Glossary of Terms

As far as possible ‘Notes from a Cape Town Botanist’ has been written in a popular scientific style with the aim of making the botany, conservation biology and ecology of the Cape Floristic Region as accessible as possible to all readers. However it is difficult to avoid using a certain amount of scientific jargon and so all specialist terms used in the text will be defined here. This page will be updated as necessary as the blog develops and grows.

Biome: A major regional or global biotic community, such as grassland or desert, characterised chiefly by the dominant forms of plant life and the prevailing climate.

Cape Floristic Region: A floristic region located near the southern tip of South Africa. It is the only floristic region of the Cape Floral Kingdom. The Cape Floristic Region is the smallest of the six recognised floral kingdoms of the world and is an area of incredibly high diversity and endemism. It is home to more than 9,000 plant species of which 69% are endemic.

Biodiversity Hotspot: A biogeographic region with a significant reservoir of biodiversity that is under threat from humans. To qualify as a biodiversity hotspot, a region must contain at least 0.5% or 1,500 species of vascular plants as endemics and it has to have lost at least 70% of its primary vegetation. Around the world 25 areas qualify for this definition. These sites support nearly 60% of the world’s bird, mammal, reptile and amphibian species with a very high level of endemism.

Ecoregion: An ecologically and geographically defined area that is smaller than a bioregion, which in turn is smaller than an ecozone. All three of these are larger than an ecosystem.

Ecosystem: A biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.

Endemic: A plant or animal that is peculiar to and only occurs in a certain area or region.

Family: A taxonomic rank in the classification of species between genus and order.

Fynbos: This is the natural shrubland or heathland vegetation occurring in a small belt of the Western Cape of South Africa, mainly in winter rainfall coastal and mountainous areas with a Mediterranean climate. Fynbos is known for its exceptional degree of biodiversity and endemism.

Geophyte: A perennial plant that propagates by buds on underground tubers, corms or bulbs.

Genus: A principle taxonomic category that ranks above species but below family and is denoted by a capitalised Latin name.

Inselberg: An isolated hill or mountain rising abruptly from a plain.

Renosterveld: One of the major plant communities and vegetation types of the Fynbos Biome. It is characterised by a dominance of Asteraceous shrubs (including the RenosterbosElytropappus rhinocerotis) and C3 grasses and occurs on relatively fertile soils derived from shales. It is also known for its diversity of geophytes, many of which are local endemics.

Species: A group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding. The species is the principle natural taxonomic unit, ranking below a genus and denoted by a Latin binomial, e.g. Protea cyanoides.

Strandveld: A coastal vegetation type that grows on calcareous dune sands. It is typically comprised of areas of tall evergreen shrubs with great numbers of bulbs, grasses, succulents and annuals growing in between.

Succulent Karoo: This biome and vegetation covers the arid western parts of South Africa, including Namaqualand and the Richtersveld. The region is extremely dry in the summer and temperatures often rise above 40C. Rain falls in winter and varies from 20-290 mm per year. The Succulent Karoo is notable for the world’s richest flora of succulent plants and harbours approximately one third of the world’s 10,000 succulent species.

Taxonomy: The classification of living organisms into an ordered system that indicates natural relationships.

Veld: The open country, bearing grass, bushes or shrubs or thinly forested, characteristic of parts of Southern Africa.

Vygie: Common name for members of the genus Mesembryanthemum. Term derived in the 1920s from the Afrikaans word for fig ‘vyg’ and the diminutive suffix ‘ie’.

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