Returning home after some weeks away, the first order of the day is catching up on local events and life round the neighbourhood. These scenes at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, are of the area impacted by a ravaging fire in early March and are so devastatingly familiar. This is an area where we often cycle and part of the cycle track goes right through the middle of this desolation and we’re gripped both by a sense of loss and awe. That the fynbos vegetation which forms part of this extraordinary Cape Floral Kingdom, is sustained and flourishes in such nutrient poor soil is remarkable. Stripped of the green foliage, the revealed soil looks much like beach sand (from quartzite). Parts look like wastelands, but in some areas green shoots are already appearing attracting browsers like buck and zebra. The geophytes, such as the red Candelabra lilies (Brunsvigia orientalis) are flowering profusely and against the burned vegetation look quite stunning. With climate change affecting local weather patterns, predictions for Cape Town are that total rainfall will decrease by between 10% – 30% over the next 50 years. Fire frequency and intensity will undoubtedly increase, putting post fire vegetation reseeding under further pressure. We’re hoping this year that the seasonal rainfall over the winter months will break the current drought cycle.
Two different views comparing the barren landscape ravaged by fire with scenes showing the growth and colours of the regenerated vegetation.
Cape of Good Hope from Hoek van Bobbejaan.
A feeling of elation lingers as the soft rain which has fallen over the last two days, soaks into the parched earth and the raindrops glisten like jewels. The dam levels supplying Cape Town’s needs are still way below par but through this respite we can visibly see the vegetation greening up and the first signs of spring are emerging. Through my dining room window there’s a buzzing scene. Wagtails are in-coming carrying nesting material, while the sugarbirds and sunbirds flit about foraging for nectar. The protea pincushions (Leucospermum) are coming into bloom though i still put out the occasional bottle of sugar water (fructose/sucrose formula) for the sunbirds.
The ‘tweeting’ going on is full of robust conversation; the wagtail pair call constantly with urgency – “Where are you, where? Bring in the next twigs, need fluff, fluff?” While the sugarbirds have the gruff throaty voice of nightclub singers; deep and croaky. They have the least melodious of songs while the dainty sunbirds have ‘chirp’; full of small bird attitude. My guidebook describes their calls as a wheezy single “tsearp” or double “teer-turp”. And with that, a jubilant “hallelujah” from all of us here on the rainy shores of the Cape Peninsula.
We may have one of the world’s richest floral kingdoms (The Cape Floristic Region) here in the Cape, but with one in six plants being declared critically rare or endangered it is sadly one of the most threatened.
A lot of work is being done to save these endangered species and the plant above (Erica verticillata) is one of those success stories.
“The story of Erica verticillata is unique in the annals of plant conservation in South Africa. It was regarded as extinct in the wild, or ‘perhaps exterminated’ (Adamson & Salter 1950), by the second half of the 20th century. It was rediscovered in a park in Pretoria in 1984 and, since then, in various botanical gardens around the world and brought back into cultivation at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden. The species has become one of Kirstenbosch’s flagship conservation species and has been re-established to three Sand Plain Fynbos reserves within the urban sprawl of Cape Town. These include Rondevlei Nature Reserve, Kenilworth Racecourse Conservation Area and the Tokai Park under management of the South African National Parks. Its status remains Extinct in the Wild and will be re-assessed when it has survived three burn cycles in the wild without restocking or replanting.” (Extract from PlantzAfrica.com).
Happily in a previous post here, I can boast of having a couple of these rare plants in our backyard – which in turn attract the sunbirds and their valuable pollination services.
Jude calls for Wild flowers in May; though it’s spring in the northern hemisphere, the autumn months in the Cape also bring a wealth of showy species. It’s the start of the rainy season and the plants in flower tend to be structural and sturdy like the aloes, sugarbush, red hot pokers. Varieties of erica are also flowering, and the blombos continues to add it’s piquant fragrance. Not to be too boastful about our incredible wild flower heritage, the Cape has some 9000 flowering species and falls under the Cape Floristic Region – one of the world’s six floral kingdoms. It’s a stunning wealth and nowhere else in the world is there such profusion of endemism and concentration of species. How fortunate we are to have so many different species flowering throughout the year. I’ll be back with more!