The Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) is rich in floral biodiversity and is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom World Heritage Site. The most common vegetation type in the TMNP is fynbos (meaning fine bush).
Fynbos is an ancient yet unique vegetation type and has developed over millions of years with restios dating as far back as 60 million years. It has a high level of endemism (when a specific plant occurs nowhere else on earth) often with a species being endemic to an area of a few kilometres only. It is this high level of endemism combined with the high rate of development and environmental degradation that has resulted in the Cape Floral Kingdom being declared a biodiversity hot spot.
Fynbos consists of four major plant groups:
- Proteas: large shrubs with broad leaves
- Ericas: heath-like, low growing shrubs
- Restios: reed-like plants; are the only group that are found in all fynbos habitats and as such are called
- Geophytes: bulbs; these include watsonias and disa’s both of which occur mainly in wetland areas and are prominent after fires.
Fynbos is a fire-dependent vegetation that needs to burn around every 15 years to stimulate new growth and ensure that plant and animal communities remain healthy. However, because of the proximity of houses to the TMNP, often fires that would be beneficial to the vegetation are extinguished because of the threat to human settlement. If fynbos does not burn in about 20 – 30 years it will become moribund which could result in the extinction of some species.
On the other hand certain areas of the Park experience fire too frequently due to human intervention. This can be destructive to the ecosystem because when young fynbos (fynbos that has not yet reached seed-bearing status) burns, seed banks are depleted which can change the diversity of plant species in the area, e.g. more grass species, which could result in even more frequent fires.
View the Fire Management page to find out how the TMNP Firefighting Unit operates.
Renosterveld (rhinoceros field) is a type of vegetation found on the slopes of Signal Hill and Devil’s Peak, wherever there are exposures of Malmesbury shale.
It thus occurs on gentle to steep lower slopes forming a tall, open shrubland and grassland, typically with Renosterbos not appearing very prominently. This vegetation is very grassy due to frequent fires and lack of grazing. On south-facing slopes and upper slopes this unit merges into fynbos. The early seral (?) stages after fire are dominated by spectacular bulb displays and resprouting bush clumps of Wax Currant-rhus, after which tussock grasses, shrubs and ferns emerge. After only 12 months the reseeding species start to become more obvious, much faster than in Fynbos.
This is a critically endangered vegetation unit, with only 13% remaining, the rest having been lost under Cape Town’s urban sprawl. A fair proportion of the conserved area on Devil’s Peak is covered by pine and gum parkland, and is the focus of restoration research.
Renosterveld burns every 3–5 years to the dismay of Cape Town citizens, but this is the natural fire frequency for this vegetation type, especially where it is not heavily grazed. Large portions of Signal Hill however, have been, protected from fire for up to 25 years, and as a consequence, bush encroachment and invasion by alien Thatching Grass is providing a management challenge for protecting the bulbs and succulents in this veld type.
Information from: Fynbos Biome in The Vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland by A.G. Rebelo, C. Boucher, N. Helme, L. Mucina, M.C. Rutherford et al. 2006. L. Mucina & M.C. Rutherford (eds). Strelitzia 19, pp 52-219.
While we have no real indication of the expanse of Afromontane Forest on the peninsula in pre-colonial times, today only small pockets remain in the TMNP as during 50 years of European settlement, large areas of Afromontane had been harvested.
Afromontane Forest usually occurs below 800m and requires good rainfall and nutrient-rich soil and today is found primarily in kloofs on the slopes of Table Mountain but it does occur as far south as the Cape of Good Hope. It consists of medium-height (15m-20m), evergreen trees and unlike its neighbour fynbos, it is not very rich in diversity and consists of around 33 species of trees.
Due to the dense nature of the forest canopy, only a few other plants, such as ferns, are found in the forest but there is an abundance of algae’s and mosses. The majority of animals in the forests are of the reptilian, invertebrate (insect) or avian persuasion although you can see rooikat and smaller antelope such as steenbok.
Sensitive Ecosystems: Rivers & Wetlands
The few remaining wetlands on the Cape Peninsula are of huge ecological significance. The Noordhoek/Kommetjie wetlands and the central area of Table Mountain are excellent representatives of wetland ecology. Their slightly acidic nature limits the number of plants that grow there, although numbered among those that do are some of the Park’s rarest floral jewels such as the Bokmakieriestert (Witsenia maura), Erica heleogena and three endemic leucodendrons all of which are numbered on the IUCN’s Red Data List.
For an enlightening read that will greatly enhance your enjoyment of the TMNP, buy Mountains in the Sea – an Interpretive Guide to Table Mountain National Park by award winning environmental journalist John Yeld. The book comprehensively covers all aspects of the Park from fauna, flora and fire to popular hikes and history. It is available from outlets at Westlake, Boulders Penguin Colony, and Buffelsfontein Visitor Centre.
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