comments on the Ethiopian flora

John Grimshaw
Fri, 13 Jul 2007 11:50:13 PDT
[Karen Mountfield told us the news that she is going to Ethiopia later this 
year, and several people have made suggestions as to what she should look 
out for.]

I spent three weeks in Ethiopia in September-October2003 and am leading an 
Alpine Garden Society tour there again this September. To be very 
simplistic, Ethiopia consists of two big blocks of highlands rising on each 
side (N & S) of the Great Rift Valley. These are the core of the old 
Christian Abyssinian Empire from the plains and because of their altitude 
are reasonably well-watered and reasonably fertile. They are densely 
populated by both people and domestic stock. Away from the highlands, all 
round their bases, is very arid, low dry bush country and desert conditions, 
much more sparsely populated. Botanically of course these two types of 
country have very different floras - again this is being very simplistic and 
of course each area has its own array of conditions and habitats. Rainfall 
is usually not too bad in the highlands, but the lower areas are very arid. 
The country receives its rainfall in the northern summer, tailing off during 
September. By November it will probably be quite dry and dusty.

Without knowing Karen's itinerary it is difficult to make precise 
recommendations, but the single most important point about the natural 
vegetation of the highlands is that there is VERY LITTLE LEFT. The 
population pressure (over 70 million people in Ethiopia and 40 million head 
of cattle) has led to almost every square yard of the country being taken 
over for agriculture, grazing lands and settlement, at least in the 
highlands. What is left is is under constant pressure. Going north from 
Addis Ababa towards the famous historical sites of Gonder and Lalibela the 
only patches of 'natural vegetation' we saw were on roadside banks or other 
places too rocky or inaccessible to plough. Such sites give an idea of the 
riches of the flora: I recall one tiny 10 x 10 m  patch where amongst 
Kniphofia was Gladiolus abyssinicus and an Arisaema in fruit. We saw neither 
of these two anywhere else. Being grazing-resistant the pokers are more 
abundant than most wild plants, but they still occur only in limited areas.

Southwards the situation is a little easier. In 2003, as we shall do this 
year, we went to the Bale mountains south of the rift valley, where the 
Sanetti Plateau at over 4000 m is Africa's largest alpine area, and not yet 
too badly damaged. In addition to the plants it has some extremely 
interesting fauna, including the biggest surviving population of Ethiopian 
Wolves - lovely reddish animals, very tame and easy to see, the endemic 
Mountain Nyala and all sorts of interesting birds. Along the way the road 
passes through dense population and cultivation but there are some areas 
where the natural vegetation is less damaged and some good plants can be 
found. Among them are quite a few monocots, including several Kniphofia 
(sometimes in large quantity), two or three Arisaema, a couple of Gladiolus 
etc. And lots of other interesting plants including the tuberous Impatiens 
rothii, shrubby, scarlet-flowered Acanthus senii and best of all the big, 
bright-blue Delphinium wellbyi whose flowers smell of orange blossom. In the 
mountains the botanical big-game hunter is in search of Lobelia 
rhynchopetalum, whose fat inflorescences tower into the sky from a huge 
rosette. It is not difficult to spot.

So there are good plants in Ethiopia, but one cannot go expecting drifts of 
Gladiolus murieliae all over the place.(Wish I knew where to find it 

There is also an excellent multi-volume 'Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea', 
almost complete, allowing one's discoveries to be identified. More 
convenient, especially for the monocots, is a pocket-sized book 'Flowers of 
Ethiopia and Eritrea; Aloes and other lilies' by Sebsebe Demissew 
(Ethiopia's top botanist), I. Nordal & O.E. Stabbetorp, published in Addis 
Ababa by Shama Books. It is basically a photographically illustrated version 
of the Flora's monocot volume, though it unfortunately leaves out Araceae. I 
have just checked and find that it is not available through any 
internet-linked book supplier.

