Oct 1, 2021 | Conservation

SANBONA WILDLIFE RESERVE boasts two distinct biomes, each of them a globally recognised biodiversity hotspot: Fynbos and Succulent Karoo. 

The Succulent Karoo, which historically supported herds of elephant, black rhino and Cape buffalo as well as many smaller mammal species, not only has the highest diversity of succulent plants in the world, but is also the most species-rich semi-desert on the planet.  And there’s more. Succulent Karoo is one of only two arid zones to have been declared a biodiversity hotspot. Just imagine, some 40% of the plant species found here occur no where else on the planet. And, Succulent Karoo has been identified as a perfect candidate to be declared a Unesco World Heritage Site, as it is the ‘most biologically diverse arid area in the world’. 

Photo by Pascale Swanepoel.

remarkably rich in plant species

So the Little Karoo may look sparsely vegetated, but it is remarkably rich in plant species. The number of species, mostly succulents, 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. Plus, the biome is home to 6 356 plant species, 17% (936) of which are listed in the Red Data Book – the world’s most comprehensive inventory of threatened species. 

Trees and tall shrubs are scarce in the Succulent Karoo, and the vegetation is dominated by dwarf, succulent shrubs, of which Mesembryanthemums, or vygies, and Crassula are particularly prominent. Climatic conditions have forced the plants to evolve clever survival strategies, either by developing water-storage capabilities, or by burying themselves in soil to minimise water loss, absorbing sunlight for photosynthesis through transparent windows at soil level, or by adopting extremely short life cycles. It’s survival of the smartest here.

Wurmbea compacta [Vulnerable] | Photo by Liesl Eichenberger

spectacularly beautiful

There are also geophytes on Sanbona, 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 occurs here, many of them spectacularly beautiful. Strangely, only 7.8% of the Succulent Karoo is formally protected. And Sanbona is proudly part of that percentage.


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