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Habitats and plant communities

The plants found in the Seven Dams Conservancy and the adjacent areas occur in four broad habitats. These habitats are:

1. Succulents and dwarf shrubs growing on sheet rock and stony outcrops.
2. Mesic and Highveld Grasslands
3. Azonal Wetlands.
4. Woody Shrubland on the hills to the north.

Bloemfontein Karroid Shrubland

The sheet rock and stony outcrop community have now been given the vegetation classification of Gh 8 Bloemfontein Karroid Shrubland, (Mucina & Rutherford 2006).

The 1937 report of Potts and Tidmarsh, entitled ‘An ecological study of a piece of Karroo-like vegetation near Bloemfontein’, recognised that the Seven Dams, Bayswater, Lilyvale and the present Botanical Garden areas had a unique succulent plant assemblage with species related to Karroo vegetation. The occurrence of the Karroid-type vegetation ‘well within the greater grassveld region aroused interest: it demonstrates the development of a similar type of vegetation as a result of similar conditions, and relates to the question of origin.’

Grassland Biome

The majority of the Free State, including Bloemfontein and the Seven Dams area, falls within the Grassland Biome of South Africa. South Africa has eight Biomes with the Grassland being the largest, and arguably, the most important. Within the Grassland a number of sub-units occur which have been mapped and given specific designations (Mucina & Rutherford 2006).

The Seven Dams and adjacent areas described in the Environmental Management Plan have elements of three grassland sub-units. The first two are defined by the annual rainfall of less than 500mm, which is the major environmental factor controlling vegetation patterns, and falls within the ‘sweet’ grasses, which comprise the Dry Highveld Grassland.

Azonal Wetlands

Wetlands do not constitute a biome but are found within all eight Biomes in South Africa. The wetlands found at the Seven Dams area can be divided into two categories:

1. Open bodies of water formed by manmade dams filled by seasonal rain.
2. The seasonal streams and associated wetlands reliant on annual rain.

A precise definition for the wetlands is problematic. The topography is steep with mostly dolerite bedrock and sheet rock and limited development of soil horizons. The seasonal streams are narrow and confined to rocky areas. The streams are intermittent and completely dependant on rain, thus flow is only after rain, and then for a limited time.

Woody Shrubland

There is a ridge of koppies to the north of the Seven Dams Conservancy, stretching in a north-westerly direction to the Bloemfontein Botanical Garden. The vegetation on the south side of these hills is recognised as being distinct and has been described as Gh 7 Winburg Grassy Shrubland (Mucina & Rutherford 2006).

These koppies have afro-montane elements of vegetation found in the Drakensberg some 400-km to the east. The hills to the south and south west of Bloemfontein do not have these vegetation types and this underlines the ecological uniqueness of the area as well as the need to conserve this rapidly diminishing landscape and vegetation component.

Shallow soil on a dolorite basin caters for unique plantlife