Creation Time Day 20
Table Mountain in South Africa, rising to over 1000 metres above the city of Cape Town on the south-western tip of Africa, is iconic and well-known because of its unusual form, reflected in the name, of an extensive plateau summit falling away to steep cliffs. Recently voted in a popular poll as one of the natural wonders of the world , it is a global tourist attraction and contributes to the international identity not only of Cape Town but of South Africa as a country. Today’s photograph of a misty morning on the plateau summit I took when visiting South Africa in 2005.
What may be less widely-known is the unique botanical character of Table Mountain and its surrounding regions in the Cape Peninsula. The amazing biodiversity of the vegetation in the region means Table Mountain National Park is one of several protected conservation areas, designated a UN World Heritage site , in what is known as the Cape Floristic Region.
The South African Cape encompasses the whole of one of the only six recognised floral kingdoms of the earth, which is an astonishing fact given that one of those floral kingdoms covers almost all of the Eurasian and North American continents! The Cape is home to some 9000 species of plants of which more than two-thirds are found naturally nowhere else on earth. In one 40 square mile area around Table Mountain there are 1,500 plant species, as many as are found in the whole of the United Kingdom. This region is the habitat of the well- known and striking flowering species of Protea for example. As Spring arrives now in the southern hemisphere the nature reserves and national parks of the Cape are covered in a carpet of colour from the many wild flowers; and this week (19 – 25th September) admission to all Western Cape nature reserves is free of charge.
Much of the amazing diversity of species is associated with the unique fynbos; a vegetation zone of fire-adapted shrubland. This habitat is believed to have developed because of frequent exposure to fire as a result of human activity over more than 12000 years. Fynbos is now one of the top conservation priority habitats in the world, undergoing a rapid rate of species extinction because of the impact of modern human expansion.
Paradoxically Cape Floristic region developed as a unique floral kingdom partly as a product of early human interaction with the environment, but it is now under threat of losing its character because of expanding human activity. It has been the source of beautiful species of flowers transmitted to enhance gardens across the world, but is now under threat from the arrival of alien species crowding out and and reducing local variety.
Amazing as Table Mountain’s eye-catching shape and form is, its awesomeness consists equally, if not more so, in the richness of its plant life. In Christian spirituality the sheer abundance and diversity of the earth’s life forms are fertile also with meaning, revealing the unbounded Divine generosity and delight in creation. It is the sharing of this spirit – of generosity and delight – which may inspire and sustain human care to conserve and renew the earth.