The Cape Floral Kingdom and why I love it!
Hiking and mountain biking in the Cape Floral Kingdom has become increasingly popular, with most people appreciating the beauty of the area. However many don’t know that the vast floral diversity, often overlooked, has given South Africa international recognition.
Firstly South Africa is one of 17 megadiverse countries in the World as defined by Conservation International (India, Brazil and Australia are some of the others). To be classified as “Megadiverse” Countries must have at least 5000 endemic species of plants and border a marine ecosystem. South Africa has a vascular plant diversity of close to 21 000 (*not all endemic) and our coastline measures close to 3000 kilometers. The Western Cape and parts of the Northern and Eastern Cape houses over 1/3 of the floral diversity of SA (*in less than 6% of the surface area) and makes up the Cape Floral Kingdom. Floral Kingdoms are zoned based on the uniform composition of plant species. There are only 6 Floral Kingdoms World Wide. The boundaries for these areas are not “hard”and can be described more as transition zones. The Cape Floral Kingdom is the smallest of the World’s 6 Kingdoms and occupies an area of roughly 80 000 square kilometres (0.01% surface area). The other five Kingdoms are Holarctic (most of North America, Europe and Asia), Neotropical (South America), Palaeotropical (most of Africa, India and Indonesia) Australian and Antarctic (Southern tip of South America and Antarctica)
When looking at the map above you get some appreciation for how unique and special the Cape Floral Kingdom truly is. The surface area it covers is miniscule compared to the other Kingdoms of the world. In fact it is the only Kingdom in the World to be contained within a single country. Once you start exploring this region you can be amazed at the biodiversity and species adaptations you will find.
More than 9000 species of plants occurs here (roughly 6000 being endemic to the region). Fynbos is the major vegetation type of the area and is known for its Protea, Erica and Restio diversity and nutrient poor soils. The Citrus and Iris families are also notable and together with the previous 3 mentioned account for close to 25% of the floral diversity in the Cape Floral Kingdom
The other significant vegetation types in the Western Cape is Afromontane Forest, Strandveld and Renosterveld, but there are many more rare veld types throughout the province. Given the size of the Cape Floral Kingdom and its external pressures from alien invasive vegetation, agriculture and urbanisation various local authorities do their best to conserve even the smallest patches of any given vegetation type, as many support near extinct plant species.
You can imagine what role these unique veld types play on the ecosystem.
In 2004 many of the larger Protected Areas were declared as World Heritage sites these include Table Mountain National Park, Cederberg Wilderness area, Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve and De Hoop Nature Reserve. This helps strengthening conservation efforts in the region by ensuring protection from development.
The next time you’re on a hike in one of your local nature reserves or National Parks located in the Cape Floral Kingdom, take a moment to appreciate how lucky we are to be able to explore this unique ecosystem with its magnificent variety of flora.