The lush greenery of the Okavango Delta makes it a true oasis in the heart of the Kalahari, but there is diversity within the region, with three distinct ecosystems with thousands of plant species.
The Panhandle begins in the north of Okavango at Mohembo and runs for 80 kilometres. It is characterised by deep river and perennially-flooded swamps. Here, the dominant species are papyrus beds and stands of phoenix palms.
At Seronga the Okavango Delta fans out into smaller channels, lagoons, lakes, flooded grasslands and thousands of islands. The smaller islands are often formed from huge termite hills which then build up with silt from the flood water. This area of the delta grows from 15,000 square kilometres in the dry season, to 22,000 during the wet season. While there are still huge reed rafts, larger vegetation such as mokolwane palms, acacia, sycamore fig, sausage trees, raintrees and African mangosteen are common.
At the bottom of the delta, the terrain becomes dryland and is where the three largest landmasses - Matsebi Ridge, Chief’s Island and Moremi Tongue - can be found. Larger trees, such as the baobab and mopane dot the landscape between scrub bush.
Many of the plants and trees of the Okavango Delta are important culturally and medicinally. The wide-trunked baobab, called “Mowana” in Setswana language, can live up to four thousand years and has large showy flowers in season. The marula can grow up to 20 metres tall, produces beautiful pink flowers and pale green fruits. The Kigelia is one of the tallest trees in Africa and produces long fruits, which give the tree its alternate name; the sausage tree. The fruit is poisonous when fresh, but used medicinally. The African medlar, or “Mmilo” tree bears edible fruit, much like the African mangosteen, which is used to make an alcoholic beverage. Other fruit trees of the delta include the sycamore fig, fan palm and wild date palm.
Even with a just passing interest in botany, visitors to the Okavango Delta can’t help but be awed by the incredibly diverse and exotic flora of the region.