heath lands)
- Mountain Fynbos
- Lowland Fynbos (Coastal fynbos)
- Grassy Fynbos
- Cape Transitional Shrub lands (non heath lands)
- Renosterveld (small leafed)
- Strandveld (broad leafed)
- Karoo Shrub lands (non heath lands)
- Afromontane Forests (Indigenous mountain forests of Africa)