Also known simply as the Cape, this zone includes the southern tip of Africa. Its coastal boundary extends from Port Elizabeth in the east to the mouth of the River Olifant in the northwest. On the landward side the boundary extends from the north western town of Nieuwoudtuille following the eastern slopes of the Cedarberg in a southerly direction and then east from Karoopoort along the northern slopes of the Witteburg, Swartberg, Braviaans, Kloff and Groot Winterhoek mountains ending at Port Elizabeth.

This relatively small area with a Mediterranean type climate has one of the richest concentrations of plants on Earth with some 8550 species, and an astonishing level of endemism. The main plant formation, actually confined to Capensis, is known as fynbos (fine bush). It is characterised by a complete lack of single species dominance and is generally described as having three main elements: ericoids (sub-shrubs), proteoids (taller bushes) and restioids (tufted rush-like plants). These comprise plants that are either members of the families Ericaceae, Proteaceae or Restionaceae, or have growth forms that are characteristic of these families. Two forms of fynbos can be found in the uplands.

Cape Mountain Fynbos

Forming the main vegetation type above an altitude of about 900 m, this is the largest and most important unit of Capensis vegetation. In the west it extends from Cape Agulhas northwards beyond Cedarberg for some 400 km, while the eastern block runs parallel to the Cape south coast for about 600 km.  It can be broadly divided into three zones - a proteoid zone on the lower slopes, an ericoid / restioid zone on the upper slopes, ridges and summits, and a hydrophilic zone on the permanently wet or moist areas.

The proteoid zone normally has a three tiered structure with an upper tier of shrubs ranging in height from about 3 m in the west to as much as 6 m in the east.  The dominant species are mainly endemic members of the Proteaceae. Protea neriifolia is the commonest species, but is replaced by P. lepidocarpodendron in the southwest, P. laurifolia in the north, and in the east several other endemic species, such as P. eximia, P. lacticolor, P. mundii or Leucadendron eucalytifolium (Proteaceae), may form local dominants, while on boulder fans and scree the endemic P. nitida usually becomes the main species. The middle layer has a more dense and complex structure containing ericoides such as the endemic Erica articularis (Ericaceae), lower proteoids and resteoids such as the endemics Restio gaudichaudianus (Restiaceae) and Tetraria bromoides (Cyperaceae). The proteoid zone also includes occasional trees. Maytenus oleoides and the endemic Heeria argentea (Anacardiaceae) can be found scattered along the rocky hillsides from the Hottentot Holland Mountains to the Cedarberg, but where surface rock is even more pronounced such as on scree slopes these are joined by hardier trees such as Maytenus acuminata, Olea africana, Olinia ventosa and the endemic Podocarpus elongatus (Podocarpaceae). On the lower slopes Waddringtonia cupressoides, an erect, cypress-like shrub, can be found in the mid-layer of proteoid scrub, but when there has been no recent history of fire, it can grow into an emergent small tree up to 5 m high. However, fire is a common feature of this zone and often reduces the scrub structure to a two-layered or even single-layered form.  Other endemic species commonly encountered within this zone include shrubs such as Brunia nodiflora (Bruniaceae), Cliffortia cuneata (Rosaceae), Diosma hirsuta (Rutaceae), Diospyros glabra (Ebenaceae), Elytropappus glandulosa (Asteraceae), Gnidia inconspicua (Thymelaeaceae), Penaea mucronata (Penaeaceae), Phylica spicata (Rhamnaceae), Podalyria myrtillifolia (Fabaceae), Rhus angustifolia (Anacardiaceae), grasses such as Ehrhartia bulbosa, Pentaschistus colorata and other herbaceous species like Aristea major, Bobartia indica, Watsonia pyrmidata (Iridaceae) and Euphorbia genistoides (Euphorbiaceae).

In the ericoid-restioid zone few of the associated shrubs stand more than about 2 m high due to the rigorous climate. Most of these have the ericoid or penaeoid form rather than the proteoid form and there are seldom any discernable layers to the vegetation. Some of the more common ericoids include endemics such Psoralea aculeata (Fabaceae), Berzelia dregeana (Bruniaceae), Blaeria dumosa, Scyphogyne muscosa and Sympieza articulata (Ericaceae). In the higher exposed areas especially on the summits, prostrate or decumbent shrubs, such as the endemic Acmadenia teretifolia (Rutaceae) and Erica tumida (Ericaceae), predominate. Endemic species displaying the penaeoid form include Penaea mucronata (Penaeaceae) and Phylica buxifolia (Rhamnaceae). The restioids occur either mixed among the ericoids or forming separate stands, and are predominantly represented by ridgid tufted species many of which are endemic members of the Restiaceae like Arthrochortus erinalis, Cannamois virgata, Chondropetalum mucronatum, Elegia racemosa, Hypodiscus aristatus, Restio perplexus, Staberoha cernua, Thamnochortus gracilis and Wildenowia sulcata, or various endemic grasses and sedges such as Ehrhartia ramosa, Pentameris macrocalycina (Poaceae) and Tetraria capillacea (Cyperaceae).  Trees are absent apart from occasional gnarled specimens of the endemic Widringtonia cedargensis (Cupressaceae) in the Cedarberg, which may in the distant past have formed a closed forest of the upper slopes and plateaus. Another species, the endemic Widringtonia schwarzii, precariously maintains a small range in the Kouga Mountains to the east. Other endemic species encountered in this zone include many more shrubs such as Agathelpis angustifolia (Scrophulariaceae), Cliffortia polygonifolia (Rosaceae), Clutia polygonoides (Euphorbiaceae), Coleonema juniperinum (Rutaceae), Euryops abrotanifolius (Asteraceae) and Nebelia paleacea (Bruniaceae).

Cape Arid Fynbos

Arid fynbos is confined to a narrow belt along the inland margins of Capensis where rainfall is close to the lower limit for fynbos, and because of these conditions canopy cover seldom exceeds 50%. It ranges in altitude from about 500 to 1000 m, but structurally it is far simpler than mountain fynbos with less distinct layering, and there is a preponderance of ericoid forms such as Cliffortia ruscifolia, Cullumia rigida and Passerina glomerata.  Proteoids, on the other hand, are sparsely distributed, but restioids can be locally conspicuous. In terms of structure, arid fynbos typically includes a sparse upper layer containing species such as the endemic Cannamois scirpoides (Restionaceae) and Protea laurifolia (Proteaceae) reaching heights of 2 m, although there may also be a few emergent species, such as the endemic Protea glabra (Proteaceae) up to 2.5 m. Below this an indistinct middle layer may be present containing various, often endemic ericoids such as Diosma hirsuta (Rutaceae), Leucadendron pubescens (Proteaceae) and Phylica pulchella (Rhamnaceae). Moving further landward arid fynbos eventually gives way, sometimes abruptly to the karoo vegetation of the adjacent BioProvince. In places there are what appear to be relict islands of arid fynbos surrounded by karoo vegetation, which are possibly leftovers from the warmer, wetter times of the Tertiary period.


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