A new guide to the flowers of Kilimanjaro!

For years, people like myself who are a little (OK, very) obsessed about Africa’s Highest Mountain have been crying out for a field guide to Kilimanjaro’s flora.

Why? Well, the climate and conditions on Kilimanjaro are so varied, as anybody who has already climbed it will know. This in turn, of course, leads to an incredible biodiversity, including several unique plants. Indeed, the flora of Kilimanjaro is so rich and so varied, that only an entire book can do the subject justice.

But curiously, before this month, to the best of my knowledge, no such book existed. I have field guides to general flora of East Africa, and even one on the roadside plants of Tanzania. But nothing on the greatest garden in the region: the slopes of Africa’s Highest Mountain. 

Indeed, though I hesitate to say it, one of the best guides to the flora of Kilimanjaro has been, up to now, Chapter 4 in our guide book. And while I’m proud of the photos I’ve taken for the book and the research I conducted to get them identified, I’m certainly no botanist.

So my delight was unbounded this morning when I received in the post a copy of The Flora of Kilimanjaro – A Field Guide. Written by long-time Kilimanjaro obsessive Eddie Frank, boss of Tusker Trails, together his wife Amy Micks Frank and Swiss biologist Thomas Ruegg, it’s a comprehensive yet accessible study of Kilimanjaro’s shrubs, trees and flowers.

The book itself is 78 pages long, with a few pages added at the end for your notes. Most of those 78 pages are taken up with photos of the plant in question (just one or two per page)  plus their scientific (ie Latin) name, ordered according in their scientific families, which have been arranged alphabetically. The book covers all of Kilimanjaro’s vegetation zones, from the cultivated zone of the lower slopes to the snowy summit.

Among the highlights, have picture of one of the oldest trees on the mountain and what is said to be the tallest trees in Africa, a 500-600-year-old Entandrophragma excelsum that measures 81.5m (267ft), which was discovered only in 2016 in one of the mountain’s remotest valleys. (You can read more about the discovery in a post that we wrote at the time on the discovery of Africa’s biggest tree) .

There are also pages devoted to the helichrysum family – the dry ‘everlasting’ flowers that decorate the upper slopes of Kilimanjaro, of which there are several hard-to-distinguish varieties.

Any criticisms I have of the book are negligible. I would have liked to have seen a little more description or ‘anecdotes’ about the plant; maybe a few lines on what the locals call it and whether it has any medicinal or other properties that the Chagga people exploit. But presumably in a world where information is available instantly online, such embellishments are considered unnecessary these days. A couple of the photos in the book, too, don’t do the plants themselves justice (though I think that the fault may lie with the printer rather than the photographer). But I am being picky, because some of these plants are seldom encountered on the mountain, and when you do see one you can’t dictate under what conditions you’ll find them (ie what time of day or night, whether the plant is situated in shade or full sun, and what the weather is like at the time you find it etc etc).

And besides, this is a book about the flora of Kilimanjaro; the one that Kili-lovers like myself have been seeking for many, many years. And the authors are to be thanked for their efforts over the past decade in making this possible – and congratulated on such a welcome, attractive and necessary addition to the Kilimanjaro library.

The book can be purchased by following this Flora of Kilimanjaro link.