The vegetation zones in Volcanoes National Park Rwanda have connection with the park’s elevation. Different vegetation cover exists in different altitudes; however, other factors also have influence on the park’s vegetation. Volcanoes National Park contains a tropical rainforest and bamboo forests, plus other vegetation types.
The altitudinal range of the area is without doubt the major factor that defines/shapes the park’s floral species. Located in Northwestern Rwanda, Volcanoes N. P also features alpine forest, marshes, thickets, grassland and swamps. These exist in the various altitudinal ranges where tropical rainforest ranges at an altitude of 2500-3200m; bamboo forest occupies more than 30% of Volcanoes National Park land area.
At 2600-3600m, the south and western part of Volcanoes NP can be humid, and dominated by hypericum forest. It is one of the vast forests of Hagenia Abyssinian. At 3500-4500m, there is mainly lobelia, occupying over 24% of the park. At the extreme 4300-4500, you can come across grassland with many species of birds.
The steep slopes of Sabyinyo Volcano are dominated by the Giant Heather. This is one dominant vegetation zone while on drier areas of Mount Muhabura; you can find different plants plus even the giant heather.
The saddles around the Virunga volcanoes feature open meadows. Volcanoes National Park is also blessed with scenic Lakes including Lake Ngezi, a beautiful Crater Lake on Bisoke Volcano. Other small lakes also exist at Mount Muhabura. In addition, the park features swampy areas, especially at the base of Mount Gahinga.
A record of about 1200 plants survives within Volcanoes National Park. The park is dominated by Albertine rift endemic plant species.
Summary of Volcanoes National Park vegetation types;
- Bamboo Forest -2300-2600m.
- Hagenia & hypericum forest -2600 to 3300m.
- 3300-3000 –dominated by subalpine zones
- Over 4000m –the Afro-alpine zone.
The bamboo forest is what most primates in Volcanoes National Park depend on, especially mountain gorillas and golden monkeys. The bamboo forest can grow up to 20 meters, and it dominates the extensive saddle between 2 Virunga volcanoes: between Sabyinyo, Mount Muhabura and Gahinga.
Bamboo dominates the soft, wet and rich nutrient areas. The park features over 30% of bamboo and undergrowth is minimal. Unlike other vegetation types, bamboo usually takes several years to regrow to maturity. It is an incredible resource for Virunga National Park animals residing here. It is food for golden monkeys and mountain gorillas, often spotted foraging in the area.