Preserving the Cape’s Natural Heritage

Restoring fynbos

When hearing the term fynbos, the famous King Protea is often the first plant that comes to mind. Fynbos, which directly translates from Dutch to “fine bush”, has so much more to offer, as it forms the biggest part of the Cape Floral Kingdom. The biodiversity and the adaptability of fynbos species is enormously valuable for the Western Cape in many different ways, as it provides the following ecosystem services:


More than 9,000 plant species can be found in the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is also home to a staggering diversity of animal species. Sadly, about 1,700 plant species, as well as many animal species, are severely threatened. Regrettably, many have already gone extinct, including the iconic Quagga and the Cape Lion. Needless to say, protecting and restoring the most biodiverse Floral Kingdom in the world - that even outshines the lush forests of the Amazon - is key to guaranteeing the survival of a wide variety of species living at the Cape.


Many fynbos plants have been used for their medicinal properties for millennia, first by the indigenous Khoikhoi and later by the European settlers. Everything from the common cold to malaria can be treated with the healing powers of fynbos. Many of these healing properties have special scientific interest in recent years. For example, Lessertia frutescens, which is better known as cancer bush and is said to be valuable in treating this serious disease.


As the King Protea is known as the national flower of South Africa, all kinds of Proteas and various other fynbos species have become popular products for export, and thus play an important part in the country's economy. Moreover, the famous Rooibos is found on many tea tables around the world, Buchu tea is well known as household remedy all over the country and trade with Honeybush tea is burgeoning. Extracts from Aloe, Sour fig and many other medicinal plants are used in ointments, tinctures and medicine, which are also exported. Most importantly, fynbos also forms the backdrop of many tourist attractions found in Cape Town: tourists can enjoy hikes in the fynbos on iconic Table Mountain, marvel at the diversity of plants in Kirstenbosch gardens or they can enjoy a glass of fynbos gin in the Waterfront.


Most fynbos plants are known to be hardy and water-wise, as they grow in harsh conditions in mostly sandy soil. Fynbos is very well adapted to growing in these tough conditions, including having leaves that are hairy and generally smaller, as well as growing at a slower pace. In areas dominated by fynbos, there is also less biomass, and for that reason, veld fires occur less frequently and burn at lower temperatures, which makes them less devastating and easier to control. Planting endemic plants can also help to prevent major droughts as they keep the fresh water in the grounds rather than allowing it to flush away into the ocean. Fresh and filtered groundwater will then be accessible in higher quantity for humans to use. Moist soils will also enable more delicate species to grow and flourish, which will enhance biodiversity.


As many fynbos plants are not only water-wise but also are able to improve the quality of the soils, which allows for more plants to grow and photosynthesize, converting CO2 into oxygen and fighting air pollution. In addition to that, dense root systems prevent the erosion of the top soil, that stabilizes grounds and provides nutrients and minerals for flora, fauna and humans. Restoring endemic ecosystems to the Cape also helps to fight alien invasive species that are threatening biodiversity in the Cape Floral Kingdom due to their water consumption and their demand of minerals in the soil. Moreover, fully functional endemic ecosystems are able to regulate and stabilize weather conditions as they are keeping the grounds cool by absorbing the rain.


Being able to reconnect with nature so close to the city is one of the biggest benefits of living in Cape Town and definitely undervalued. Hiking through fynbos has not only recreational effects, but can also help to raise curiosity and thus a sense of responsibility for our natural environment. More importantly, it can provide a venue for educating children about their natural environment, which is extremely important for their personal development as it enables them to become responsible and compassionate adults who are conscious about their behaviour towards both their social and natural environment. Therefore, fynbos holds a lot of potential in respect of societal development in South Africa.