Cape Floral Kingdom

Cape Floral Kingdom

There are six floral kingdoms on earth. The Cape Flora Kingdom is one of only six floral kingdoms in the world. It consists of at least eight and a half thousand species includes numerous bulbs, heathers, grasses and proteas.

Locally these plants are known as 'fynbos' because they have hardy wooden stems and fine leaves. Fynbos evolved over a period of five million years from afro-montane origins.

If you are to walk the mountains and footpaths of the Cape Peninsula then you need to know that you are in the botanical treasure house of the world. The globe is divided into six botanical regions - each one called a Floral Kingdom. The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of those six, and is far and away the smallest in area (only 0.04% of the total).

The Cape Floral kingdom is also far and away the richest in plant life. In the Cape Peninsula alone there are more species of flowering plants than in the whole of Great Britain. Kirstenbosch Gardens, on the slopes of Table Mountain, has become a vital showpiece for fynbos and the flora of Southern Africa in general.

  • Most of the Northern Hemisphere 42%
  • Most of Africa 35%
  • Central and most of South America 14%
  • Australasia 8%
  • Antarctica, New Zealand and the southern tip of South America 1%
  • South-Western tip of Africa (The Cape Floral Kingdom) 0,04%

From Cape Town the Cape Floral Kingdom stretches north to Clanwilliam and east to Grahamstown. Even though the Cape Floral Kingdom is by far the smallest (the only contained by one country), it is the richest having some 8,700 species of plants. This kingdom has the highest concentration of plant species namely: 1,300 per 10,000 km2. The nearest rival, the South American rain forest has a concentration of only 400 per 10,000 km2. Over 5,000 of these is endemic appearing nowhere else on earth. The Cape Peninsula has over 2280 plant species more than the entire British Isles. Table Mountain alone has over 1,470 plant species.

An unrivaled community of plants, the Fynbos (fine bush), forms a subset (biome) of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Derived from the Dutch, the name describes many of the plants in this biome i.e.: fine-leafed bushes. The Fynbos contains some 7,700 plant species and is characterized by the presence of three main plant families.

Ericaceae (Heath
Proteaceae (Protea
  Proteas, Conebushes,
Pincushions and Bottlebushes/Pagodas
Restionaceae (Reed

The ericoid component (heath types) is characterized by having fine leaves and delicate tubular flowers. The blooms are often remarkably beautiful. More than 600 species occur in Southern Africa while only 26 species occur in the rest of the world. The Cape Peninsula alone boasts more than 100 species.

The proteoid component (protea types) is characterized by having larger, flatter leaves that are either waxy or hairy. They are usually taller than the surrounding plants. The flowers of this group are exquisite and are prized by the cut-flower industry. The Protea Atlas Project is an essential resource for further reading about this unique collection of plants.

The restiod component (reed types) is the distinguishing plant type of Fynbos. The classification of Fynbos, by definition, requires a cover of >5%. The Cape Reeds take the place of grasses and exist as separate male and female plants. They are often utilized as thatch for roofs.

Many Fynbos species are extremely rare and only found in isolated populations. Numerous species are classified as endangered and a number have become extinct. This astonishing floral diversity needs to be conserved at all costs.

More info:
South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI):
The Cape Floral kingdom is also far and away the richest in plant life.