Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Burnt fynbos on the Groenlandberg

Burnt fynbos on the Groenlandberg.

The ecology of the heathland or scrub known in the Cape as fynbos is largely governed by fire, and the plants are adapted to this in a number of ways. Although a recently burnt area looks devastated, a fire effectively resets the clock on the cycle of ecological sucession of that area, enabling plants such as bulbs and herbaceous perennials, to emerge unscathed from underground organs, and some of the shrubs also resprout from undamaged stem bases. Others are killed and regenerate from seed.

Moraea ochroleuca in burnt fynbos.

The removal of the dense layer of woody plants that builds up over a fire-free period allows the smaller plants, that have been effectively smothered for many years, to come into growth and flower, often for the first time in years. They can give a spectacular show in the first year or two after a fire, but after that the scrub builds up and they disappear until next time. During this period the woody plants develop until they are able to flower and seed themselves, and until this has happened it is undesirable for another fire to occur, as it can lead to the disappearance of slow-developing species from the site.

On Sunday we were fortunate enough to be able to join a group led by Peter Goemans of Houw Hoek, and including Peter and Barbara Knox-Shaw and Graham Duncan, visiting a site in the Groenlandberg near Elgin that burnt earlier this year, and is currently starting the regeneration process. New shoots are emerging from some old stools, while Protea seedlings are abundant (right). The bulbous plants are taking their opportunity to do their thing in bright, exposed condition and although on this cool south-facing slope spring is only just getting going, there was a lot to see. A few of the delights encountered are illustrated below.

Aristea spiralis (left), Drosera cistiflora (right)

Geissorhiza ovata

Gazania sp.

Liparia splendens (left), Erica cerinthoides (right)

Gladiolus debilis

Moraea versicolor

Bartholina burmanniana (spider orchid)

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow! Spider orchid. For me that is something I only know as a picture in a book. It is magical to see what blooms after a fire. Still waiting for the powers that be to reopen our Groot Winterhoek Wilderness Area.


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