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Plants in the Rainforest

In ecological terms the Victoria Falls Rainforest is not your typical African rainforest, and strictly speaking not a "proper rainforest". However, due to the incessant rain from the Falls it has developed a rather interesting and unique ecosystem.

The rainforest flora is dependent upon the constant rainfall under the localised shadow of the Victoria Falls, for its development. Under these highly specialised conditions the Victoria Falls nurtures its own special ‘rainforest’, including tall trees, figs, palms and hanging vines, thick shrubs, creepers and a rich variety of rainforest flowers and ferns on the forest floor.

Pathway inside the Victoria Falls rainforest

The pathway leads you through the middle of the rainforest

Trees in the Rainforest

The most significant tree species found in the rainforest are two species of waterbooms (Syzygium guineense and S. cordatum), a tree typical of the seasonally flooded margins of the river and which can be found with great frequency along the river above the Falls, and the red milkwood (Mimusops zeyheri).

Ebony tree in the Victoria Falls Rainforest

The tall and striking African Ebony (Diospyros mespiliformis)

Together, these species make up over 80% of the trees found in the rain forest. The two waterboom species are closely related and both are adapted to spread vegetatively (by their roots) as well as more typically by seed. This adaptation also results in hybrid form, S. guineense barotense.

Other common tree species include the tropical plants such as wild date palm (Phoenix reclinata), and also four species of large fig are present, two of which are more easily distinguished - the hairy leaved Cape fig (Ficus capensis) and the strangling creeper (Ficus ingens) which eventually kills the tree on which it grows.

Other notable and more recognisable tree species include the large and striking African ebony (Diospyros mespiliformis) with its straight trunk and dark bark, the Natal mahogony (Trichilia emetica) and the smaller African olive (Olea Africana).

'Lianes', woody vines which need the support of other trees to grow and reach the canopy, are common plants in the rainforest, with their twisted stems hanging down from above. Most of the commoner species grow to a stem width of about 20 to 30 centimetres, but there was one spot not far from the Falls where one grew as thick as a human thigh. Species of note include Cocculus hirsutus, with its small blue-black fleshy fruit, and the flame creeper, and Combretum paniculatum, with flower head of many separate brilliant red flower spikes.

Ground Plants in the Rainforest

However it is the ground-growing herbaceous flora which is of greatest interest to the botanist, with many rare and some even unique species adapted to the almost constantly saturated conditions.

The early rains in November bring the spectacular ‘fireballs’ (Haemanthus filiflorus and H. multiflorus), with their large round globes of red slender flowers.

The Fireball or Pin Cusion Flowers

The gorgeous fireballs (Haemanthus filiflorus) can be seen in the foreground with the Falls in the background

These are followed in December by the ground orchid Calanthe corymbosa, with large white flowers, the wild gentian (Chironia palustris) with pink flowers and the flame lily (Gloriosa superba), a shrub layer creeper with red and yellow flowers, the national flower of Zimbabwe.

Flame Lily plant in the rainforest

Zimbabwe's National Flower, the Flame Lily (Gloriosa superba)

Ferns, notably the maidenhair (Adiantum capillus-veneris) and the near endemic Cheilanthes farinose, with its striking sulphur yellow under-surface to the fronds, can be found throughout the rainforest area at any time of year. The latter species is also of note as it is known only from the vicinity of the Victoria Falls and a couple of nearby sites upstream.

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