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Vegetation in Etosha National Park, Namibia

Arid savannah dominates the landscape of Etosha, with shrub and thorn scrub occurring in the west. The eastern regions feature open savannah and broadleaved woodland comprised mainly of Mopane trees, acacia trees and leadwood trees.

The Braun-Blanquet survey method (Le-Roux et al 1988) classifies Etosha National park into 31 different plant communities.  This classification is based on vegetation, rainfall, soil and geographical features.

This classification can be narrowed down further into eight general plant communities:

1. Tall Grassveld

Location: South of Okondeka northwards along the western edge of the pan.


1. Salsola tuberculata
2. Wool bush
3. Leucosphaera bainesil
4. Mundulea sericea (silver bush)*
5. Eragrostis
6. Sporobolus
7. Monelytrum
8. Odyssea
9. Enneapogon

About: The sandy soil here comes from the pan and is regularly replenished by wind.

* The silver bush, Mundulea sericea contains the chemical rotenone that is toxic to fish.

2. Andoniveld

Location: North of Namutoni and west of the sandveld.

Plants: Mainly Sporobolus spicatus.

About: The land here is very flat, elevated only about one metre above the level of the pan and consists of grass with very few shrubs. The soil is shallow with a high salt content and the area is utilised by grazers during the cold dry season.

3. Sweet Grassveld on Lime

Location: Extensive grasslands bordering the southern and south-western edge of the main pan extending westwards past Leeubron, Adamax and Sprokieswoud.


1. Monelytrum luederitzianum
2. Enneapogon desvauxii
3. Eragrostis nindensis
4. Petalidium
5. Leucospheera shrubs
6. Acacia nebrownii 

About: This a very game-rich area, supporting large numbers of grazers, especially during the rainy season when pools of water are abundant. A large number of plains ungulates are born here in the springtime.

During the dry season, the grass almost disappears and the animals disperse to areas closer to the waterholes. Dense thickets of small, shrubby acacia nebrownii occur on the edges of the plains and are classified as part of this area, although they are, strictly speaking, a separate habitat.  These trees flower from August onwards and their sweet-smelling yellow blossoms are sought after by giraffe, ostrich and kori bustards.

Zebra, springbok, gemsbok and wildebeest are also common here.

4. Eastern Karst Woodlands

Location: South east of the pan around the Namutoni area and in the entire area south of Halali.


1. Colophospermum mopane
2. Spirostachys africana
3. Terminalia prunioides
4. Acacia reficiens

About: The soil here is usually underlain with calcrete and the area consists mainly of Mopane woodlands from Springbokfontein to the Grunewald area, acacia veld along the roadside from the Von Lindequist Gate to Namutoni, and Tamboti woodlands in the Dik-Dik Drive area. The area has many small trees and shrubs, much favoured by Damara dik-dik and Giraffe.

5. Kaokoveld

Location: The western section of the park which is out of bounds to the public.

6. Shrub Mopane

Location: West of the M’Bari waterhole.


1. Mopane

About: These stunted trees are visible form the no-entry notice board near M’bari and although only up to two metres tall, some of these trees are a hundred years old. Elephants occur here seasonally.

7. Sandveld

Location: North of Namutoni.


1. Terminalia prunioidies – purple-pod terminalia
2. Terminalia sericea  (silver terminalia)
3. Lonchocarpus nelsii (Kalahari apple-leaf)
4. Croton menyhartii (rough-leaf croton)

About: During the rainy season, the area experiences high levels of precipitation. Although the deep Kalahari sand soil does not allow for much surface water, sub-surface water levels are high which means that the area explodes with lush vegetation much sooner than any other, attracting elephants and other browsers.

8. Bottomlands & Saline Pans

Location: Etosha Pan and surrounds, about 25% of the park.


1. Craspedarhachis africana
2. Sporobolus salsus
3. Sporobolus spicatus
4. Odyssea paucinervis
5. Suaeda articulata

About: The saline pans are the largest so-called plant community in Etosha, yet they support almost no vegetation. Besides the main pan, there are several lesser pans and bottomlands, which are small clay pans situated in amongst the woodlands scattered around the park. On the road between Nuamses and Etosha is a good example of this, where a little pan ringed with mopane trees is visible from the road.

These pans consist of highly alkaline whitish clay and only salt-tolerant grasses can survive here.  Blue wildebeest and springbok do find some of these grasses tasty and can be found in the vicinity of the pan.

Other areas of interest:

Okondeka dune veld – running parallel with the pan and dotted with dwarf shrubs, this area is not very fertile and only of periodic importance to grazers.

Karstveld turf pans – when water is present, this fertile clayey soil supports open savannah grass lands which are of seasonal importance to animals.

Ekuma tree and shrub-mopane veld – favoured by elephant, the shallow clay-loam soils in this area produce tree and shrub mopane.

Ekuma Grasslands – small herds of game visit this sweet grass veld only sporadically due to the absence of reliable water in the area.

Dolomite hills –  These  rough-hewn, squat hills in the south and west of the park near Halali, feature  Moringa trees, shepherd trees, star chestnut trees, common paper-bark trees and red bushwillow trees.

Most well-known Trees of Etosha


Mopane forms 80% of Etosha’s tree population, occurring on various soil types ranging from clay to calcrete. The species is adaptable and hard, taking on different forms depending on its location. In some places growth is stunted by poor soil, fire and frost and the trees are barely two metres high, while in other habitats, they soar many metres above the ground. These tall trees are found in the southern parts of the Halali area while mopane scrub occurs in the western section of the park.

The mopane worm is a favourite food of birds, small mammals and the Hai||om bushmen. They are served fried, boiled or dried and taste similar to peanuts when eaten. Millions of mopane moths may be seen flitting about in years with particularly heavy rainfall.

Red Bushwillow

This is the second most numerous tree species in Etosha and is eagerly consumed by kudu, rhino and elephant. For this reason the tree is also known as Kudubusch or koedoebos.


The sandveld in north-eastern Etosha are dominated by Acacia and Terminalia trees such as:

1. The Water Horn
2. The Red Umbrella Thorn
3. The Umbrella Thorn
4. The Hairy Umbrella Thorn


The woodlands south of the sandveld are comprised of tamboti trees.


Usually found on hillsides, the moringa trees of Etosha are unique in that an entire plantation of them can be found in the plains to the west of Okaukuejo. This area has been fenced off to protect the trees from ravaging elephants who find the moringa particularly tasty.

This place is known as Fairy Tale Forest (Sprokieswoud) after the common name of the moringa, which is fairy tale tree, or ghost tree. This name comes from the curious twisted shapes of their greyish tree trunks, which are reminiscent of mysterious ghostly forms. Similar to the baobab in its upside down appearance, the moringa is not related to this African giant.

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