Rwanda, Nyungwe National Park is the largest block of montane forest in East or Central Africa and one of the most ancient, dating back to before the last Ice Age. A uniquely rich centre of floral diversity, the forest has more than 200 different types of trees, and a myriad of flowering plants including the other-worldly giant lobelia and a host of colourful orchids.
Only in Nyungwe
Nyungwe’s great variety of plants and animals, some found nowhere else, makes it one of the most important protected places in all of Africa.
This impatiens is named in honor of President Kagame for his efforts in environmental protection. It is endemic to the Albertine Rift and found in Cyamudongo and parts of Congo. (Impatiens kagamei)
This impatiens is endemic to Nyungwe, found only on Mt. Bigugu—it grows nowhere else in the world! (Impatiens nyungwensis)
Abundant Plant Species
Don’t let all the green fool you, Nyungwe forest is comprised of over 1,000 different kinds of plants, many of which you’ll only see in the Albertine Rift.
Nyungwe is a safe haven for trees, some of which can grow as high as 55m. Polyscias fulva is one of the fastest-growing trees in Rwanda—it can reach 20 m in 10-15 years.
Newtonia buchanani is known for its spectacular buttresses.
Monkeys eat the fruit and chimps drum on the buttresses to communicate.
A vine! Sericostachys scandens is capable of choking trees. This plant was eaten by elephants that once roamed the park. There are ten species of impatiens in Nyungwe. Look for them along the trails.
If you visit at the right time and you look closely, you can see lots of these in the park. How many kinds can you find in Nyungwe? Nyungwe has over 140 species of orchids!
These ancient life forms blanket the forest floor, climb over trees and live in the canopy! Marattia fraxinea is a terrestrial fern widespread in western Nyungwe.
Asplenium mildbraedii is a ground fern widespread in Nyungwe and is endemic to the Albertine Rift. Asplenium dregeanum is an epiphytic fern in mountain rainforests and widespread in Nyungwe.
Several species of these strange-looking plants can be found in Nyungwe.
Lobelia giberoa (Giant Lobelia) can grow 2 to 3m tall. It is important for sunbirds and bees. Chimps, who self-medicate, eat the leaves for stomach problems.
Lobelia minuata is only centimeters high and can sometimes be found within a few feet or meters of the giant lobelia, in the same genus. The leaves are used in traditional medicine against angina and poisoning. Lobelia petiolata is an Albertine rift endemic.
Medicinal plants in Nyungwe National Park
Nyungwe National Park is home to many medicinal plants. The following list includes some of the plants that can be found in the Park. Descriptions of some of these plants can be found in the Handbook of African Medicinal Plants by Maurice M. Iwu. Another book that might be of interest is Medicinal Plants of East Africa by John O. Kokwaro.
Scientific name / English name / Kinyarwanda name / Traditional Uses
Erythrina abyssinica/ Lucky bean tree/Flame tree /Umuko
Gonorrhea, Burns, Joint pain, Fresh cuts/wounds, Backache, Syphilis. According to the World Agroforestry Centre, it is also “used in Kenya to treat diseases such as anthrax, and the bark is boiled with goat meat for treating gonorrhoea.The bark of the green stem may also be pounded and then tied into a fine piece of cloth and the liquid from it squeezed into the eyes to cure inflammation of the lids.”
Zanthoxylum gilletii/ East African satinwood/ Umuturirwa
Cold and fever, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Ulcers, Toothache
Vernonia amygdalina/ Bitter leaf/ Umubirizi
Malaria, Fever, Worms, Abdominal pain, Diarrhea, Asthma
Crassocephalum vitellium/ Isununu/
Sterility in men, High blood pressure
Prunus African/ Bitter almond/ Umwumba
Fever, Stomachache, Benign prostate cancer, Diabetes, Cough
Ficus natalensis/ Bark-cloth fig/ Imvuvumu
Stimulation of pregnancy, Cold, Cough, Wounds, Bed wetting
Syzygium guinense/ Waterberry/ Umugote
Carapa grandflora/ Bitter Oil/ Umushwati
Myrica californica/ California Bayberry/ Umusengesi
Poison, Stomach ache
The rainforest also holds keys to modern medicines. Some medicines have yet to be discovered!