Evergreen fire-dependent shrublands characterize the landscape of the Cape Floristic Region, one of the world's five Mediterranean hotspots.
Home to the greatest non-tropical concentration of higher plant species in the world, the region is the only hotspot that encompasses an entire floral kingdom, and holds five of South Africa's 12 endemic plant families and 160 endemic genera. The geometric tortoise, the Cape sugar-bird, and a number of antelope species are characteristic of the Cape Floristic hotspot.
†Recorded extinctions since 1500. *Categories I-IV afford higher levels of protection.
|Hotspot Original Extent (km²)
|Hotspot Vegetation Remaining (km²)
|Endemic Plant Species
|Endemic Threatened Birds
|Endemic Threatened Mammals
|Endemic Threatened Amphibians
|Human Population Density (people/km²)
|Area Protected (km²)
|Area Protected (km²) in Categories I-IV*
Hugging the coastline along the far southwestern tip of the African continent, the 78,555 km² Cape Floristic Region hotspot is located entirely within the borders of South Africa. It is one of the five temperate Mediterranean-type systems on the hotspots list, and is one of only two hotspots that encompass an entire floral kingdom (the other being New Caledonia).
The vegetation on the Cape is dominated by fynbos (an Afrikaans word for "fine bush"), a shrubland comprising hard-leafed, evergreen, and fire-prone shrubs that thrives on the region's rocky or sandy nutrient-poor soils. Although the region was once covered by lush rain forest, climate changes around 15 million years ago resulted in the retreat of the forests. Trees were replaced by flammable sclerophyllous plants, and periodic fires became an integral ecosystem process.
The Cape also includes several non-fynbos vegetation types. Of these, Renosterveld (Afrikaans for "rhinoceros veld," referring to the presence of the black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis), that used to browse there but is now extinct in this region) is the most extensive, covering some 20,000 km². This plant community comprises a low shrub layer, usually dominated by the renosterbos (Elytropappus rhinocerotis), with a ground layer of grasses and seasonally active bulbs.
Today, trees are very rare in pristine Cape landscapes and true forests occupy a mere 3,850 km², mostly in moist, fire-protected sites on the southern coastal forelands and lower mountain slopes. The Cape forests, 10-30 meters tall, are essentially outliers of the Afromontane forests of the high mountains of tropical Africa.