Kilimanjaro plays host to five distinct climatic zones, and within them a bewildering display of different flora and vegetation as you move from the base to the summit.
Kilimanjaro is a “sky island”, an isolated mountain where species and ecosystems can develop separated from the surrounding landscape.
Due to its unique location and nature, the mountain passes through five distinct climate bands from base to summit.
This is known as altitudinal zonation, with each band exhibiting different ecological environments and characteristics.
At the base of the mountain, around 1,300 metres above sea level, there are vast swathes of heavily cultivated farmland including crops of coffee, mangoes, bananas and avocados.
Between 1,400 and 3,000 metres there is a wide band of subtropical, moist broadleaf forest, which feels rich and lush against the wider arid setting.
Above this, there is alpine forest thick with goat’s beard lichen
reaching up to the treeline at 3,500 metres above which no trees can grow.
Heathland then alpine settings follow with incredible giant lobelia plants and giant groundsels marking the last of the vegetation before reaching the rocky, icy nival (snow) zone at 4,500 metres.
Uhuru Peak is windswept and barren at 5,895 metres with snow, ice and rock, but holds a huge sense of achievement for all who make it there during a trek.
However, Kilimanjaro’s landscape is changing as the ice caps retreat year on year.
This will have a significant effect on the wildlife of the mountain, and may lead to increased growth of vegetation at greater heights if the mountain’s micro-climate warms.
Less ice means less meltwater run-off to provide irrigation water for the highly cultivated lands at the base of Kilimanjaro.
Climate changes will therefore have an effect on the whole mountain ecosystem, and not simply the iconic snow cap on Uhuru Peak.