John Grimshaw

Dr John M. Grimshaw
Sycamore Cottage
Nr Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL53 9NP

Tel. 01242 870567

Easter Monday 9 April, Arboretum Weekend 15-16 September
Gates open 1pm, last entry 4 pm

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "studio pozzi taubert" <>
To: "Pacific Bulb Society" <>
Sent: Friday, July 13, 2007 10:56 AM
Subject: Re: [pbs] Introduction

Hello Karen,

there is certainly  in Ethiopia a rare flower you would try to find,
worthy to be grown in the garden: it is Arisaema enneaphyllum.

  from Guy Gusman: " it is a tall plant with a pure white limb
curving above the spathe, up to 110 cm tall and 50 cm wide,
habitat grassy road banks in erica arborea shrubs; open grasslans,
rocky slopes, thicket margins, in shade of trees, near clearings at
margins of forest; 2000-3000 mts.
flowering from May to July; ripening time October to November "

the fruit spike is 8 cm long with berries about 10 mm long.
the tuber is subglobose, 8 cm across when mature.

In both his books he couldn't show a picture of the living plant but
only a herbarium specimen.

I cannot say if it is hardy but I think Gusman will be pleased to
tell you if it needs greenhouse care in your garden.

Anyway a picture of the plant, foliage and seeds, or the tuber ,
would be very interesting.

Have a nice journey,

Italy zone 7
Il giorno 12/lug/07, alle ore 19:27, Alberto Castillo ha scritto:

>> From:> To:> Date:
>> Sun, 8 Jul 2007 19:45:54 +0100> Subject: [pbs] Introduction> > Hi
>> Guys,> > > > This is my first post so an intro is appropriate I
>> think. I live in the> easternmost part of England and garden in
>> what is usually the driest part of> the UK on a very sandy soil,
>> half a mile from the North Sea. My garden is> mostly very
>> sheltered so I benefit from the warning effect of being near the>
>> sea without suffering too much from those Siberian easterlies that
>> hit us> occasionally for a week or so.> > > > I grow a lot of
>> Mediterranean plants which survive very well in the free> draining
>> soil, examples are an eight foot olive tree, Pittosporum tobirum,>
>> lots of Cistus and Halimium, and lavender both English and French.
>> I lust> after traditional blowsy herbaceous borders but can't
>> achieve them on such> poor soil sadly. > > > > I have a great
>> weakness for Echeverias and Agaves most of which have to be> found
>> space indoors or in un-heated cold frames over the winter. I have>
>> travelled a lot in Europe and have snaffled seed from various
>> places which> is how I have fallen into growing more bulbs.> > > >
>> I have a very happy Urginea maritima from Crete growing in the
>> open in> almost pure gravel (collected as a grapefruit sized bulb
>> which had been> dislodged by road works - honestly it's true, I
>> have a witness) producing> three flower heads each year now -
>> despite the trip's botanist being very> negative about it's
>> chances. This year's triumph was to flower Iris xiphium> from seed
>> collected in Andorra five years ago and two of my five bulbs>
>> flowered a deep indigo blue, much nicer than those wishy washy
>> blue> florists versions. I have lots of Anemone pavonina in pots
>> grown from seed> collected in the Peloponnese - scarlet, shocking
>> gorgeous scarlet ! not> those pretty pink and blues you get mostly
>> in the islands. I also have three> pots of unidentified somethings
>> collected on the southernmost point of the> Matapan peninsula on
>> the same trip. An iris of some sort I think but what ?> My current
>> bet is on Iris tuberosa but they are being real buggers and have>
>> refused to flower so far.> > > > I am going on a trip further
>> afield than usual in November, three weeks in> Ethiopia,
>> travelling about the country from high elevations to low. Is
>> there> anything I might find there that would be worth keeping an
>> eye out for?> > > > I used to post in the uk.rec.gardens newsgroup
>> a lot so hi to anyone who> knows me from there - I see Rodger
>> Whitlock continues being very helpful to> everyone.> > > > Finally
>> I'd like to thank all you guys for posting such fabulous photos
>> on> your wiki. I have spent many a happy lunch hour at work
>> browsing the pics> and drooling. > > > > Karen Mountford> >
>> _______________________________________________> pbs mailing list>
>> pbs>
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