Flora and Fauna of South Luangwa
Vegetation of South Luangwa
To understand the Luangwa Valley's vegetation, the base of its productive ecosystem, consider the elements that combine to nurture its plants: the water, light, heat and nutrients. The rainfall in the valley is typically 800 to 1,100mm per annum – which is moderate, but easily sufficient for strong vegetation growth. Occupying a position between 12° and 14° south of the equator, the valley lacks neither light nor heat. (Visit in October and you may feel that it has too much of both.)
However the key to its vegetation lies in the nutrients. The Luangwa's soils, being volcanic in origin, are rich in minerals, and the sediments laid down by the river are fine, making excellent soils. Thus with abundant water, light, heat and nutrient-rich soils, the valley's vegetation has thrived: it is both lush and diverse.
Unlike many parks, the 'bush' in the Luangwa is very variable, and as you drive or walk you'll pass through a patchwork of different vegetation zones with the more obvious including some beautiful mature forests of 'cathedral mopane'. Just outside the national park on the way to the salt pans (south of Mfuwe) is one area where the mopane are particularly tall.
Along the Luangwa's tributaries, which are just rivers of sand for most of the year, you'll find lush riverine vegetation dominated by giant red mahogany trees, Khaya nyasica
(Now known as Khaya anthotheca
) and Adina microsephala
. Sometimes you'll also find Natal mahoganies, Trichilia emetica
, and African ebony trees, Diospyros mespiliformis
. There are several locations in the park where the latter form dense groves, casting a heavy shade on the sparse undergrowth. Look for such groves where the tributaries meet the Luangwa; there's one beside Mchenja Camp.
Elsewhere are large, open grassland plains. Chief amongst these are probably the plains in the Nsefu Sector. These surround some natural salt springs, which attract crowned cranes in their thousands.