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Biomes and vegetation types

A biome is a broad ecological unit, defined by its geography, climate and soils. Although the plant and animal species differ from one part of the world to another, biomes share similar ecological processes, no matter where they are.

Africa has 13 biomes, of which 5 are represented in Namibia. The larger biomes in Namibia are divided into 28 vegetation types, each with its characteristic biota.

Biomes in Namibia

Click/tap on each thumbnail to see information about each biome.

Namib Desert

Various species of tough, perennial grasses stabilise the dunes

Various species of tough, perennial grasses stabilise the dunes on the eastern edge of the Namib.

Photo: B Curtis

Gravel plains and inselbergs of the central Namib

Gravel plains and inselbergs of the central Namib, with Acacia erioloba (Camelthorn (E), Kameeldoring (A), Kameldorn(baum) (D), Omumbonde (H), ǀ ’Ànà (J), ǀGanab (K), ǀQara (Kx), Omuthiya (O), Musu (R), Muhoto (S), Ghuthu (T)), in the drainage lines.

Photo: Steve Braine

Stipagrostis seelyae

The endemic Stipagrostis seelyae, named after Dr Mary Seely, who led research in the Namib for many years.

Photo: B Curtis

Welwitschia mirabilis

The iconic Welwitschia (Welwitschia mirabilis) is unique in the plant kingdom for many reasons. Regarded as a "living fossil", it has characteristics of both the gymnosperms (cone-bearing plants) and angiosperms (flowering plants). It produces only two leaves its entire life, which grow continuously and are worn, torn and eaten at the ends. The short, fat, woody stem becomes contorted with age. Male and female cones are borne on separate plants.

Photo: J Fourie

  • Narrow, hyper-arid coastal strip from Lüderitz northwards
  • Characterised by very low and erratic rainfall, fog, wind, extreme temperatures, poor soils.
  • Large areas covered by dunes with little vegetation, the rest consists of gravel plains with scattered inselbergs (island hills).
  • Divided into three vegetation zones
  • Many Namib endemics, some of which are iconic

Succulent Karoo

Cheiridopsis caroli-schmidtii

The endemic Cheiridopsis caroli-schmidtii occurs in the north-eastern parts of the winter rainfall area.

Photo: B Curtis

Aloe ramosissima / Aloidendron ramosissimum

Aloe ramosissima Aloidendron ramosissimum (Maiden’s Quiver Tree (E), Boskokerboom, Nooiens-kokerboom (A)) is near-endemic to south-western Namibia.

Photo: B Curtis

Dracophilus dealbatus

Dracophilus dealbatus, an unusual, near endemic dwarf succulent in that the flowers open in the evening.

Photo: B Curtis

Cyanella ramosissima

The geophyte Cyanella ramosissima occurs in the southern Namib and northern Cape.

Photo: B Curtis

  • Northern tip of the biome that extends along the west coast of South Africa
  • Better known as Sperrgebiet, now protected within the Tsau ǁKhaeb National Park
  • Characterised by winter rainfall, fog, very strong winds, blowing sands, gravel plains and inselbergs
  • High diversity of succulents and geophytes
  • Known globally as a botanical “hotspot” due to its high species diversity and number of endemic plants
  • Home to about 25% of all Namibia’s plants (ca 1,000 species), covering more than fifty families
  • Produces stunning floral displays after good rains.

Nama karoo

Euphorbia gregaria

A dominant feature of the landscape is the near-endemic Karas Euphorbia/melkbos/Milchbusch (Euphorbia gregaria).

Photo: C Mannheimer

Aloe dichotoma / Aloidendron dichotomum and Commiphora glaucescens

The iconic Quiver tree, Kokerboom, Köcherbaum, //Garas (Aloe dichotomaAloidendron dichotomum) is widespread throughout southern Namibia and the south-western escarpment. With it is the Blue-leaved corkwood, Omutungi, Tsaura, Omukuku (Commiphora glaucescens), which is very common along the escarpment, extending into the Karstveld.

