From feathery and delicate to robust and regal, the Cape’s fynbos kingdom is one of the natural wonders of the world
What is fynbos?
‘Fynbos’ is the narrow belt of natural vegetation stretching through the majestic mountains, valleys and plains of our Cape region, from Niewoudtville in the north, through Cape Town and east to Grahamstown. It was the Dutch settlers who gave the name to this hardy group of plants: fijnbosch means fine-leafed bushes’. Most famous for its regal proteas, it is the smallest of the world’s six plant kingdoms but it’s also the second most diverse. Home to more indigenous plants than any other same-sized area on the planet, it boasts 9 000 different species over 90 000 square kilometres, 70 percent of which are found nowhere else on Earth. This helped it claim the title as a wonder of the world.
Types of fynbos
Plants of the fynbos kingdom tend to resemble shrubbery found in other regions of the world with a Mediterranean climate. It thrives in soil that is poor in nutrients, is stoic against sturdy winds and enjoys dry summers – typical of the weather at the southern tip of Africa. From afar fynbos appears as a silvery sheen across mountains and plains. But up close an amazing richness and diversity of flora and fauna unravels – from broad, waxy leaves to powder-puff blooms and dainty foliage and flowers, many with heady aromas and flavours. Fynbos is divided into four different types: proteoids (tall proteashrubs with large leaves), ericoids (heath-like shrubs), restoids (reed-like plants) and geophytes (bulbous herbs).
Unnatural threats to fynbos
Fynbos is a national treasure but it is also under threat: almost a third of original fynbos vegetation has been lost with more than 1 400 species endangered and at least 29 species now extinct. Menaces to fynbos include alien vegetation, illegal harvesting (including road-side picking) and building developments encroaching on their natural space. Fynbos species have such a tiny range of localisation that building a house can wipe out the world population of a particular plant. Alien plants are thugs to fynbos and choke large areas of its natural habitat. Fire is a natural process in the life cycle of fynbos (it helps it thrive, reproduce and disperse seeds) but in the wrong season or when it burns too frequently (with
plants given no time to set seed) it also causes the dwindling of species.
|Help the cause by planting a fynbos garden. Fynbos – or indigenous – gardens are full of colour and texture, are evergreen,maintain themselves in poor soils, require little water and are a sanctuary for our vulnerable birds and wildlife.|
The fynbos ecosystem
Due to the poor soils it favours, fynbos doesn’t attract large mammals. But smaller birds and animals – like frogs, baboons, klipspringers, dassies, mongooses and the striped mouse – love fynbos for both food and protection. Fynbos is also home to large numbers of butterflies, but as their area of habitat is so localised, their extinction rate is high if their habitat is destroyed.
Cooking with fynbos
Executive sous chef Adrian Schreuder at The Table Bay Hotel is passionate about cooking with fynbos and has worked with this uniquely South African ingredient for more than 10 years. These days his inspiration is virtually on his doorstep: his father-in-law, Ivan Harris, bought Baskloof Private Nature Reserve near Scarborough about 15 years ago as a holiday getaway. But after recognising that the property was cloaked in pristine fynbos, he took on the daunting task of ridding the area of alien species. He now maintains it as a conservation project, fuelled by natural energy. Adrian takes regular jaunts to the reserve to collect fynbos to use in his dishes. “Of the 300 different species of fynbos, there are only about eight plants that are edible,” says Adrian.
Adrian believes so strongly in fynbos that he has launched Cooking with Fynbos packages in conjunction with The Table Bay. The full-day package includes a memorable morning excursion to the Baskloof reserve with Adrian, where you are guided through the species and learn how to pick them properly. In the converted workers’ cottage (discovered when the alien species were hacked away), Adrian serves seasonal hot fynbos soups with crusty bread warmed in the traditional oven, including chicken and leek with wild dagga; beef, barley and wild rosemary; or vegetable and buchu. This is followed by a trip back to the hotel for a fynbos-infused welcome drink (buchu lemonade, lemon pelargonium iced tea or sour fig and mint cordial) with canapés. Guests also enjoy an inspiring five-course tasting menu with fynbos.
“It’s a unique experience for tourists as well as locals to taste dishes influenced by our native herbs. Not only is fynbos
edible, it’s delicious in its own right.” The half-day Cooking with Fynbos package is R650 per person and the full-day package is R950. Call 021-406-5988 or visit tablebay. suninternational.com.