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Namibian Plants

Guide to the flora of Namibia

While much of the Namibian landscape is characterised by deserts and mountains, the country extends far enough north to have a varied range of plant life. Namibia can be split into four distinct vegetation zones which together support more than 4,000 seed bearing vascular plants, 120 different species of tree, over 200 endemic plant species and 100 varieties of lichen. Savannah cover 64% of Namibia, dry woodlands and forests 20%, while desert vegetation is distributed over 16%. The zones are defined as follows:

  • The tropical forests and wetlands along the banks of the perennial rivers in the Kavango and Caprivi regions.
  • The savannah plains with occasional trees in the Kalahari.
  • Mountainous escarpment regions such as Kaokoland and Damaraland
  • Low altitude coast lands and Namib Desert.

Plants play a large part in Namibian folklore such as The Omumborombonga or ancestral tree that grows north of Windhoek. It can be found in both highland savannah and sandveld woodlands and is called the leadwood in English as its wood is the heaviest in the world. According to Herero storytellers it was out of the first Omumborombonga tree that the first human beings (a man and a woman) came forth. The wild animals of the veld, as well as the cattle and the sheep, came out of this tree, but the Bergdama (black slaves) came out of a rock as did goats and baboons. In time, all Omumborombonga trees came to be venerated and wayfarers would address them as 'father' and entreat them to grant a prosperous journey.

Plant life in Namibia is classed by:

  • Trees - essential for the sustainability of every environment. They are extremely important and provide shade, homes and food for human and the animal kingdoms alike. Fairly scarce in the Namib Desert, whose inhabitants include camelthorn, ringwood, wild ebony and perhaps the most famous of all of Namibia's plant life, the Welwitschia mirabilis.
  • Stem succulents - usually the larger plants in the desert. They store water in their stems and examples of these succulents include the milk bush (Euphorbia virosa) and the quiver tree (Aloe dichotoma). They are prevalent all along the western escarpment, mainly in rocky habitats and isolated inselbergs (or mountains) far into the desert.
  • Leaf succulents - can range from small to tall shrubs that store water in their leaves. They are the most abundant in the southern Namib and can survive by adapting to a relatively stable supply of moisture in the form of winter rainfall. Therefore, they flower and grow substantially in the winter month (June-September). Leaf succulents can also funnel water from their leaves to their roots.
  • Dwarf succulents- the southern Namib is home to many dwarf succulents. Unfortunately they have become illegal collector's items. The window plant is a dwarf succulent. During the drier winter months they tend be rather inconspicuous, but at the onset of the rains, they are transformed into a magnificent little plant, popular in many gardens.
  • Dwarf shrubs - as the name suggests, dwarf shrubs have a low growth form, but their resilience is a distinct advantage in the colder winter months. The desert environment restricts their growth, but nonetheless when they do flower, dwarf shrubs are capable of a most eye-catching display. Both ganna species (Salsola species)and the bushman's candle (Sarcocaulon patersonii), are dwarf shrubs.
  • Shrubs - are woody plants with a number of stems growing from the base. They are usually defined as being plants over 0.5m, but smaller than a tree. Shrubs are an important vegetation type as it has both winter and summer-rain-adapted species. Many low shrubs make up the majority of plant life near the coast. Most of them are fairly unglamorous, but respond to the influence of fog, the vegetation and numbers decreasing as you move away from the coast as the amount of fog decreases.
  • Bulbs - many bulbs are the first plants to appear after rainfall. They have very bright and attractive flowers which attract predators. To protect themselves, the leaves contain toxic substances, which affect the circulatory systems of some animals, mainly livestock. Young leaves and flowers are the most toxic; cattle, goats and sheep falling victim when they are tempted for a nibble.
  • Herbs - have a short lifespan, normally completing their life cycle within a season. They reproduce by seed, which can remain dormant in the soil for years. Once the conditions are favourable it will develop. Herbs are so adaptable they can survive in a desert environment comfortably and decent rains can transform the desert floor into a beautiful 'carpet of flowers'.
  • Multi-seasonals – are herbs that live for more than one season. They grow and produce seeds and flowers until the water dries up, depending on locality and rainfall. White codon in the central Namib is a multi-seasonal.
  • Grasses - cultivated grasses are the most important staple food for man. Natural grasses provide food for livestock. Grasses are obviously less abundant in the Namib Desert than in the rest of the country and spiny cladoraphis (Cladoraphis spinosa) occurs throughout the Namib Desert.
  • Plants: P1180400
  • Plants: Bark
  • Plants: Welwitscia
  • Plants: Baobab
  • Plants: Palm Tree
  • Plants: Water Lillies
  • Plants: Seed Pods
  • Plants: Water Lilly
  • Plants: Tree (2)
  • Plants: Tree (3)
  • Plants: Tree
  • Plants: Kokerboom
  • Plants: Mirror Image
  • Plants: Quiver Tree Sunset
  • Plants: Tree
  • Plants: Purple
  • Plants: Yellow
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