New Life in Fynbos

A photo-essay on fynbos regeneration

Fynbos is rich in beauty and diversity – but must be renewed by fire to keep it that way.

Fynbos goes through stages of growth between fires, ranging from 4-year intervals (grassy fynbos) to 45-year intervals (arid fynbos), depending on the type of fynbos. In our area, 10 to 15-year intervals are optimal. This hillside in Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos is about one year old.

Time to begin again in Kogelberg Sandstone Fynbos.

Fire lilies – Cyrtanthus ventricosus. In the immediate post fire phase geophytes, such as Amaryllidaceae, are quick to take advantage of ash enriched soil.

Paintbrush lily, Haemanthus canaliculatus

The first post fire daisy, Mairia coriacea

Resprouters begin to grow again. They are recognisable by their multiple stems.

Serotinous reseeders include many proteas, such as Protea repens. The heat of the fire has caused their seed heads to burst open, releasing thousands of seeds.

Protea repens seeds accumulate in drifts or are trapped in moist places, ready to germinate when the autumn rains come.

cones have opened and released their seeds.

Asparagus rubicundus
grows extremely fast after fire. This one is two weeks old.

The heat and chemicals in the smoke of an intense fire like this one stimulates the germination of seeds buried by ants over many years, a relationship between plants and ants called ‘myrmecocory’, bringing a new generation of, for example, Leucospermum, pincushion proteas.

It will take four to five years, but it will be worth the wait. Leucospermum cordifolium

A year or so later, after the winter rains when spring has come, the ‘everlastings’ or ‘sewejaartjies’ appear. Phaenocoma prolifera, ‘Rooisewejaartjie’

Tetraria thermalis
, ‘Bergpalmiet’, which survives fire, has sprouted, providing shelter for new growth of Roella and Edmondia species.

Pillansia templemanii, a geophyte of the family Iridaceae, takes advantage of the extra nutrients in the soil, provided by the ashes of a fire eighteen months before.

Meanwhile, new Proteaceae are growing slowly in the young veld.

Restios are re-establishing themselves, along with Adenandra species in the Buchu (Rutaceae) family and Aspalathus species in the Fabaceae family.

Erica pillansii
appears before an overstorey of Proteaceae dominates the veld.

The Irid, Aristea bakeri, blooms in the year following a fire.

Watsonia species thrive in the two years following a fire.

Three years on is a good time for Erica species. Erica perspicua, Prince of Wales Heath.

Rare Mealie Heath, Erica patersonii, thriving in three-year-old Hangklip Sand Fynbos.

Young Proteaceae are beginning to announce their presence in the maturing veld with their first flowerings. Aulax umbellata (female flowers).

Alien invasive plants are also on the increase. Leptospermum laevigatum, Australian Myrtle.

Acacia cyclops, Rooikrans, takes full advantage of perfect growing conditions and outgrows gradually maturing fynbos.

Acacia saligna
, Port Jackson willow, will quickly replace fynbos if left unchecked.

Four to five years since the last fire and the Proteas begin to flower in full, setting seed and preparing for the next generation. Protea repens, Suikerbossie.

Ideally they will be allowed to continue setting seed for another five to seven years, replenishing the seed bank, before they grow old, flower less vigorously, become senescent and are ready to burn again. Protea neriifolia, Long leaf sugarbush.

– By Tim Attwell