|The dramatic profile of Lobelia rhynchopetalum: so unexpected in a high alpine environment.|
The high point, in every way, of the trip to Ethiopia, was the day we had in the Bale Mountains National Park; it was my third time there, but the first with really good weather. The previous trips had been a month or so earlier and the rains hadn't quite cleared southwards.
The Bale Mountains are a large massif rising south of the Rift Valley, the largest of several mountainous areas there, and an extremely important area for biodiversity in all classes of organisms. Much of the massif is nominally protected by a National Park, but encroachment is a problem and there is continuous forest clearance on the flanks of the mountains. Nevertheless, the park has been instrumental in preserving a large area of habitat that would otherwise have been lost, and under its protection reasonably healthy populations of several large mammals remain.
The centre of the park, the high altitude Sanetti Plateau, the largest contiguous tract of afroalpine habitat, is easily reached from the town of Goba to the north of the massif - a dirt road leads up and over the top to settlements on the other side. It's used by a surprising number of buses and lorries, and to judger by the great ruts inm the road many obviously have significant difficulties ion the wet season - as we did in 2007 when trying to get around in a minibus. With a 4X4 the road presents no problems when dry.
|Looking toward the northern edge of the Bale mountains: little tarns are a feature of the Sanetti Plateau.|
Without doubt the botanical highlight of Sanetti is the largest of all of the giant lobelias, L. rhynchopetalum. This gigantic plant, standing 4-6 m tall in flower, is endemic to the highlands of Ethiopia both north and south of the Rift Valley - none of the other species come close to it in stature. We seem to have hit a really good flowering year for it, to judge by the number of spikes to be seen, but most had now finished and were maturing their seeds. In a few a ring of light blue flowers could be seen on the spike, but in all cases too far up to be accessible for a picture.
|Mass-flowering of giant lobelias: the big rosettes will flower in a year or two's time.|
|Seedlings start off as small, stemless rosettes.|
|After seeding, the plant dies and collapses, leaving a heap of rather attractive 'skeleton'.|
|The giant and the dwarf: the tiny spangles of blue just visible in the foreground are the flowers of the minute, prostrate Lobelia erlangeriana - there could not be a more striking disparity in the sizes of plants in the same genus.|
|Lobelia erlangeriana - a very pretty little plant.|
|A widely-distributed plant, Erigeron alpinus is common in the European mountains, and occurs through Ethiopia to Mt Kenya.|
|The very beautiful mat-forming Helichrysum gofense - white capitula above silvery leaves. A common plant on the Sanetti Plateau, but it is endemic to high altitudes in Ethiopia south of the Rift Valley.|
|A bush of Helichrysum citrispinum covered in flowers.|
|As its name suggests, Helichrysum formosissimum is the most beautiful of the Afroalpine species, though it grows just over the lip of the plateau, not in the exposed upper places.|
While writing this entry I realised that it marks the fifth anniversary of this diary, which started with a post about Kenya on 27 November 2009, a pleasing African symmetry.