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Plants That Live in the African Grasslands

African landscape image by Iris Schneider from

The African grasslands, also known as savannas, cover almost half of Africa, or five million square miles. The trees, bushes and other plants that thrive there must deal with a climate consisting of warm winters and hot summers. Rainfall averages 20 to 50 inches per year, with most of the rain falling during six to eight months of the year. The rest of the year, the savanna experiences long droughts, requiring the vegetation to adapt to the extreme conditions in order to survive.

Elephant Grass

Growing up to 10 feet in height, elephant grass forms dense, almost impenetrable clumps. The grass grows along lakebeds and rivers where the rich soil helps it thrive. The grass blades feel coarse and hairy with very sharp edges. Each blade grows up to an inch wide at the base. The plant features beige-brown or purple seed heads that reach up to 9 inches long. Like many dry grasslands, elephant grass reproduces through rhizomes that help the plant spread. A variety of birds make their homes in elephant grass since predators find it difficult to work their way into the clumps.

Senegal Gum Acacia

The Senegal gum acacia tree grows up to 15 feet in height, sporting small thorns along its branches. Yellow or cream-colored flowers appear in January through March followed by brown seed pods that grow to 8 inches in length. The tree oozes sap used to make gum arabic, a substance found in a variety of products including inks, pottery pigments, wax polishes, liquid gum and foods such as puddings, candy and beverages. The gum acacia also provides medicinal value that helps reduce inflammations of the throat or stomach. Aboriginal peoples use the dried seeds from the tree as a food source, wildlife eat the foliage, while smaller animals use the tree for shade.

Jackal Berry Tree

The jackal berry tree primarily grows on termite mounds, although its name comes from the fact that jackals sometimes eat the tree's seeds. The termite mounds give the tree aerated soil and extra moisture while the roots of the tree provide protection for the termites. The termites do not eat wood from live trees, so the tree can grow up to 80 feet in height and 16 feet in width. The jackal berry tree’s spreading branches appear high up on the straight trunks. The tree produces small but fragrant, creamy-colored, hairy flowers followed by fruits, which are found only on female trees. These yellowish, oval fruits feature tough skins with a lemon-flavored fruit inside. Aboriginal peoples dry and grind the fruit into flour. Animals such as baboons and impalas, along with parrots and hornbills, find the fruits provide an irresistible food source.

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