Diverse vegetation from different climate zones graces the slopes of Kilimanjaro. One of the more unique places on Earth, the mountain lies in Africa‘s Afromontane region that straddles the Equator with clusters of freestanding mountains and plateaus surrounded by lowlands. A sky island more at home in the far reaches of the northern and southern hemispheres than the equatorial tropics, Kilimanjaro has amazing biodiversity.
Within days, mountaineers can hike through five different climate zones. These are:
- Lowlands: Between 2,600 and 5,900 feet (790-1,800 meters), this is the subtropical area located just above the Serengeti plains. An area with heavier rainfall, its vegetation is dominated by banana, coffee, and other plants grown as crops.
- Rainforest: Between 5,900 and 9,200 feet (1,800-2,800 meters), this is a subtropical rainforest rich with plant and animal life. The widest variety of flowering plants range in this zone.
- Moorland and heather: Between 9,200 feet and 13,100 feet (2,800-4,000 meters), this area has less vegetation and is dominated by a few plant and animal species, including groundsels, lobelias, heather, and tree moss. Trees disappear above 13,000 feet.
- Alpine or high desert: Between 13,100 and 16,400 feet (4,000-5,000 meters), this arid, semi-desert zone has no trees and few plants. Sage grass, hearty helichrysum flowers, moss, and thistles are common there.
- Arctic or summit: Above 16,400 feet (5,000 meters), this is an arid zone with intense sunlight, thin air, and heavy snow and ice. Few to no plants grow there.
- The southern and western slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro are wetter than its northern and eastern sides. The city of Arusha to the west of Kilimanjaro sits in a tropical bowl, while the Serengeti Plains to the northeast are dry.
Here are some of the species of plant you encounter during your climb.
Lobelia deckenii is a species of flowering plant in the family Campanulaceae. It is a giant lobelia endemic to the mountains of Tanzania.It is listed as a threatened plant of the forests of Cherangani hills, Kenya.It grows in moist areas, such as valley bottoms and moorland, in contrast to Lobelia telekii which grows in a similar but drier habitat. These two species produce occasional hybrids. Lobelia deckenii plants usually produce multiple rosettes. Each rosette grows for several decades, produces a single large inflorescence and hundreds of thousands of seeds, then dies. Because individual plants have multiple rosettes, they survive to reproduce repeatedly, and plants with more rosettes flower more frequently. It is iteroparous.
Lobelia deckenii plants usually form between one and eighteen rosettes which are connected underground. The individual rosettes grow slowly in the alpine environment,and may take decades to reach reproductive size. The rosette that produces an inflorescence dies after flowering, but the remaining connected rosettes live on.
Lobelia deckenii is the only alpine species of lobelia that is native to Kilimanjaro, occurring between 3,800 and 4,300 m (12,500 and 14,100 ft).