Fynbos is the name given to the hard leaved (sclerophyllous) shrublands and heathlands found in the coastal plains and mountains of the south western and southern Cape of South Africa.The name is derived from the Dutch word fijnbosch meaning fine leafed bush and is the term given to a collection of plants – that is a vegetation type. Fynbos is the major component of the Cape Floristic Region which includes renosterveld, karroid shrubland, various thicket types and forest.
Fynbos has very high species diversity with more than 7000 species crammed into just 46 000 square kilometres at the south western tip of Africa. Fynbos also has very high endemism (uniqueness) with more than two-thirds of its species found nowhere else on the planet. Fynbos contains between 150 and 170 species per 1 000 km2, an astonishing two to three times that measured for tropical rainforests. The source of this remarkable diversity lies not in the number of species found at a particular site but rather in the proportion of species that are shared between sites, either nearby with a different ecology, or distant and with a similar ecology. Measured in this way the diversity of the Cape fynbos is far higher than any other vegetation type in the world.
It is a shrubland with an unusual mixture of plant types of different shapes and sizes that botanists term growth forms (not to be confused with families). For simplicity sake these can be grouped into four major growth forms: tall protea shrubs with large leaves (proteoids); heath like shrubs (ericoids) including ericas as well as all the other needle leafed species such as buchus, blombos etc; wiry reed like plants (restioids) and bulbous herbs (geophytes). The restios are the diagnostic group in the fynbos and vegetation without restios cannot be fynbos. The major physical force determining where fynbos grows are low soil nutrients, recurring fire and wind.
Fynbos is a highly threatened vegetation type with more than 2000 species listed in the latest IUCN Red list for South Africa. Major threats include invasions by exotic trees, agricultural and urban development, siviculture, climate change and too frequent fires. With so many fynbos species surviving precariously in small populations, fynbos needs all the help it can get.