Savanna is a biome characterized by its vegetation and seasonality. It is one of the distinguishable Earth’s macrohabitat teeming with wildlife, as evidenced by the diverseness of savanna plants and herbivores. While fierce predators and grazing mammals may be the best-known organisms in this distinct habitat, flourishing trees, shrubs, and annual flowers also play an irreplaceable role — generating the primary food source for herbivores. If you are curious about this exciting flora, you are reading the right article: featuring the prospering plant life in the savannas.
What Is the Biome of Savanna?
Savannas, often referred to as tropical grassland, is a grassland biome with a long dry season followed by a highly variable rainy season. It can be subdivided into the length of the dry season, vegetation types, and distinct functional and structural patterns, although it is somewhat arbitrary among ecologists. However, the most distinguishable feature is the presence of grassy plains with scattered trees.
Savanna Biome’s Characteristics
- The climate has two seasons, wet and dry, typically lasting at least 6 months.
- Perennial grasses are the typical plants in the savanna.
- The average temperature is between 68-86°F (20-30°C) in the dry season and 50-68°F (10-20°C) during the wet.
- Plants in savanna frequently experience bushfires in the dry season.
- Savanna grassland plants have developed unique adaptations to survive in the biome.
Where Are the Savanna Biomes Located? How Much Land Does It Cover?
Plants in the savanna biome are principally located in the tropical regions between 8° to 20° from the equator. They span almost half of the continent, with significant chunks in Africa, Australia, India, and South America. The other type is a temperate grassland, found further away from the equator in North America, Russia, Argentina, Uruguay, and South Africa.
What Is the Most Common Plant in African Savanna?
The most common African savanna plants are understory grasses such as Bermuda, Elephant, and Red Oat Grass; and scattered trees with open tree canopies, including Acacia, or with a swollen trunk like Baobab.
Characteristics of Plant in the Savanna
Plants of the savanna are gifted with interesting traits that allow them to survive in drought. Here are some of them:
- Deep root system — Savanna grasslands plants often have an incredibly long penetrating root system relative to the aboveground parts–an evolutionary advantage to extract even the slightest moisture underground.
- Thick bark — In a recent study, the thicker bark of many tree species indicates fire resistance than other biome forests. With frequent wildfires, savanna biome plants are more resilient to the warming future.
- Water-storage organ — Because of the long drought season, some plants have evolved to hoard water. This trait is demonstrated by baobab trees having barrel-like trunks that can store about 100,000 liters.
- Seasonal leaf loss and absence of leaves — One exciting characteristic of savanna grassland plants is to shed their leaves or not develop leaves at all. As foliage is the main exit point of moisture, eliminating it helps them conserve water.
- Spines — Some plants did not opt to lose their leaves but rather a plant warfare. Equipped with spines on the branches, savanna-dominant plants ward off themselves from most herbivores.
Typical African Savanna Biome Plants
What kinds of plants are in the savanna? Various plant species with different growth habits have specialized in this seasonal habitat: grasses, trees, shrubs, and annual and perennial flowers.
Savanna is often pictured as a grassy landscape. Hence, we have made them on the list:
- Bermuda Grass — Like a maintained golf course, the green and short vegetation is perhaps the ground creeper Bermuda grass. It is a fast-growing plant that can arrest its growth when experiencing drought and sudden temperatures dip. It has an impressively deep root system allowing it to have a grand comeback the next growing season: rainy days. Because of these characteristics, they have become a favorite lawn grass species.
- Elephant Grass — has numerous names, such as Napier or Uganda grass. Many grazing beasts, and of course, elephants, enjoy feeding on its herbaceous leaves. It is a robust tall grass with profound roots, penetrating downwards, twice its above-ground length. It can tolerate low water and nutrient-poor soil and is the perfect candidate to grow in lands where crops cannot be cultivated.
- Red Oat Grass — Found in the African savanna, Asia, and the Pacific regions, this perennial grass reaches at least 4.9 ft (1.5 m). Growing in uncultivable lands, it is an important food source for herbivorous animals, primarily in livestock production as animal feed because of its high protein content. It has earned a good reputation in low-maintenance gardens because of its resistance to heat and drought.
