The African continent has many different ecosystems, from arid deserts to lush rainforests. Africa is home to over 20,000 plant species--10 percent of all the world’s plants. At least 8,000 species hail from the temperate south. Only about one percent of southern Africa is forested because early settlers destroyed most of the native forests. Today remaining trees such as the yellowwood, stinkwood and ironwood are protected.
The Ngorongoro highlands are about 7,500 feet in elevation and include a large number of plants. These include lichens, orchids, crotons, ficus (figs), ferns and mosses in the understory, delphiniums, leonotis “lion flowers,” begonias, lupines and epiphytic orchid cacti.
The baobab tree is perhaps the oldest form of life in the arid regions of Africa. It provides habitat to many animals and has given humans fiber for ropes, baskets and other items, as well as providing tonics, cosmetics and food. Several species of the Phoenix date palm are native to the desert regions of Africa.
The southern part of Africa has over 20,000 species of seed-producing plants. Trees make up 1,700 of those species, including acacias, albizia, large aloes, buddleia “butterfly” trees, crotons, Erythrina “coral trees,” pittosporums, podocarpus, proteas, a prune tree, schefflera “umbrella tree” and wild bananas. Almost 500 species of orchids are native to South Africa, including terrestrial and epiphytic orchids, many of which have small, insignificant flowers. Many medicinal plants grow in this part of Africa as well. The Gerber daisy, also called the Transvaal daisy, originated in the south of Africa and is popular as a landscape plant around the globe.
Parts of the African continent experience cold temperatures and the plants that live in these environments have adapted to the cold and are beginning to be used in the United States. Some of these plants are gladiolus, freesias, clivia, groundcovers, succulents, herbaceous perennials such as several members of the Diascia genus, daisies, a perennial gazania and wildflowers such as lobelias.