Also known simply as the Cape, this zone includes the southern tip of Africa. Its coastal boundary extends from Port Elizabeth in the east to the mouth of the River Olifant in the northwest. On the landward side the boundary extends from the north western town of Nieuwoudtuille following the eastern slopes of the Cedarberg in a southerly direction and then east from Karoopoort along the northern slopes of the Witteburg, Swartberg, Braviaans, Kloff and Groot Winterhoek mountains ending at Port Elizabeth. This relatively small area with a Mediterranean type climate has one of the richest concentrations of plants on Earth with some 8550 species, and an astonishing level of endemism.

Capensis Coastal Fynbos

The coastal zone of Capensis has lower rainfall than in the mountains and because of the oceanic influence temperature fluctuations are less extreme and frosts are unheard of. However, despite the fairly uniform climatic conditions, two main subdivisions of coastal fynbos can be recognized - one on the south coast stretching eastwards from Danger Point to near Mossel Bay, where limestone is the main substratum, the other on the marine sands of the west coast from Cape Flats northwards to the Elands River. Certain species, such as the endemic restioid Thamnochortus erectus (Restionaceae), however, are found throughout both of these subtypes. On the south coast ericoids and restioids occur beneath a canopy of proteoids. Many species are confined to this zone and the structure typically includes an upper layer of the endemic proteiods Protea obtusifolia, P. susannae, Leucodendron coniferum and L. muirii (Proteaceae) and a lower layer containing many other endemic species such as the ericoids Clutia ericoides (Euphorbiaceae), Erica spectabilis (Ericaceae), Lightfootia calcarea (Campanulaceae), Phylica selaginoides (Rhamnaceae), and the restioids Chondropetalum microcarpum, Restio eleocharis and Thamnochortus paniculatus (Restionaceae). Other endemic species characteristic of south coast fynbos includes the grass Pentaschistes patuliflora (Poaceae), and shrubs like Hermannia trifoliata (Sterculiaceae), Pelargonium betulinum (Geraniaceae) and Senecio arnicaeiflorus (Asteraceae).  West coast fynbos, on the other hand, has a very different structure being mainly composed of ericoids and has a much more open canopy, but still has its own assemblage of species that are absent or seldom found on the south coast. The characteristic proteoids include several endemic species like Leucospermum hypophyllocarpodendron subsp. canaliculatum, L. rodolentum (Proteaceae) and Protea scolymocephala (Proteaceae). Typical ericoids include Leyssera gnaphaloides, Limonium longifolium and the endemic Cliffortia juniperina (Rosaceae) and Phylica cephalantha (Rhamnaceae), while the restioids include Willdenowia arescens and the endemic grass Pentaschistes triseta (Poaceae). There are also several distinctive geophytes such as Caesia contorta, Homeria miniata and the endemic Antholyza ringens (Iridaceae).

Capensis Strandveld

This veld type comprises broad leaved-sclerophyll woody scrub of coastal dunes. On the seaward slopes the main pioneer species is the endemic grass Agropyrum distichum (Poaceae). Other colonists of these unstable dunes include the grass Ehrhartia villosa and several succulent or semi-succulent species such as Arctotheca populifolia, Carpobrotus acinaciformis, Chenolea diffusa, Hebenstreitia cordata and the endemic Silene crassifolia (Caryophyllaceae). Where there is a degree of stability natural succession initially leads to the development of a sub-climax shrub community with species like Calpoon compressum, Chironia baccifera, Chrysanthemoides monilifera, Metalasia muricata, Myrica cordifolia and the endemic Passerina ericoides (Thymelaeaceae). Several of these can exist in a dwarf form in exposed places such as on the top of dunes or reach heights of up to 3 m in more sheltered areas. Eventually with increased stabilization this gives way to a strandveld climax, although this develops best in wetter areas such as dune slacks. On the south coast the main strandveld species are Pterocelastrus tricuspidatus and Sideroxylon inerma, while the more arid west coast dunes are characterised by Diospyros austro-africana, Solanum guineense and the endemic Diospyros glabra (Ebenaceae), Euclea tomentosa (Ebenaceae) and Rhus dissecta (Anacardiaceae).

Eastern Cape Dunes

Dune systems just east of Port Elizabeth are actually on the eastern limit of Capensis and lie in a transition zone between the Mediterranean type climate of Capensis, with its winter rainfall, and the summer rainfall zone of east Africa. In biogeographic terms it lies between Capensis and the Tongoland-Pondoland biogeographic zones. Here three major dune vegetation types have been described:

Pioneer Dune Vegetation
Include here are embryonic dunes and foredunes which are often dominated by one species. These include small creeping herbs often with succulent leaves or grasses such as Sporobolus virginicus or the shrub Scaevola plumieri.

Dune slacks
Dune slacks are common typically occurring behind foredunes in interdune hallows. However, these humid slacks are unlike, for example, the wet slacks typical of the European coast. Herbs tend to be the main species but sedges such as Scirpus nodosus and rushes such as Juncus krausii are common. Grasses become more common in young dune slacks where Sporobolus virginicus is often condominant with Juncus kraussi and Vellereophyton vellereum (Asteraceae).

Dune Thicket
These are the most floristically diverse dune plant formations and generally comprise a closed upper canopy together with various small trees and shrubs. The tree Sideroxylon inerme is often the main species but grasses such as Panicum aequinerve and Panicum deustum are common.

Cape South Coast Dunes

Here two main vegetation types are recognised.  On exposed foredunes a community dominated by Gazania rigens-Heteroptilis suffruticosa is the primary vegetation type but with increased shelter the vegetation becomes characterised by Heteroptilis suffruticosa and Chrysanthemoides monilifera.

Gazania rigens-Heteroptilis suffruticosa Foredunes
This pioneer community, largely confined to the first dune (foredunes) inland of the beach, supports up to 40 species but only about 14 of these are frequent. Species composition varies somewhat depending on location, and moving eastwards there is a slight increase in species richness as various eastern taxa appear but in the west there is no corresponding increase in western taxa. Some of the other more characteristic species include Agropyron distichum, Ammophila arenaria, Arctotheca populifolia, Ehrharta villosa, Gladiolus gueinzii, Hebenstreitia cordata, Metalasia muricata, Passerina rigida, Scaevola thunbergii, Senecio elegans, Silene crassifolia, Tetragonia decumbens and Trachyandra divaricata.

Heteroptilis suffruticosa-Chrysanthemoides monilifera sheltered dune vegetation
Found in sheltered zones such as inland dune slopes, lee-slopes and slacks this vegetation supports a number of other characteristic species. These include Carpobrotus acinaciformis, Chironia baccifera, Myrica cordifolia, Psoralea repens, Stoebe plumose and Thesidium fragile.


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