Malawi’s vegetation can be divided into several broad types or ‘zones’, each with characteristic plants (from tiny flowers to giant trees), as well as associated birds and animals. These zones are complex, and firm division lines are impossible to draw. There are considerable overlaps, pockets of one zone within another, and varying definitions among biologists.
Malawi has a great diversity of indigenous wild flowers. This is due to the wide range of habitats, from high mountains and plateaus to tropical evergreen forest and low-altitude woodlands. For visiting flower enthusiasts this range of habitats in such a small area means many species can be seen in a relatively short period of time. Malawi also stands at a .biological crossroads. with species common to the Central, Southern and East African regions.
Malawi is particularly famous for its orchids and, despite its small size, contains one of the largest number of orchid species of any African country. The current figure is over 400; this includes over 280 terrestrial species, divided into about 30 genera, and over 120 epiphytic species, with about the same number of genera. Botanists believe that several more hidden .specials. wait to be catalogued. The majority of terrestrial orchids flower in the rainy season, from November to early April, with a few species (mostly Eulophia) starting at the end of the dry season around October. The peak viewing time is January and February.
Good spots for flowers include the Nyika National Park, where montane grassland areas support many terrestrial orchid species and the patches of evergreen forest support epiphytes. Proteas and aloes are found on the lower slopes. Other highland areas include the Zomba Plateau and Mount Mulanje, where terrestrial and epiphyte orchids occur, as do proteas, aloes, stag.s horn lily and various tree ferns, plus helichrysums (the dried effect of which gives them the name everlastings). Kasungu National Park is also a good area; the miombo woodland is rich in tree species and the grassy dambos support orchids, gladioli, lilies and everlastings. Other forest areas supporting orchids include Dzalanyama, Dedza and Viphya. In miombo woodland areas, such as Liwonde and Majete, aloes also occur, plus the Sabi star (also called Impala lily). The lagoons in Liwonde are also noted for their water lilies and reed beds.
For keen botanists, several local field guides are available. Others can be found at the Wildlife Society of Malawi bookshop in Limbe.