Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Cape Floral Kingdom, a South African UNESCO site

My friends and I are still in awe of the wonderful spectacle that we had the privilege of witnessing in Namaqualand the other day.

Sita has commented on the wide variety of flora in the area.....

Well, a serial site – in Cape Province, South Africa – made up of eight protected areas, covering 553,000 ha, the Cape Floral Region is one of the richest areas for plants in the world!!

Did you know that it represents less than 0.5% of the area of Africa but is home to nearly 20% of the continent’s flora??

The site displays outstanding ecological and biological processes associated with the Fynbos vegetation, which is unique to the Cape Floral Region

What is Fynbos?

Table Mountain over Cape Town - Opens new browser window Fynbos is the natural vegetation occurring along a narrow belt which stretches north and east of Cape Town.King Protea (Protea cynaroides) Most famous for its proteas , this small area is, in fact, home to over 8000 species of plants.

An astonishing 5000 of these do not occur anywhere else in the world and many are extremely rare and in danger of extinction.

This is the smallest and, for its size, richest of the world's six floral kingdoms.

Supporting 8500 species of plants, it is of international ecological and conservation importance.

The outstanding diversity, density and endemism of the flora are among the highest worldwide.

Unique plant reproductive strategies, adaptive to fire, patterns of seed dispersal by insects, as well as patterns of endemism and adaptive radiation found in the flora, are of outstanding value to science.

Characteristic fynbos plants are the proteas, restios (Cape reeds) and ericas (heaths).

The biggest families are those of the daisies (over 1000 species), irises (600 species) and lilies (400 species).

A real "fynbos special" is the heath family (Ericaceae), with 600 species, while the rest of the world can boast a mere 26! (Scotland, land of heather, has only 4!!)

Many popular garden plants, such as pelargoniums (geraniums) and freesias, have their origin in fynbos.

Table Mountain is home to approximately 1470 species of plants - more than the entire British Isles!!

Many of these are endemic (i.e. appearing nowhere else on Earth).

Okay, everybody, get ready for a botany we are going to take a guided walking tour of the world famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden- (which by the way is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom)

The Botanical Society Conservatory - enables Kirstenbosch to display South African plants which cannot be grown in the outdoor gardens.

Here, under one roof, we find plants from high mountain peaks, shady forests and hot, dry deserts.

The main house, dominated by a large baobab tree, features succulents from the arid regions of southern Africa.

Special collections of bulbs, ferns and alpines are displayed in smaller corner houses.

Peninsula garden displays some of the 2 500 plant species found on the Cape Peninsula.

Fragrance garden features plants with interesting textures and scents.

The guide told us about the many medicinal uses of the South African plants found in the Medicinal garden.

The Dell is the oldest part of the Garden, featuring Colonel Bird's Bath, tree ferns and a variety of shade-loving plants.

The Useful Plants garden is the extension of the Medicinal Plants garden

Van Riebeeck's Hedge was planted in 1660 to protect cattle of the Cape colonists...and some of it is still there!!

Large areas, especially in the lower part of the Garden, are planted with different colours ranging from brilliant white, soft peach, intense orange and yellow to striking blue and mauve.

It is mostly the daisies, like Dimorphotheca, Felicia, Osteospermum, Ursinia and Gazania, which create the sheets of flowing colour.

Main Pond

Main pond

In the shade of a majestic old oak tree is the Main Pond, containing blue water lilies and waterblommejies, and pink crinums at its edge.

Set in the centre of a large lawn, it commands sweeping views of the mountain. It is fed via cobbled streams by the natural spring that bubbles up in the Dell.

At the top of the lawn stands a magnificent old yellowood tree whose branches hang down to the ground forming a 'cave'.

Cycad Amphitheatre

In a natural amphitheatre is the impressive collection of cycads, Encephalartos species.

Cycad amphitheatre

Palm-like in appearance, they are often called "living fossils"; not because they are so slow growing, but because fossils show us that they have changed remarkably little since prehistoric times.

The Cycad Living Collection was the first collection of plants to be established at Kirstenbosch.

Cycads are mostly rare and endangered in their natural habitats and are constantly under threat from unscrupulous collectors.

The caged cycad in the centre of the picture above is Encephalartos woodii, which is extinct in the wild. Only male plants exist and unscrupulous collectors have stolen suckers from this plant in the past.

Kirstenbosch has an active propagation programme to increase the number of plants available to gardeners and collectors and thus take the pressure off the few remaining plants in the wild.

Pearson's Grave

Prof. Harold Pearson, the first Director of Kirstenbosch, lies buried in the shade of a magnificent Atlas Cedar.Pearson's grave

His epitaph: 'If ye seek his monument, look around you' is a fitting one for the man whose vision and energy led to the establishment these magnificent Gardens.

