If Capetonians wandering these fire-scoured hills noticed the charcoaled, crabbed husks and twisted candelabra of toasted bushes, they seemed to pay them no heed. Of stumps or straggly, spidered stalks stripped of life, they saw little. They saw not black, white, brown or khaki, but yellow, gold, rust, bronze, copper, russet and red – the colours of Nature the painter at work.
The yellow fire flower daisy, or brandblom, and the florid and ungainly, bright-as-can-be red-and-yellow paintbrush lily shouted across TMNP’s Central Section, “We’re back!”
More people noticed. And they saw much that was green. Restio is, by name and nature, restless, and large patches of delicately green-tufted clumps bespoke a determination to proliferate in a land freed of the old and the dead. Within days, fields of watsonias, their spears signalling intent, appeared out of nowhere.
The fynbos about such people had not been burnt. It had been transformed into a thriving factory of fresh seed cast to the wind and the mineral and nutrient-rich soil, which had been fed by the ashes of the past.
Far from being laid low by fire, Nature had – clearly and visibly – put itself to work.
The Cape Aflame – Cape Town’s Dance with Fire
Cape botanists participating in SANBI scientist Dr Tony Rebelo’s Following the 2015 Fire Project have identified and photographed more than 1,000 species of fynbos rejuvenated by the Muizenberg and other fires of 2015 (Lion’s Head and Cape Point).
Gigi Laidler’s account of her August sighting of the presumed-extinct Cape Granite Flax plant – last sighted 70 years ago – is a must read. Gigi is a member of Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) Research Support.
As laypeople, many of the species’ names are unknown to us, but the plants are not. While we focus, in The Cape Aflame, on our need to protect and safeguard our Wildland Urban Interface and record the magnificent collaboration evident in our integrated wildfire-management system, we pretend no knowledge of individual species and do not favour any side of the wildfire management discourse.
What we do illustrate – in detail – is that the urban and the wildland are incompatible, that whereas fire cannot be tolerated in our urban areas, it is to be welcomed in the wildland surrounding us. Visit the iSpot project tabbed pages (right-click on the tabs in the embedded page above and select Open Link in New Tab from the context-sensitive menu), learn more about the explosion of life taking place around us, revel in the vast gallery of fynbos species identified to date and locate their habitats on the Observations Map.
Our vocabularies may differ, but our love of our fynbos biome and its species is shared. It is the dedicated and applied knowledge of such scientists, botanists and volunteers that The Cape Aflame Project supports and hopes to highlight.
Those who came back down off the mountain seemed strangely elated and gleeful – as if, in surveying the still-smoking, powdered, black-and-white seamed sands, they could hear feathered seeds popping from protea cones with the exuberance of breakfast cereal characters leaping from cartons opened on TV advertisements.
“Bursting” and “erupting” were frequently used to describe the phenomenon.
They reported great swathes of white and brown seed – a feast too munificent for even the most food-deprived insects and rodents emerging from their burrows to pack their cheeks and stuff their faces – spread like great carpets of rust by a wind playing with patterns.
Across the supposedly dead land marched disciplined armies of ants. Ignoring their lack of cover from countless predatory birds seeking alternative sources of food, legions of other insects took to the road and air with martial precision.
Of course, none of this order or focus lasted.
On reaching the first tortoise carapace, snake carcass or bed of seeds, mayhem ensued and it was every six-legged little monster for him or herself.
Never, for the insects anyway, had food been so readily available.