Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Cape Floral Kingdom

A floral kingdom is an area of the planet where plant species have evolved in different ways, due to geographic or climatic differences. There are six floral kingdoms on the planet: the Holarctic or Boreal, which covers 42% of the earth’s land surface, including North America, Europe, Asia north of the Himalayas, and the Arctic; the Paleotropical, including all but a sliver of Africa, the Middle East, India, and Asia south of the Himalayas (35%); the Neotropical which covers all of South America, except the tip (14%); the Australian, which includes only Australia (8%); the Holantarctic, which comprises the tip of South America and the Antarctic (1%); and the Cape or Capensis at the southern tip of Africa, comprising a mere 0.04% of the earth’s land area.

I happen to live in the Cape Floral Kingdom. And what a pleasure it is.

First some stats: eight protected areas within the Cape Floral Kingdom (totaling about 550,000 hectares or 1.2 million acres) are designated as a World Heritage Site. Table Mountain National Park, in the middle of Cape Town, is only 22,000 hectares (about 50,000 acres), and contains more plant species than the British Isles. The kingdom has just under 10,000 vascular plant species, of which 70% are endemic (occur nowhere else). In terms of fauna, the area boasts 560 vertebrate species, including 142 reptile species of which 27 are endemic.

But it is not the stats that I like. I LOVE the plants and how they look.

In South Africa we use the word fynbos (or fine bush) as the generic name for all the plants in the kingdom. Virtually all the woody species are hard and tough with small leaves. There are also about 330 species of restios, which are grass like. The plants have adapted to flourish in the poor soil, high winds, winter rainfall, and frequent fires.

Perhaps the most famous of the plants from the area are proteas, strelitzia (bird of paradise), arum lilies, gladioli, and daisies. But I’m sure you’d rather see these flowers rather than read about them. So here goes.

Brown sugarbush
Yellow pin cushion

King protea

King protea close up

Red pin cushion

Red sugarbush


Mandela's strelitzia

Arum lily

Namaqua daisies

Daisies as far as the eye can see




Cape sugarbird
 All these plants, of course, attract a variety of birds, including sugarbirds and sunbirds. I wake up every morning to the noisy chatter of sugarbirds discussing the quality of nectar in the various proteas, aloes, and tickberry flowers in my garden. The sunbirds are less noisy, but often more active. Their iridescent feathers are often quite startling as they catch the sunlight.

Lesser double-collared sunbird

Fynbos is a tourist attraction in its own right, and many people visit South Africa to explore the Western Cape’s flowers. With so many species, there are always plants in bloom, summer or winter. Right now, in my garden, I have seven varieties of proteas in bloom, as well as aloes, ericas, and yellow tickberry bushes.

No wonder we call this area Paradise.

Stan - Thursday


  1. Hi Stan - these flowers look like they are from another planet, no wonder people travel to see them. The sun bird appears to have been picked up by its feet and dipped into two different paint jars. - Yrsa

  2. I've just finished reading The Song Dog and, though the precise name evades me, it included an off-stage character named either Bhengu or Khubu. Is your protagonist a tribute?
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"

  3. No Peter, the similarity in names is coincidental. Stan

  4. So much for my career as a detective. Thanks!

  5. how interesting to find someone else who writes about our Flora Capensis. As a bonus a very interesting blog to tuck in my Feedly!