MY FYNBOS TEACHER
11 June 2023 /Santie Gouws
Jonkershoek Nature Reserve, Stellenbosch, South Africa
So why do I call Jonkershoek my 'Fynbos Teacher'?
Having grown up in Germiston, an industrial city near Johannesburg, surrounded by mine dumps, Jonkershoek was pure paradise when I moved to Stellenbosch in 1990 to study civil engineering. The hiking bug bit almost immediately, and what followed is a life-long romance with the most beautiful trails and mountain hikes across the world.
Returning to Stellenbosch in 2012 after a 15 year stint back north, something else happened... my eyes and heart discovered 'fynbos'! Four years of living in Jonkershoek valley, and many mountain hikes into the vast and special corners of Jonkershoek, revealed its magnificent fynbos to me, ever changing, always beautiful. One can easily hike there every second weekend, and on every hike you will be rewarded with something else in flower that you've never seen before. The variety of veld and flowers, shapes, colours, intricate designs.. is truly mindblowing.
Roughly 2019 I also discovered iNaturalist and slowly started uploading historic flower pics onto the platform - a free phone app linked to a global open-access internet-based database of recordings of wildlife, backed by a global community of specialists and enthusiasts assisting in verifying identifications, interacting with participants, in essence 'training' them in wildlife identification. The information gathered in the database is used for extending science and conservation of wildlife.
I have to admit that at first I was a bit weiry in the sense that I did not like the idea of scientific knowledge and names interfering with the untainted beauty I experienced in the veld... but I quickly found that it had in fact deepened the experience, broadening my understanding and respect for nature.... and so what started as a side-hobby has turned into a passion. I quickly became an iNat and fynbos fanatic.
Now imagine my distraught when a massive fire raced through Jonkershoek in February of 2021, it burned for 8 days, smoke and orange skies visible all the way to where I now live in Cape Town. It felt like I lost a sanctuary. At the time I had only vaguely come across the concept of 'fynbos-needs-fire' for regenerating itself, and didn't really believe it.
Countless visits back to Jonkershoek since then, fynbos revealed itself to me, and continues doing so, even as recently as yesterday, as the photos of King Proteas in Jonkershoek below, in its various phases, show. My sanctuary was not destroyed, in fact it has come alive!
King Proteas, so I have learnt these past few years, are resprouters, so when there is a fynbos fire, most of the plants survive in that their underground rootstock is not killed along with the above-ground parts of the plant. Also, proteas are serotonis, from my layman's understanding that means that they keep the seed in the 'dead' flower on the plant for years and years, not dropping the 'seedheads' like an apple or pine tree would, up until such time as the plant is killed by fire. Fynbos fires don't destroy the protea plant to ash, only singes it, leaving the skeleton standing. Only then do the seedheads open and release the seeds, which then sprout and grow from seed into new plants under the right conditions.
And so... with the first magnificent king protea flower buds now starting to develop on resprouting plants less than two and a half years after the fire, and 5cm tall seedlings popping up all over the show, ... Jonkershoek over the years has become and continues to be my 'Fynbos Teacher'. Different though to the 'Octopus Teacher', from where I borrowed the name, this is not a story that ends in dying, but one of resurrection and life. ♡♡♡
The Fynbos Floristic Region is one of the hottest biodiversity hotspots on earth for the high percentage of species it contains that are at risk of extinction. It really needs us to keep on protecting it to ensure this age-old cycle of death, restoration and life will keep living on.