Photo: B Curtis

Adenia pechuelii

Elephant’s foot, Wüstenkohlrabi, Ombaze yon (Adenia pechuelii) is a Namibian endemic scattered along the escarpment but also found in rocky places in the Namib.

Photo: J Fourie

Moringa ovalifolia

The near-endemic Phantom tree, Sprokiesboom, Mehlsackbaum, Omutindi, //Khaos (Moringa ovalifolia) is less common but striking along the escarpment and a bit further east.

Photo: B Curtis

  • Covering most of southern Namibia and extending northwards along the escarpment
  • Southern part, which is divided into four vegetation zones, is characterised by the most extreme temperatures, highest evaporation and totally unpredictable, low rainfall, with poor, stony soils
  • Vegetation consists mainly of low (dwarf) shrubs, many of which may be found in South Africa
  • Although regarded as part of this biome, the northern and central escarpment and inselbergs are very different from the south both topographically and botanically, with larger trees and shrubs and many endemics

Tree-and-Shrub Savanna

 Tree-and-Shrub Savanna

Acacia Tree-and-Shrub Savanna, with a Boscia albitrunca (Shepherd's Tree (E), Witgatboom (A), Hirtenbaum (D), Omutendereti, Omunguiṋdi (H), Zàqn (J), ǀHunis (K), Tcxoore (Kx), Omunkunzi (O), Munkudi (R), Ghuhepu (T)) on the right.

Photo: B Curtis

 Tree-and-Shrub Savanna

Munyenye woodland in Broad-leaved Tree-and-Shrub Savanna (Amblygonocarpus andongensis, Scotsman's Rattle (E)).

Photo: B Curtis

 Tree-and-Shrub Savanna

Broad-leaved Tree-and-Shrub Savanna. Baikiaea plurijuga (Zambezi Teak (E), Rhodesiese Teak (A), Omuzumba (H), Gǃòà (J), Omupapa (O), Uhahe (R), Mukusi (S), Ghukuthi (T)).

Photo: J Fourie

 Tree-and-Shrub Savanna

Broad-leaved Tree-and-Shrub Savanna. Pterocarpus lucens (Thorny Teak (E), Doringkiaat (A), Omuryambahe (H), Mwangula (S)).

Photo: B Curtis

  • Makes up the rest of Namibia and shares floral elements with Botswana and further east
  • By no means uniform, it is divided into 17 vegetation zones
  • Noteworthy among these are the Karstveld and Cuvelai
  • Rainfall increases from the west to north-east
  • The 400 mm rainfall isohyet divides this biome into the south-western Acacia Tree-and-Shrub Savanna and the Broad-leaved Tree-and-Shrub Savanna
  • Low endemism, but high diversity in the north-east
  • Large, deciduous trees that are extremely important for timber, construction material, food and medicines, as well as habitats for wildlife

Lakes and Saltpans

Only really tough, salt-tolerant plants grow on the edge of the pans

Only really tough, salt-tolerant plants grow on the edge of the pans.

Photo: B Curtis

Acacia luederitzii with lions

A stunted Kalahari Acacia, Acacia luederitzii, provides some shade for lions on the edge of Etosha pan.

Photo: B Curtis

Okondeka waterhole

Springs at Okondeka support hardy salt-tolerant plants and many animals.

Photo: J Mendelsohn

A satellite image of salt pans

Seasonally flooded saline pans in the landscape of Etosha National Park.

Image: courtesy of Google Imagery | Cnes Spot Image, Digital Globe, Landsat

  • The well-known Etosha pan and its associated pans are the only example of this biome in Namibia
  • Due to the high salinity, it is devoid of plant life, apart from a few small, salt tolerant species around the edges
  • Peripheral springs form an important water source for animals

Language codes for species common names

Where common names in different languages are given, the following language codes have been used:

E: English
A: Afrikaans
D: Deutch (German)
H: Otjiherero (including Ovahimba)
J: Ju'hoan
K: Khoekhoegowab (Nama/Damara
Kx: Kxoe
O: Oshiwambo (including all dialects)
R: Rumanyo (including Rukwangali, Gciriku and Shambuyu)
S: Silozi
T: Thimbukushu