Thursday, April 17, 2008

Fynbos – Cape Floral Kingdom (South Africa)

In the plant kingdom, there is a virtual geography on how the various species of plants are located. This is defined as the Floral Kingdom, and there are 6 of them.

* Boreal Kingdom (also known as Holartic) occupies 42% of the earth land’s area, and cover Europe, North America and Central Asia
* Paleotropical Kingdom occupies 35%, and is located in much of continent Africa, except for the tip of Africa, which exists another Floral Kingdom called the Fynbos.
* Neotroipical Kingdom occupies 14% and is located in South America
* Australian Kingdom occupies 8% and as its name denotes will be Australia
* Holantartic Kingdom occupies 1% and refers to the bottom part of South America
* Capensis and also known as Cape Floral Kingdom occupies just 0.04% and is located at the
Cape area of South Africa

The definition of the Floral Kingdom will be plant species found within the kingdom, and usually they are endemic to the region. Naturally, across land boundary, the boundary becomes fuzzy, but across natural boundaries (ie. Ocean) the boundary becomes distinct. Typically the kingdom will be formed along the same climatic band from East to West, and isolation in the example of the Australian Kingdom which endemic species include the Eucalyptus and Acacia. (Similar to the animal kingdom, almost all the marsupials are found in Australia.)

(Reference for the geogrpahical layout of these Flower Kingdoms.

Focusing on the Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK) which I have the opportunity to explore during my recent business trip to South Africa, I climbed the Table Mountain with my South African colleague. The CFK comprises the Table Mountain Range and several other localities in the Cape Area. Our exploaration started from the Table Mountain and end at Cape Point. The other name for CFK is also called Fynbos which is a Dutch name (Fijnbosch) for Fine Bush. The key characteristics is that the plants are simply too fine for lumber or even as foliage for cattles. The soil tends to be alkaline, and the definition of the Fynbos (plant species) will be more on the growth form of the plants. The vegetation tends to be shrub and the leaves are small and thick.

The 4 primary growth forms found here will be
· Proteoids - the tallest shrub growing to a height of 1 to 3 metres. The King Protea (Protea cynaroides) which is the national flower of South Africa belongs
to this group.
· Ericoids - heath like plant
· Restoids - reed like plant
· Geophytes - bulbous plant

The main characteristics of these plants are in the leaves which are sclerophyllous (hard, tough and leathery leaf) and microphyllous (small leaf). These can be seen in the leaves in the photos. Such leaves are also seen in the mangrove species where water retention is important. In the Fynbos, the soil is alkaline and the substrate is of sandstone which does not hold water well in the soil. Picture 1 - Unknown Pretea

Picture 2 - Unknown Ericoids
Picture 3 - Unknown Restoids
Picture 4 - Unknown Restoids
Picture 5 - Unknown Geophytes
Picture 6 - This unknown plant has flower like Daisy, and the leaves when cut across the section forms a triangular shape. Suspect that this belongs to the Geophytes.

Picture 7 - Unknown Bush
Picture 8 - Unknown Plant (possibly another Geophytes)
The cape area is extremely windy, and though the Table Mountain is about 1,010 m high, it is usually covered with a layer of cloud, which the local calls it the Table Cloth. Today is no exception when we started on the climb.
The upper layer of the Table Mountain is made up of sandstone rock, which displayed the various faults and fractures cutting across the compressed sedimentation. Though hard, it is still considered soft, erosion from the wind and rain has caused ravines, valleys, faults to be formed across the Cape Mountain ranges.
Picture 9 - Table Mountain as viewed near the Cable Car Station (the Cable Car Station at the top is at the right hand side of the plateau)
Picture 10 - The starting point begins at Platteklip
Picture 11 - My friend started the ascend

Picture 12 - Notice the cracks and sedimentation structure of the Sandstone
Picture 13 - Sandstone Rock Structure Picture 14 - Boulders strewn slope
Picture 15 - This structure somehow reminds me of the Sphinx head!
Climbing to the top, involved having to pass a small gulley which at this point exhibit very strong wind flow (this can contribute this to the Bernoulli’s effect, where the flow area decreased, the velocity has to increase).
Picture 16 - At about 950 m, we can see the Gully which we have to enter to go to the top

Picture 17 - The Gully with the "Table Cloth"
The highest point on the Table Mountain is the Maclear Beacon standing at 1,073m. Unfortunately, due to the Table Cloth, it was not possible to proceed to this point, and I have to be satisfied with the plateau at 1,010 m. Interestingly, from the foot, the mountain top looks flat, but at the top, this does not seem to be so.
Picture 18 - At the top of the Plateau

Picture 19 - Another part of the Table Top Group. The 12 Apostles seen from Kemp Bay

The next day of the weekend, we traveled south towards the Southernmost part of Continent Africa (Cape Point), this was mentioned in the brochure and a quick glance at the map, somehow indicates that there is another location that is more southerly towards the east of Cape Point! Regardless, along the way, we were priviledged to see the vulnerable African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus). The population of 1.5 million in 1910, has now diminished to about 150,000, due to uncontrolled harvesting of their eggs and guano scrapping from their nesting sites.

Picture 20 - African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)

Picture 21 - Out of the Ocean

Picture 22 - See the egg that is temporary exposed.

The Fynbos is not able to support big mammal that can graze in this area, and the biodiversity that thrive here, tends to be of small stature. Along the ways, we manage to see lizard (unknown ID), tortoise, Ostrich (Struthio Camelus) grazing in the sand dune/beach, scavenging bird (unknown ID) and Chacma Baboon (Papio ursinus).

Picture 23 - Another view of the Fynbos Fauna

Figure 24 - An unknown tree in the Table Top Nature Reserve. There are very few trees in this region.

Right at the tip of Continent Africa, two oceans meet. The Indian and Atlantic Ocean, and much marine biodiversity thrive here, due to the warm and cold water mixing in this area. At Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope, in the right season, one can see the migrating whales (usually the Southern Right Whale), and at the False Bay, I was told that the Great White breed.

Picture 25 - Cape of Good Hope (Many lives were lost in the early exploratory days, for this is also called the Cape of Storm). In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias was the first prominent European to cross this cape, and as usual it was stormy, and he called it Cabo tormentoso (Cape of Storm). But this cape was changed to Cabo de Boa Esperanca (Cape of Good Hope) by the King of Portugal.

Picture 26 - The Southern-most Tip of Continent Africa. Named after the first European Explorer Dias. Many ships were wrecked while trying to round this corner, and the most infamous of them all is the legendary Flying Dutchman in 1641.

Returning to Capetown, we traveled by a different route along the spine of the Table Mountain Group, the Chapman Range. As usual, the sandstone of the mountain range prevailed, by the cracks and faults along the winding roads. With enough warning sign of landslide and falling rocks, one cannot help it but to wish that one get out of the danger zones quickly.

Picture 27 - Another part of the other part of the Table Montain Group. This is the Chapman Peak area, which is very beautiful.
Picture 28 - Amphibian (Unknown Frog) taken at the Table Mountain Nature Reserve

Picture 29 - Ostrich (Struthio Camelus) grazing in the sand dune/beach of Cape of Good Hope
Picture 30 - Unknown Bird
Picture 31 - Troop of Chacma Baboon (Papio ursinus)

The Fynbos like most of the other habitats is under threat from
* Alien Species of Plants that were introduced knowingly by earlier explorer and habitants or unknowingly
* Frequent fire (not related to season) due to careless habit from the human
* Encroachment into this area for agriculture and habitation

Much effort is being done to preserve this area, and hopefully the Fynbos will remain as this is the smallest but most diversify (per area) of all the Flower Kingdoms.