Zambia

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Rainforest riches

Rainforest riches

Rainforest riches
Evelyn Roe

Luxuriant vegetation cloaks the cliff-tops of the Victoria Falls and drapes down into rocky crevices soaked by swirling spray. For many months of the year, this oasis brings forth flowers of all colours of the rainbow, and harbours delicate ferns and mosses.

The tiny woodland, perched atop basalt stacks, is fondly known as ‘the rainforest,’ due to its unique spray-moistened micro-climate within an otherwise parched landscape. Strictly speaking, it is not one of the world’s true rainforests, which are characterised by a minimum annual rainfall of nearly 2000 mm (80 inches).

Despite this, when you teeter along cliff-edge paths to catch glimpses of the roaring falls through curtains of rising spray, you could easily imagine you’re in the jungle.

Imagine how thrilling it must have been for the European botanist, Sir John Kirk, who accompanied David Livingstone on his 1860 expedition, to meet for the first time the exquisite lobelia, subsequently named after him: Lobelia kirkii. You can find this endemic species along the paths opposite the Eastern Cataract in Zambia. A little further along, the yellow Gladiolus dalenii graces the grassy slopes of Knife-Edge Island, where the forest holds a diversity of edible plants.

The wild date palm, Phoenix reclinata, bears sweet fruits in the late rains and flowers from August to October. Large trees such as red milkwood, Mimusops zeyheri, known locally as muchenenge, produce tasty, but rather mealy fruits throughout the dry winter months. The beautiful shrub, Carissa edulis, also bears fruits which can be eaten when they turn black.

Like the true jungle, the ‘rainforest’ at the Falls is a treasure-trove of medicinal plants. Shiny fruits of the pink medlar, Feretia aeruginescensare reported to treat infertility. The fruits are dried in the sun, powdered and dried further, then stirred into the morning cuppa!

The sub-shrub, Plumbago zeylanica, or kalutenta, has been scientifically proven to have anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties. Its white tubular flowers can be seen for much of the year in shady, damp areas.

As you wind your way back towards the entrance gate on the Zambian side, keep your eyes open for the kombe vine, Strophanthus kombe, which grows high overheadnear the long flight of stone steps. It produces seeds containing a poisonous compound, strophanthin, whichslows down the heart and is used during heart surgery. The seeds are released from paired pods, which split open during the dry winter months and release a mass of white fluff.

This is just a small sample of all that nature has to offer, in the unique ‘rainforest’ at the World Heritage Site.

More articles in this series:
Rainforest Riches (ZT, Issue 13, June 2013)
Berry banquet (ZT, Issue 12, March 2013)
Marvellous Mangoes (ZT, Issue 11, December 2012)
Underground Forests (ZT, Issue 10, September 2012)
The healing powers of Aloes (ZT, Issue 09, June 2012)
Dogbane Drugs (ZT, Issue 08, March 2012)
Devil’s Claw (ZT, Issue 07, December 2011)
Elephant Toothpicks (ZT, Issue 06, Sept 2011)