Thoughts of the African savannah conjure up images of majestic lions, lying on sun-drenched plains, finding shade beneath the willowy branches of tall, slender trees. Life in the savannah is much richer than just that, though, and plant life is certainly no exception. There are a wide variety of trees, shrubs and grasses that share the African savannah.
The gum acacia, or acacia senegal, is the tree that most people associate with the savannah. It can grow up to 20 meters tall, and have long, thorned branches that spread far out from the top of the tree. Leaves are a gray-green, and the tree also bears yellow or cream-colored flowers. The shade tree is well adapted to long periods without rain.
During the dry season, the trunk of the tree excretes a gummy substance that gives the tree its other name, the gum arabic. This gum is used in a number of different products, including pharmaceuticals, dyes, waxes and paints. The medicinal benefits of the tree have been known for a long time; those native to the area have used the gum as an herbal remedy for ailments such as burns, coughs, colds and sore throats, and even dysentery.
Like the acacia senegal, the whistling thorn is also a member of the acacia family. These trees are often stunted in growth, and do not reach the heights that their relations do. Characteristic of the acacia family, they have long thorns that can grow up to 3 inches in length.
Usually acacias are a valuable food source for the animals of the savannah, but not the whistling thorn. The thorns of other acacias are no deterrent, and it's not the thorns of these shrubs that are, either. The whistling thorn gets its name from the bulbous base to the thorns. Ants pierce holes in the thorns and hollow them out for living quarters; a mouthful of ants is more than enough to keep these trees safe from grazing animals. Once the thorns are hollow, they produce a whistling sound that gives the tree its name.
Elephant grass originated in Africa, and from there has taken root in places as far away as Florida and in as many as 25 different countries. The distinctive grasses grow in clumps, and can reach heights of between 10 and 13 feet. They grow along water, and in developed areas have been known to cause problems with drainage, interfering with sump pumps and flood control.
Its deep root system makes it quite resilient, able to tolerate extreme changes in temperature as well as long periods of drought. The leaves and stems of the plant can be killed by cold weather, but the root systems will live. The edges of the leaves are sharp, and the grass clumps also form tufted plumes at the tops that are yellow or purple.