A Floral Paradise Under Threat
If you are to walk the mountains and footpaths of the Cape Peninsula then you need to know that you are in the botanical treasure house of the world. The globe is divided into six botanical regions – each one called a Floral Kingdom. The Cape Floral Kingdom is one of those six, and is far and away the smallest in area (only 0.04% of the total).
The Cape Floral kingdom is by far and away the richest in plant life. In the Cape Peninsula alone there are more species of flowering plants than in the whole of Great Britain. Europe boasts of having 21 species of Erica heath, their heather is well known, especially in Scotland, splashing the countryside with colour. But in the Western Cape we have no fewer than 657 species of Erica; a concentration unequalled by any other plant group in the world. And Ericas are just one of the three main components of fynbos, the other two being the Protea family and the restios (reeds). That’s the good news.
The Bad News
Our treasure trove is under serious threat from alien plant invaders. Only 40% of the fynbos flora found here in Van Riebeeck’s time has survived, and still we are the richest botanical region on earth. But not for long, unless the alien vegetation is brought under control and prevented from smothering the indiginous plants.
The Economic Effect
Why worry? you might ask. Green is green, who cares what form it takes? The economic effect of a takeover by alien plants is devastating. They choke dams and rivers, destabilize river banks and cause soil erosion and silting up of estuaries. Perhaps the most costly effect of alien vegetation is that those plants and trees rob us of our much-needed water before it even reaches the dams – requiring even more dams to be built. Alien trees can drink many times more water than indigenous fynbos and where there might have been 500 species of indigenous flowering plants, now there is just one – an alien. Witness for example the floor of a Pine forest or a Bluegum forest, a thicket of Rooikrans, hakea or Port Jackson. They are totally selfish, to the exclusion of all else.
The Moral of the Story
Be proud of what we have in the Western Cape and be aware of the threat. Education will eventually eradicate it, with the help of the gall wasp, the rust fungus and other friends.