A visit to Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is not only about the wildlife, it is also about the incredibly diverse plant species that support the wildlife.
The Klein Karoo is remarkably rich in plant species. Almost 3 200 have been recorded of which more than 400 are endemic. Two biomes dominate at Sanbona, Fynbos and Succulent Karoo.
The Fynbos Biome comprises the greatest concentration of higher plant species in the world, outside the tropics. Only 9% of the biome is formally protected, while less than 5% of renosterveld, an associated vegetation type, falls within protected areas.
The number of plant species found in the Succulent Karoo areas, is unparalleled in the world for an arid area of this size. There are no less than 1 600 succulent species in this biome, an amazing 16% of the world’s estimated 10 000 succulents. There are geophytes, which are plants that have developed bulbs as storage organs, and they comprise no less than 18% of the flora in the Succulent Karoo. It’s said the most prolific bulbous flora on earth occur here, many of them spectacularly beautiful.
It’s also one of only two arid zones to have been declared a biodiversity hotspot. The biome is home to 6 356 plant species, 40% of which are endemic, and 17% (936) of which are listed in the Red Data Book, the world’s most comprehensive inventory of threatened species. Oddly, only 7.8% of the Succulent Karoo is formally protected.
|Gibbaeum nebrownii (vis-oë) is a dwarf succulent endemic to the western Klein Karoo. According to the Red List of South African Plants, it’s critically endangered. Only a couple of populations are known and they are declining due to trampling and collection by the specialist succulent horticultural trade.|
|Brunsvigia josephinae (candelabra lily, Josephine’s lily, kandelaarblom or lantanter). There are approximately 20 species of Brunsvigia throughout Southern Africa. The flower cluster is almost 1m across and its large striking umbels are easily visible in the veld when in bloom. This long-lived bulb, a South African native, is vulnerable. Brunsvigia josephinae comes from an area with a very dry summer, so it has adapted by going dormant for the summer and growing during the rainy winter. In late summer, before the new leaves appear, it sends up its dramatic flower stalks. Besides its value in ornamental horticulture, the dry bulb tunics are used as a wound dressing.|
|Gladiolus venustus (perskalkoentjie or haasblom). The genus name Gladiolus has a Latin derivation and means ‘small sword’, referring to the shape of the leaves. From the iris family, it occurs across Asia, Mediterranean Europe, South Africa, and tropical Africa. Their origin however was in the Cape Floristic Region. This haasblom flowers in spring.|
|Gibbaeum is a genus of about 21 species of small succulent plants of the family Aizoaceae, all of them endemic to the Klein Karoo. The genus name Gibbaeum comes from the Latin word, ‘gibba’, meaning ‘hump’. It refers to the thick lumpy shape of the leaves. Gibbaeums grow in clumps and in spring produce pink or white flowers which open in the afternoon, closing at night. They are rarely browsed. Gibbaeum heathii (baby bums or bababoudjies (pictured)) is rounded and smooth and its common name is apt. They’re locally abundant in quartz outcrops.|
|Mesembryanthemum tortuosum (kanna or kougoed) commonly occurs in quartz patches and is usually found growing under shrubs in partial shade. Although the plants are grown commercially on a large scale, there is tremendous conservation pressure on wild harvesting of the species. The Khoisan called it kanna, and they picked it, buried it to ferment it, then dried it. Once dried, it was eaten, used as snuff or smoked to produce a potent effect as a mood enhancer or sedative. Sometimes kanna was used as currency.|