Namibia has some of the most extraordinary vegetation, all adapted to harsh desert environments. Due to areas of differing rainfalls and soils, there is a variety of plants from the desert and semi desert vegetation to the subtropical species, but most of the country is covered with savannah and dotted with acacia.
The most well known plant is actually one of the oldest in the world – the Welwitschia mirabilis, which is actually a tree though it looks like a rather large and untidy plant. It is commonly referred to as a living fossil as some are over 1000 years old. This interesting plant lives in the sand dunes, in rocky landscapes and coastal deserts surviving through severe droughts and windswept environment. Although the plant can lie dormant for almost a year, when the rains fall, it comes back to life with beautiful, colourful flowers.
In fact as the tree grows its long leaves lie on the ground and are swept around and around, with constant baking under searing skies, this combined with the wind makes the ends of the leaves into tasselled fringes. The leaves can be two to four metres long. Botanists advise that the Welwitschia lies in its own genus within the gymnosperm order which is related to pines and larches.
The Kunene region in the north of Namibia has beautiful and endless landscapes of different colours of soils – red and black volcanic sands blending finely on the western coast with salty sands and here on the northern Angolan border one finds the Kunene River with its riverine vegetation sitting against massive bare sand dunes – its such an incredible and beautiful contrast.
To the east in the Zambezi region one finds Makalani palms, baobab trees and wild figs and in areas some lush riverine vegetation. Interestingly, desert elephants who miraculously live in such difficult and arid conditions, survive by eating the vegetation but never actually harming them or pulling their branches down. They seem to instinctively know that the few available trees need to survive too.
The rocky mountains of Etendeka and Grootberg are home to thick stemmed trees and scrubs. These include the Euphorbia’s – Damara, Verosa and Mauritania and the unusual looking Bottle trees with their bulbous lower trunks tapering up to small branches that spout out of the top like a bad hair cut!
Shepherd trees, ringwood, mopane with their butterfly leaves and purple pod terminalia are all present. The rocks and hillsides are covered in zeolites, crystals, granite and silica with occasional clumps of knotgrasses, making for a memorable scene. In some years only 110m of rain falls in this region.
Etosha, one of the most visited parks in the country is dominated by its 4731 km2 of salt pan which is surrounded by open grass plains, home to oryx, rhino, elephants, kudu and giraffe. Camel thorn and mopane trees provide much appreciated shade and food too.
Further south there is desert thistle, Pocaleteum bushes and wild sage in the springs that are visited by crowned lapwings, larks and sand grouse. On the iron rich red sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the Namib Rand, barking geckos and scrab beetles dash around lime green ostrich spiky grasses that wave in the breeze whilst clinging to the dunes. Short Bushman grass, tall Bushman grass and Kalahari sour grasses live in valleys and over the plains. On foggy mornings the wildlife collects condensed droplets of water from the grasses – fundamental for their survival.
In Fish River Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world, one finds the remarkable Quiver or Kokerboom tree as well as other desert succulents. The Kokerboom is endemic to Keetmanshoop, Namaqualand and can be seen in the Tiras Mountains. One of the loveliest succulents are the lithops – tiny and gorgeous pebble looking plants that come in different shapes and colours. The translation of the local Afrikaans name is cattle or sheep’s hoof as they resemble little hooves. Some species are so rare that they will literally occur on one side of a hill and no where else – at all.
By Marcela Kunova - 20th April 2017
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