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Tropical Savannah: Plants
Grasses are the dominant plant life in the savanna. A wide variety of grasses grow in savannas, but different varieties are found in different savannas. Some grasses grow 6 to 9 feet tall.

Trees growing alone or in small clusters are also part of the savanna biome. In fact, without the trees, the savanna biome would be considered a prairie. The variety of trees in a particular savanna is dependent upon the geographic location of the savanna. The acacia and baobab trees are common in African savannas.

Plant adaptations
In order for the grasses to survive the dry season and the periodic fires, they have developed an adaptation that allows them to grow quickly when there is adequate water. Then when water becomes scarce, the grasses turn brown to limit water loss. They store necessary moisture and nutrients in their roots while they await the return of the rainy season. With food and water reserves stored below ground, the grasses are able to survive the effects of fire as well. In fact, fire stimulates new growth and replenishes the soil with nutrients.

Image of a baobab tree with an elephant walking underneath it.

The baobab tree has adapted to the savanna biome by only producing leaves during the wet season. When leaves do grow, they are in tiny finger-like clusters. The small size of the leaves helps limit water loss. Another adaptation that enables the baobab tree to survive the long months of drought is its ability to store water in its large trunk.

The acacia tree can survive drought conditions because it has developed long tap roots that can reach deep, ground water sources. It is also fire resistant. Some varieties resprout from the root crown when the above ground portion of the tree is damaged by fire. Fire is not the only hazard faced by the acacia tree.

The acacia tree has developed very useful physical and behavioral adaptations to discourage animals from eating its leaves. It developed long, sharp thorns and a symbiotic relationship with stinging ants. The ants live in acacia thorns they have hollowed out, and they feed on the nectar produced by the tree. When an animal takes a bite of leaves (and thorns), it also gets a mouthful of angry, stinging ants. The ants defend their homes from other insects as well, thus protecting the acacia tree.

Image of an acacia tree.

Giraffes graze on the tops of the acacia, which results in the dome-shaped top characteristic of acadia trees. A behavioral adaptation aimed at preventing giraffe grazing is a chemical defense system that is triggered when the giraffe begins to munch on the leaves. First, a poisonous alkaloid that tastes nasty is pumped into the leaves. The giraffe only gets a couple of mouthfuls of leaves before the remaining leaves become inedible. Then, the tree warns other acacia trees in the area by emitting a chemical into the air. The other acacia trees respond by pumping alkaloid into their leaves. Photos 2000-www.arttoday.com

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April 28, 2005

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