Namibia’s landscape is characterized by flowing sand dunes, grand geological formations and rugged mountains; yet this arid land is extremely interesting for botanists. While Namibia may not have a mass of plants, the number and diversity of indigenous species is utterly intriguing. Namibia has about 200 endemic plant species, more than 120 tree species and over a hundred species of lichen. Namibia is divided into 14 vegetation zones including desert, semi-desert, mopane, mountain, thorn bush, highland, dwarf shrub, camel thorn, shrub savannah, forest savannah and woodlands.
The larger concentration of tree is found in the wetter and more fertile north. In the Caprivi and Kavango Regions mopane, terminalia, marula, giant figs, baobabs, makalani palms are common. The timber species include kiaat, tamboti, and Transvaal teak. In the rest of the country the tree population is less dense but still diverse and often curiously shaped. The kokerboom or quiver tree is a large aloe species found in the southern regions. The quiver tree forest close to Keetmanshoop is a unique sight and popular with photographers. The camel thorn tree is a common sight in all dryer parts of Southern Africa. The slow-growing and dense wood of this acacia species makes good fuel for fires. Other common Namibian species are the ana tree and leadwood, which is the ancestral tree of the Herero.
The unique habitats especially in the environs of the Namib Desert have produced some uniquely adapted plants. Many of the more than 100 lichen species of the Namib are indigenous. Lichens are composite organisms that consist of fungi with a photosynthetic partner. You will often find lichen covering rocks or tree bark in grey or sometimes bright yellow or orange patches. The curious elephant’s foot grows a round stem on rocky outcrops and occurs only in the area north of Walvis Bay. Halfmens are single-stemmed succulents that can grow up to 4 metres tall. The thick warty trunk with sharp spines can be seen in the areas surrounding the Orange River.
The 26 000 km² of the Sperrgebiet National Park were originally off limits to the public to protect the area’s diamond wealth. In the cover of the diamond industry this park of the Succulent Karoo turned into one of the world’s top 25 Biodiversity Hotpots. The Succulent Karoo is home to 2 439 endemic species and the Sperrgebiet is unrivalled endemism and number of its plant species.
One of the most interesting Namibian species is the Welwitschia mirabilis. This living fossil is endemic to the Namib Desert and was discovered for western botany by Friedrich Welwitsch in 1859. The plants long withered looking leaves lie on the ground and absorb the morning desert fog. The Welwitschia Trail east of Swakopmund features specimen that are estimated to be 1 500 years old.