F is for Fire and Fynbos

This entry is part 8 of the series Out of Africa

FThis post was written in April 2015, but is very relevant to our situation today, as the country of South Africa reels from the tremendous aftermath of massive fires along the Garden Route.

Tourists travel from all over the world to marvel at the fynbos in the Cape Floral Kingdom. This is the only floral kingdom in the world found entirely within  one country. It lies along the southernmost area of South Africa. The kingdom covers a crescent-shaped area starting north of Cape Town as far as Grahamstown in the Eastern Cape, and includes the beautiful Garden Route between Port Elizabeth and Cape Town.

fynbos_mrgThe Floral Kingdom

The kingdom covers sections of magnificent mountains, valleys and the coastal plains and boasts more than 9,000 plant species, 70% of which are endemic to the area. That tiny area contains one third of all plant species concentrated on less than 0.05% of the global land surface. It includes some of the world’s favourites such as gladioli, freesias, agapanthus, geraniums and others, all growing wild.

About 80% of the plants in this floral kingdom are fynbos, easily recognised by tough, often slender, leathery leaves and woody stems. These include such exotic plants as proteas, ericas and restios (reeds). Some fynbos species occur only on a tiny area of a few hectares and appear nowhere else in the world.

Fires and Fynbos

Often we see on our television horrific fires in the Cape Peninsula, threatening the wild life and flora in the area as well as human life. Every few years, the famous Table mountain becomes ablaze with terrifying, life-destroying fires. In fact, as I repost this, South Africa is dealing with the aftermath of one of the worst fires ever to threaten the country. Yet ironically, these fires are essential for fynbos. Without these fires, fynbos would become extinct.

In some varieties, seeds are enclosed in small cones sealed together by a type of resin. When fire sweeps across the plants, the resin melts and the updraft from the fire sweeps the seeds away to new locations.


For the first few weeks after a fire, the landscape is bleak, but then the first fire-lillies surface, followed by countless other bulbs, shrubs and young plants. By spring, the land is a thick mass of coloured vegetation struggling for space.

Within months of a horrific grass fire in South Africa, the fynbos bursts alive on the scene. Click To Tweet

The King ProteaKing-Protea_SMC-1

Surely the greatest of all the fynbos is the King Protea. South Africa’s magnificent national flower, with heads up to twelve inches in diameter. Fire causes the protea to send out new shoots from buds growing deep in its underground stem.

Fire of Cancer

When I struggled through aggressive cancer treatment, there were times when I felt as if I too faced a fire from which I wouldn’t recover. Sometimes it takes a life-threatening crisis to make us see what we are really capable of. These crises open up new areas where we can become involved and even thrive.

The fire of cancer caused me to send out shoots into the writing world, and today I’m a published author. I hated every minute of the treatment, and I pray regularly I will never face it again. But the cancer blaze certainly opened doors I would never have dreamt of.

How about you?

What fires (literal or figurative) have altered or even transformed your life?



10 comments on “F is for Fire and Fynbos

    • Yes, Balaka, they are exceptionally beautiful. People travel from all over the world to visit the Spring Flowers in Namaqualand (a little way inland from where we are) although they are visible in various places across the country.

  1. This is thoughtprovoking and brings back memories because I had a bad fire accident a couple of years back. I’m glad that I’m alive and got a second chance at life.

    • Yes, Natasha, the fires have indeed been devastating. The loss of property has been horrific. For all that, I believe Knysna will rise from the ashes and the Floral Kingdom for which this area is world-renowned will be more splendid than ever.

  2. Literally, I was saved from a fire so I believe I got a second chance at life. Figuratively, I believe I have the fire to learn and that keeps me happy.
    Your post was such a thought provoking one, Shirley. Loved it!

  3. This was a very enlightening post Shirley. Fynbos and especially King Protea are something I never knew of. Sometimes a fire or a disaster in our lives is indeed what brings to light some traits within us we didn’t know existed. You are an inspiration, giving strength to so many with your words.

Comments are closed.