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Giant Groundsel

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By Turtle - Posted on 27 September 2008

One of the images I remember most strongly from Kilimanjaro is the descent into Barranco camp with a light drizzle of rain, through a forest of giant groundsel plants. The mist moving in and out amongst these bizarre looking plants made for a scene that seemed surreal and almost alien.

The giant groundsel, dendrosenecio kilimanjari (formerly known as senecio kilimanjari), is one of the most recognizable plants in the moorland vegetation zone on Kilimanjaro. This vegetation zone extends from elevations of about 3200 m to 4000 m on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. Giant groundsels on Kilimanjaro can grow to heights of 4-5 m (12-15 feet), and they look kind of like a candelabra of woody stems with a rosette of leaves atop each stem (click on the thumbnail image to enlarge it).

Giant groundsel on KilimanjaroGiant groundsel on Kilimanjaro

The various species of giant groundsels in the dendrosenecio subgenus of plants are native to the mountains of East Africa. They are part of the genus senecio which includes more familiar flowering plants such as ragworts and groundsels, which are in turn part of the botanical family asteraceae or daisies. The average non-botanist would probably never suspect such a close link between the giant groundsels of Kilimanjaro and familiar daisies and ragworts!

Different species of giant groundsels have evolved on different mountains in East Africa. Widely separated mountains such as Mount Kenya and Kilimanjaro act as evolutionary "islands", so that plants occupying the slopes of these mountains differentiate over time. It seems that there has been a lot of confusion in the world of botany about which giant groundsels should rank as separate species. Wikipedia has a comprehensive page describing the different species of dendrosenecio.

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