Victoria Falls Habitats

The Victoria Falls area is the meeting point of a variety of habitats, determined by the underlying geology. The map above illustrates the broader habitat range of the region.

We have simplified the description of the main 5 habitat types in the immediate Victoria Falls region, which collectively supports some 900 plant species - almost as many as the entire floral kingdom of Ireland.

Riverine Bush

The fringe forest lining the Zambezi and the vegetation on the islands in the river make up a distinct riverine bush zone. This is often only a few metres wide and never more than 100m from the river.

This consists of tall, well-established trees such as the waterberries (Syzygium guineense ssp barotsense and S cordatum), various figs (Ficus sur, F sycomorus), the distinctive palms that give the river its personality, the northern Ilala palm (Hyphaene banguellensis) and wild date palm (Phoenix reclinata).

Other common trees are the African ebony (Diospyros mespiliformis), Natal mahogany (Trichilia emetica) and knob thorn (Acacia nigrescens). The rocky islands close to the edge of the Falls are basalt, while the islands further upstream are primarily formed from sand.


The rainforest is an extension of the river fringe forest described above. It is a very small but significant ecosystem that has evolved within the spray zone of the actual Falls.

The most common trees in the rainforest are a hybrid of the waterberries, while figs, mahogany and palms make up most of the other large trees.

The effect of the spray is particularly noticeable on the composition of the smaller shrubs, among which are Zimbabwe's national flower, the flame lily (Gloriosa superba) with its large red and yellow flowers, the red-leaved medlar (Feretia aeruginescens), Zambezi bride's bush (Pavetta cataractum), the potato creeper(Solanum?seaforthianum), maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) and sun hibiscus (Hibiscus calyphyllus). There are also many rare plants that are endemic to the area.

See a more detailed description of the Rain Forest Flora

The Gorges

Below Victoria Falls, the Zambezi carves its way through the series of gorges that were once previous waterfalls before it enters the long and winding Batoka Gorge. The gorges are characterised by precipitous cliff faces which, at some points, tower up to 350m above the river bed. Certain plant species have managed to gain a foothold in the gorge walls.

The most resilient trees in this environment are the paperbark species including the paperbark corkwood (Commiphora marlothii) and the fever tree (Acacia xanthophloea). There are also clumps of stemless aloes (Aloe chabaudii and A cryptopoda), which flower in late winter and an attractive barleria shrub (Barleria matopensis).

Many rare plants are found here including a hibiscus species (H praeteritus), which has small scarlet flowers, and the more common resurrection bush (Myrothamnus flabellifolius), so-called because of its ability to come to life when the apparently dead plant is given water.

Mixed Mopane Woodlands

Further away from the river, the habitat is entirely different. The areas underpinned by basalt - in the immediate vicinity of the Falls - consist mainly of mixed mopane woodlands, dominated by the mopane tree (Colophospermum mopane).

The mopane exists anywhere between shrub and tree form, depending on soil conditions. Other trees that are found in the basalt include the distinctive baobab (Adansonia digitata), the rain-tree (apple-leaf) (Lonchocarpus capassa), the knob thorn (Acacia nigrescens) and the leadwood (Combretum imberbe).

There are also the occasional marula (Sclerocarya birrea [caffra]) and the large-leaved star-chestnut (Sterculia quinqueloba).

Kalahari Sand Woodlands

Further away from the Falls, the geology of the area shifts to that of sandveld - this is particularly noticeable on the road to Bulawayo.

The Kalahari sand areas are easily recognisable because of the distinctive red sands visible in the patchy grasslands beneath the trees.

The Kalahari sand trees include Zambezi teak (Baikiaea plurijuga), bloodwood (Pterocarpus angolensis), pod mahogany (Afzelia quanzensis), bushwillow (Combretum collinum), large false mopane (Guibourtia coleosperma) and the miombos (Brachystegias).

Further reading on Climate, Geology, Flora at Vic Falls:

Brett Hilton-Barber and Lee R. Berger. Copyright © 2010 Prime Origins.

Geology of Victoria Falls

The Victoria Falls have been billed as the greatest falling curtain of water on the planet, making it one of the seven natural wonders of th...more

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