Catch this overview on fynbos as an audio interview with Michael Turtle.
During the first week of March 2015 a massive fire burnt across the southern Cape Peninsula. An area of about 5,000 hectares was burnt stretching from the slopes of Muizenberg on the Indian Ocean side of the Peninsula across and down to the Atlantic coastline on the Hout Bay side. Immediately following the fire the previously green slopes, with there magnificent variety of fynbos species, had been transformed into a blackened, ash covered lunar-like landscape. A walk through these desolate hills immediately after the fire gave no indication of what was to follow. Death and destruction was everywhere, and all that remained were blackened stems, ash and not a vestige of green anywhere. But within days this seemingly lifeless landscape started to transform itself back into a botanical wonderland.
The photo on the left is of Protea nitida (Wagon tree, Waboom). Initially these plants would have appeared blackened and dead, yet they have a special thick, corky white-grey bark that protects them from fire. Just six weeks after fire and these amazing plants have produced new leaves and will be fully recovered and flowering by next year.
Other plants such as Penaeae mucronata (see left) are able to re-sprout after fire from woody underground lignotubers. A lignotuber is a woody swelling of the root crown used by some plants as protection against fire. While the above ground parts of the plant are destroyed in the fire, the plant is not killed. Instead the crown contains buds from which new stems rapidly sprout.
These re-sprouting plants have a major advantage after fire in comparison with plants that rely entirely on seeds for germination. A great example of a rapid re-sprouter is Erica cerinthoides (Fire heath). Just six weeks after the Cape Peninsula fire and this amazing Erica has resprouted and produced its magnificent red, bird pollinated flowers.
Behind the Erica the large green leaf is a Watsonia. This leaf has grown from a bulb in just six weeks. Bulbs provides a store of food that can rapidly be used by the plant for growth and flowering after fire. The bulb has been protected from fire by the insulating effects of the soil above. The post fire environment is ideal for bulbs. Fires return essential nutrients back to the soil in the ash and shrubs, that previously competed with the bulb for light and space, have been burnt. The bulbs rapidly take advantage, pushing up fresh, healthy foliage and flowering in the first winter and spring following fire.
For many other species this winter will provide the rainfall for the germination of their seeds that they have carefully stored in preparation for fire. Ecologists call plants that store their seeds in special protected cones or fruiting bodies in the canopy serotinous plants. While the parent plant dies in the fire, the precious seeds are safeguarded and released a few days later into the moon-like landscape. When cooler autumn days and rains arrive these seeds germinate.
What really caught my eye while driving over the mountains this last weekend was the bright yellow patches in amongst the grey landscape. On closer inspection I found them to be these beautiful Capelio tabularis (Mountain daisy) that flourish in the first season following fire – I cant wait for my next visit in a few weeks to see what’s flowering!
We have been identifying the plant species on Grootbos Nature Reserve since the beginning of 1997. Initially I thought the plant survey would take a year or two to complete. How wrong I was! Original estimates from diversity models (based on size and number of habitats), predicted about 330-370 species on the Grootbos Reserve. Our initial intensive three month survey which covered the entire Reserve resulted in a species list of 250 identified plants of which 31 were species of conservation concern (vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered). So at the time we thought job nearly done. Well we kept exploring and the more we explored the more new plants we found for our list. The list grew through four hundred and when we reached five hundred species we enjoyed a big cake to celebrate. Then in about 2005/06 the new records slowed down and we thought we had reached the end.
But dry conditions and gale force winds across the Agulhas Plain in early February 2006 brought a massive wild fire that burnt the entire Reserve. Over the next twelve months we added no fewer that 70 new plants to our list – including two totally new to science that only flowered in the spring following the fire! One of these new species, Lachenalia lutzeyeri (pictured left) only flowered in the spring of 2006 following the fire and has not been seen since – no doubt waiting patiently underground for the next fire.
By the beginning of 2015 our indigenous plant species list on Grootbos has reached 768 species of which 99 are species of conservation concern! We have now realised that this project will never really be completed and there are still surprises that come along every now and then.
Today was no exception. I was wondering through our blue gum woodlot on the Reserve – not a place I usually go botanising. And there all around me were these magnificent Tritoniopsis triticea (see left). Plant number 770 for our list.
While this is a fairly common plant in the Cape – growing from the Cape Peninsula and Porterville to Mossel Bay, we have never before recorded it on Grootbos. Simply because we have never happened to be wondering through the blue gum woodlot at the end of February or early March!
The lesson in short is that no quick-fire botanical assessment, as is so often undertaken to fulfil the environmental impact assessment requirements for new developments, can hope to come close to identifying all the species in a fynbos habitat – no matter how good the botanist might be.
Wendy Hitchcock’s popular Fynbos Identification courses are back – book now to secure your place and get to know how to identify our wonderful fynbos plants.
For more information see Fynbos Plant Identification Courses
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Every spring along the De kelders coastline we are treated to magnificent flowering displays of the rooi trewwa, Satyrium carneum. This year for some reason has been really special with literally thousands of these magnificent ground orchids in full flower.
Perhaps it was the good rains that fell steadily through the growing season of these plants. The only previous time we saw so many of these beauties flowering was the spring following the massive fire of 2006.
While I was wondering through the fields of bright pink Satyrium’s I came across one which really stood out with its unusual light pink, almost orange flowers. I have previously seen another natural variant with white flowers but this was the first time I came across one like this. Nature is really full of surprises!
Spring has certainly sprung in the Overberg and we have had a magnificent week with beautiful warm weather. I have been doing lots of walking in the fynbos and taking in all the magnificent spring colours, smells and beautiful flowers. It also amazing how the birds seems to be in full song from first light – spring warmth and beauty is rejuvenating us all.
I was walking in some magnificent Overberg sandstone fynbos on a ridge-line overlooking Pearly Beach this week and came across some beutiful Protea aspera in full flower.
This is a rodent pollinated protea, hence its low, almost ground creeping growth form. Its prostrate growth form makes it easy for the little guys to reach into the flowers for a night time feast and then transfer pollen between flowers and act as an important pollinator.
A little way away on the same path I came across this beautiful ground creeping pincushion, Leucospermum heterophyllum (the tridentleaf pincushion), another rodent pollinated species in the same family.
Spring is Protea meal time for rodents in the fynbos of the Agulhas Plain and a great time to explore and experience the regions magnificent floral diversity.
Dear Fynbos Forum colleagues,
Please have a look at the fantastic (draft) programme we have lined up for Fynbos Forum, 2014 in Knysna.
Please see attachment. There will be interesting workshops, great plenaries, loads of talks and posters, a disco night and some very exciting field trips (to be announced soon)
The cut off for early bird registrations was Monday 23 June 2014. You now have until 20 July 2014 to get your registration forms in and join this years forum.
A registration form is also attached for your convenience.We are up to full capacity for talks presentations but posters may be submitted
Waverley Hills is planning a unique Fynbos/Indigenous Plant Fair on their property in September. They are providing an opportunity for any local suppliers of fynbos or indigenous plants, suppliers of garden equipment and garden craft to showcase their products at the fair.
For more information see the attached flyer or contact Elizma Visser on 023 2310002
Wendy Hitchcock will be organising another of her excellent Intoduction to Fynbos identification courses from the 30 June -4 July 2014 at the Gold Fields Centre Kirstenbosch. The cost per participant is R2000.
For more information contact Wendy Hitchcock at Hitchcock@mweb.co.za