Water-wise Garden

Gardeners all over the world are being made more aware of the need to save water.

The Water-wise Garden is a small demonstration garden that shows the visitor how to create a garden that is lush and colourful throughout the year, but which requires less water and maintenance than an ordinary garden.Waterwise garden

Important water-wise principles are explained, like soil preparation, mulching, making windbreaks, creating shade, lawn care and grouping of plants according to their water needs.

The plants are labelled with short descriptive notes as well as tips on identifying water-wise plant characteristics: underground bulbs, small hairy or grey leaves, succulent roots, stems or leaves, and more.

Sculpture PathSculpture in the garden

A recent development of an old and often overlooked area of the Garden, designed to exhibit African sculpture with the Gardens as a backdrop. It is a special experience to see how the landscape and the sculptures interact and compliment each other.

Vlei Garden

Vlei Garden

This is a natural seep, or vlei, rich in plant and animal life.

Camphor Avenue & Ficus Avenue

The Camphor Avenue is a remnant of the avenue of trees planted by Cecil John Rhodes around 1898 to honour Queen Victoria.

Trees representing the outposts of the British Empire were planted along this road.

Camphor Ave

The section that runs through Kirstenbosch consists of camphor trees from China, Cinnamonum camphorum, the Moreton Bay figs from Australia, Ficus macrophylla.

Sadly, Queen Victoria never got to see her avenue, but at least we are left with beautiful trees forming a magnificent avenue, where a variety of shade-loving bulbs and herbaceous plants thrive under the spreading canopy.

A frequent visitor to Camphor Avenue is the Cape eagle owl; an event which causes quite a stir, while it studiously ignores its admirers on the ground below.

Bushveld Garden

The Bushveld Garden is located on the hottest, sunniest, driest slope; a strong recommendation during Cape winters when days are short, sunlight is low and the ground gets very wet.

In this area are plants that come from the north of South Africa, the Bushveld.

Bushveld section

There are a variety of thorn trees, Acacia species, and herbaceous plants that are at their best in late summer.

Mathew's Rockery

This section is one of the earliest developments in the Garden, built and named in honour of the first curator of Kirstenbosch.

Mathew's rockery

Mathew's Rockery is constructed of local sandstone and is used to display plants from the more arid region of South Africa, e.g. aloes, crassulas, euphorbias and many others.

The Rockery is an intricate maze of small pathways in amongst these weird and wonderful xerophytic plants

Fynbos Walk

This path takes the visitor through the heart of the fynbos garden, which displays the major components of the fynbos, a vegetation type characteristic of the winter rainfall region of the south-western and southern Cape.

The path traverses the highest points of the cultivated area of Kirstenbosch and offers panoramic views over the Cape Flats with the Hottentots Holland mountain range in the distance.

It draws a rich variety of birds, many of which are the pollinators of the fynbos plants.

Sita has just spotted 4 species of sun-bird: the Orange-Breasted, the Malachite, the Greater Double-Collared and the Lesser Double-Collared.

Guinea fowls are also a common sight.

Restio garden

Restio Garden

This garden displays the Cape reeds or restios as they are commonly called in an abbreviation of their family name: Restionaceae.

These are unusual reed-like plants, some as small and dainty as grasses, others with thick stems up to 2 meters tall.

Protea Garden

Protea gardenThis Garden is for proteas ( and their close relatives, the pincushions, Leucospermum species and conebushes, Leucadendron species.

This area is at its best in the winter and spring months when the proteas, leucadendrons and serrurias are in bloom. The pincusions provide a colourful display in late spring and summer.

Nopi is going to have a few Proteas exported home use it in her dried flower arrangements.

Btw, Marti, did you know that the King Protea is the national flower of South Africa, and the nickname of my beloved national cricket team?


Our guide boasted that in 2008, the Kirstenbosch exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show won a gold medal for the most creative display and the President's Cup.

The exhibit was entiteld The Heat is On and featured an aloe dichotoma (also known as a quiver tree), which is being studied and monitored as an indicator of climate change. Well, we all know the quiver tree by now...

Dead and dying quiver trees were displayed alongside live specimens to illustrate how warmer temperatures have forced the species to migrate southwards.

Kirstenbosch has won 29 gold medals at the Chelsea Flower Show in 33 appearances.....simply awesome!!

UNESCO's World Heritage Committee declared the 553 000 hectare Cape Floral Region to be "outstanding universal significance to humanity", describing it as "one of the richest areas for plants in the world"..........and we simply loved our day in the park, and we hope that the constant threat of fires and alien plants do not destroy this global gift from Mother Nature:-)

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