Plants that live in savanna include trees scattered in the grasslands. If you happen to visit this unique landscape, be sure to spot these marvelous living landmarks:
- Acacia — Savanna is home to several acacia species, considered emblematic and prominent species. One of the most common savanna trees is the Senegal gum acacia which presents various morphological differences depending on its habitat. It possesses sharp spines as a deterrent to tall herbivores such as giraffes and tannins that are toxic to them.
- Baobab — If this tree can tell a story, it can recall what happened 2,000 years ago! It even appeared before humans first occupied their territory. Thanks to its barrel-shaped trunk, which can tower 100 ft (30 m) and expand 160 ft (50 m) in girth, this ancient giant can store water and nutrients to survive nature's harshness.
- Jackalberry Tree — This fruit-bearing tree is a crucial food source for many animals like jackals, hornbills, and baboons. Fruits are processed into flour and in brewing beers and brandy. It maintains a good relationship with termites with mutualistic benefits. The insects get free accommodation, while in return, the roots get aerated and moisture from the colonies' hard work.
Shrubs are a dominant type of vegetation in savanna and safari, armed with spines to deter herbivores. The most exemplary species of short shrubs are the following:
- Sickle Bush — Belonging to the same family of Acacia, this short tree can reach maximum heights of 23 ft (7 m) and span approximately 13 ft (4 m) with its spiny branches and feathery leaves. Its pendulous flowers with yellow and pink tones, from which it got its Latin name Dichrostachys, are the bee's favorite treats.
- Buffalo Thorn — Measuring at least 9.8 ft (3 m) tall, this medium-sized bush typically grows along the seasonal riverbeds to take advantage of the scarce water. You can easily distinguish this short tree by its zigzagging twigs, double spines at each point, and shiny, light green leaves.
- Raisin Bush — Savanna hosts several species of raisin bush that typically flourish near the watershed banks. They are named after, well, raisins due to the resemblance of the tiny fruits when ripe. Typically flowering during the rainy season, the 5-petalled stellate flowers are joyous to watch.
Although plants that live in the savanna are grass-dominated, some flowers also bloom along with them:
- Heath Aster — A sunflower family member, this savanna species display its yellow blossoms mainly in fall. This is among the savanna flowers widely cultivated outside its native habitat. It can thrive barely anywhere, even with nutrient-devoid soils and little maintenance but is best grown under full sun and sandy soils.
- Euryops — Consisting of at least 97 described species, Euryops are low-lying flowering perennials that bloom from fall to winter. It got its botanical name from ancient Greek, meaning “wide eyes,” which refers to its lovely small flowers. They are fire resistant and can quickly reestablish because of the numerous seeds it produces each cycle.
- Great Blue Lobelia — Native to the grasslands of eastern and northern America, this blue-flowering plant is a friend of bumble bees and hummingbirds. Lobelia’s tubular flowers arranged in whorls are spectacular from July to September. They are also easy to cultivate and have virtually no known pests.
Other Tropical Plants
Because savanna is an “in-between” biome between the desert and temperate, particular habitats host some tropical savanna plants such as in the following:
- Palmyra Palm — refers to the palm species of the genus Borrasus spp., which have concentrated growing in tropical and subtropical biomes. Its fruits contain tough fibrous tissue that protects them from being snacked by animals and from harsh environments. The seeds can survive and germinate even after several years with their rigid shell.
- Candelabra Tree — While this tree may look like a cactus, it is neither a member of the cactus family nor a typical tree. It is a member of the euphorbia family that branches out like an umbrella and produces the green pigment directly on the stem rather than growing leaves.
- Lemon Grass — Along the wilderness of tropical savannas, lemongrass has found a niche to thrive and survive. Armed with aromatic leaves, it can defend itself from voracious insect herbivores. Its roots are well-anchored to the soil, can resist seasonal floods and competition with plants, and preserve the topsoil from eroding.
How Do Savanna Plants Survive?
Savanna plants survive by possessing traits that help them conserve water and deter herbivores from eating them: deep root system, thick bark, leaf seasonality, water storing organ, and presence of spines.
What Are the Examples of Savanna Crops?
Grasses like Lemongrass and Elephant Grass are typically domesticated savanna plants as crops for animal husbandry and for consumption. Some fruit trees, like Jackalberry, are used in the brewing industry.
What Is the Dominant Plant Species in the Savanna?
While many species of plants dot the savanna, you can frequently encounter the most dominant ones: drought-resistant grasses like Bermuda and Elephant Grass; and sporadic trees like Acacia and Baobab.