Plants of the African Savannah

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Resilient grasses and tough trees flourish on the African Savannah.
Resilient grasses and tough trees flourish on the African Savannah. (Image: Elephants image by Elzbieta Sekowska from Fotolia.com)

Savannahs, a unique grassland biome, cover almost half of Africa. Typically, the plants of this area fall into two categories: resilient, heat-resistant grasses that cover the surface, and tough, hearty trees that dot the landscape. Both humans and animals use the plants--the animals of the area for grazing, and the humans for a host of different purposes, from rope to pharmaceuticals to housing.

Rhodes Grass

More well-drained areas in the Serengeti and Kenya often feature the perennial Rhodes grass. Rhodes grass flourishes in many different kinds of soils, including sands and clays. It does well in the African savannah because this area has great drainage. Varieties include Pioneer, know as an early flowerer; Katambora, which can grow late into autumn; Callide, notable in its lower tolerance for cold and dry conditions; Finecut, a Katambora derivative; and Topcut, which has delicate leaves.

Red Oat Grass

Red Oat Grass is found most commonly in the Serengeti. An exceptionally tall grass, it can grow as high as three feet, and sports blue-green blades during its most productive seasons. Once dormant, its rich color fades to yellow and it develops flat seed pods. Although exceptionally tough, red oat grass unfortunately possesses little nutritional value for animals that feed upon it.

African Star Grass

Star grasses grow mostly on the eastern part of the African Savannah. They also do very well in many different kinds of soils, and tolerate grazing from wild animals. In some cases, however, it may contain high cyanide levels and generally animals prefer not to eat it. Although flowering, star grass does not seed. Instead it spreads by creeping over a wide area, making it very prolific.

Rabbit-Tail Fountain Grass

Rabbit-tail fountain grass has a knack for flourishing in especially dry, poor soil, making it an excellent candidate for the savannah. It grows very tall--as high as three feet--and its blossoms look like small, fluffy tufts, hence the name rabbit-tail.

Acacia Tree

The Acacia is one of the toughest trees that dot the African grasslands. This tree possesses the ability to grow both in extremely dry climates and floods. In fact, it grows so successfully in almost any climate that some people consider it to be invasive. The feather-shaped leaves successfully protect the tree from damaging dry winds and also provide shade to animals. Besides being welcome shade, acacia trees have several special uses. They generally contain tannins, meaning that their bark can be used for tanning leather. Additionally, the genus acacia senegal is used in the production of gum arabic, a common emulsifier in pharmaceuticals and adhesives.

Baobab Tree

A tough African native, the baobab tree stands leafless nine months of the year, making it a striking sight to any observer. In fact, it exists as the subject of many local legends, the most popular of which relates how a spirit took the tree and dropped into the ground upside-down, leaves-first. However, the acacia tree is also distinctive for its scientific qualities, as well. Not only does the bark of the acacia resist fires, the tree can live for thousands of years and can grow as tall as 85 feet. The species also serves several functions: the bark for rope and clothing production, and the trunk itself as a kind of hollowed-out shelter.

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