Early Dutch settlers were alarmed by the lack of good timber on the Cape Peninsula’s hillsides, which were covered by nondescript, scrubby bush they described as fijn bosch (literally “fine bush”) and which is now known by its Afrikaans name fynbos (pronounced “fayn-bos”). The settlers planted exotics, like the oaks that now shade central Cape Town, and over the ensuing centuries their descendants established pine forests on the sides of Table Mountain in an effort to create a landscape that fulfilled their European idea of the picturesque. It’s only relatively recently that Capetonians have come to claim fynbos proudly as part of the peninsula’s heritage. Amazingly, many bright blooms in Britain and the US, including varieties of geraniums, freesias, gladioli, daisies, lilies and irises, are hybrids grown from indigenous Cape plants.

Fynbos is remarkable for its astonishing variety of plants, its 8500 species making it one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots. The Cape Peninsula alone, measuring less than 500 square kilometres, has 2256 plant species (nearly twice as many as Britain, which is five thousand times bigger). The four basic types of fynbos plants are proteas (South Africa’s national flower); ericas, amounting to six hundred species of heather; restios (reeds); and geophytes, including ground orchids and the startling flaming red disas, which can be seen in flower on Table Mountain in late summer.

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