Tag Archives: tree ferns

In the ferns

“the elegant script of ferns. . .”*

Last February, we took our visiting oldest daughter to Nyungwe National Park and hiked the first half of the trail that includes a tree canopy walkway.  Last week, with second daughter and friend in tow, we completed the entire circuit.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

The hike started with us tucking our pants legs into our socks (against ants) and receiving walking sticks.

Although the paths are well-maintained, the sticks are necessary for the steeper, sometimes slippery sections.

The steps shown above are the first of many, many, many on a long descent to the canopy walkway. (The welcome center is at one of the highest points in the park.)

It was a hazy day, so I can’t show you the great mountain views that are otherwise visible along the way, but you can click here to see my photos from last February.

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by Laura Koran

Above: Our guide led the way.  He spotted a number of blue monkeys and turaco birds for us.**

(The earth walls that were cut when the trail was created — to the right of the guide above — bring the smaller plants of the forest floor to almost eye level. I’ve put pictures and names of some of them in a photo gallery, which you can scroll through by clicking on ‘Continue reading’ at the end of this post.)

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by L. Koran

Above: We arrive at the beginning of the canopy walkway.

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by L. Koran

Above: The middle and highest section is 187′ (57 m.) above the ground.

During last year’s visit, with only the three of us and the guide, the walkway swung less, and I stopped a few times to look down and take pictures. (You can see them here.)

This time, in a group of about fifteen — with eight people crossing the walkway at a time — the shaking made me keep my eyes on the back of the person in front of me.

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by L. Koran

Above: Our guide starts across.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: I did look down after I reached the top of the second tower.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: Back on the ground below the second tower.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

When you cross the middle section of the walkway and (dare to) look down, you see a narrow valley of tree ferns and hear the moving water of a stream.  The second half of the hike continues on to that valley.  There, we saw hundreds of the tall ferns.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

In fact, this trail is named — in Kinyarwanda — for the tree ferns: the Igishigishigi Trail.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Cyathea manniana is one of two tree ferns in the park.  The other is C. dregei.  Manniana only grows in undisturbed forest, while dregei can be found along the sides of the road through the park (it also has persistent old leaves).

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: Looking up into the ferns. C. manniana can grow to almost 20′ (6 m.) tall.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

C. manniana is traditionally used as a medical plant to treat snake bites,” according to my field guide.*** There are nine kinds of snakes in the park, but only one is poisonous.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Photo by L. Koran

Photo by L. Koran

Above: A small bridge crosses the stream that we heard from the canopy walkway.  The guide meant to take us down to the water, but there were too many biting ants on the path.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Tree ferns are one of my favorite plants, but unfortunately, they would not grow well in the cold or the heat of our Washington, D.C., garden.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ure

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: Leaving the ferns behind, we started back to the welcome center.

The Igishigishigi Trail is 1.3 miles (2.1 km.) long and takes 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  It is rated ‘easy,’ but a large part of it involves descending and ascending steps.  It’s a solid workout.

The trail begins at an elevation of 8,038′ (2450 m.) and descends to 7,530′ (2295 m.).

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove (on the right): Nearing the final set of steps, we found a large group of Lobelia gibberoa or giant lobelias.

With their long candles of greenish white flowers, the plants can grow to 29′ (9 m.) in height.  Latex from the stems is traditionally used to treat irritation from stinging nettles.

Nyungwe National Park/enclos*ureAbove: After the hike, we went back to the Nyungwe Forest Lodge on the Huye-Rusizi Road.  The yellow flowers along the edge are a Senecio species.

*from “Ex Libris” by Eleanor Wilner.

** It’s also quite possible to see turacos flying from tree to tree from the pool at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge.

***An excellent book about the park is the Illustrated Field Guide to the Plants of Nyungwe National Park [of] Rwanda by Eberhard Fischer and Dorothee Killman.  It’s 770 pages long, with color photographs of 650 plants.  You can buy a copy here.  Unfortunately, it’s $71.  Some copies were printed for the Rwandan tourism office, and  I bought mine in a Kigali bookstore for about $25, but I haven’t seen any on sale here for about a year.

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The canopy walk, Nyungwe Forest

13 Moss on tall tree, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Last February, I wrote about our stay at the Nyungwe Forest Lodge.  Recently, however, I realized that I have never given you a look inside the forest.

The Nyungwe National Park, in the southwest of Rwanda, is 393 square miles of mountain forests, swamps, and moorland.

It has over 80 miles of constructed trails, but during our two-night stay at the lodge, we mainly wanted to relax — so we decided to walk the 1.3 mile Igishigishigi Trail, which includes a canopy walkway suspended 197′ above the ground.

The Uwinka Visitor Center

The trail begins at the Uwinka Visitor Center, which was renovated three years ago with U.S. assistance.

The center’s  interpretative display features panels on the mountain rainforest and Nyungwe’s biodiversity, its people, and its role in the Congo-Nile watershed.  The text is in Kinyarwanda, English, and French.

2a Uwinka Visitor Center, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Below are the steps leading to the Igishigishigi Trail.  The shadow with the camera was me, the one on the left was our visiting daughter, who was wondering what she had gotten herself into.

3 Steps to Igishigishigi Trail, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

The view near the beginning of the trail is wonderful. Uwinka is at one of the highest points in the park.

7 View, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In the left lower corner above, you can just see one of the towers that support the canopy walk.

Below is the trail,

7c Igishigishigi Trail, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

which includes several sections of steps.  The trail begins at 8,038′ and descends to 7,530′.

7d Trail steps, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

It sometimes passes along more open woodland, below.

7ba Hillside, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

We came across benches from time to time, although this double arrangement, below, didn’t look very comfortable.

14 Trail benches, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Several species of trees are labeled like this one.

8 Labeled tree, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

The Parinari excelsa (or Umunazi in Kinyarwanda) grows to heights of 82′ to 131′ with a thick, cauliflower-shaped crown,

8a Parnari excelsa, Nyungwe Park:enclos*ure

way up there.

An assortment of ferns, mosses, lichens, and orchids live on the magnificent trees

13b Moss on tree, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

and on the forest floor.

13c Forest floor, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

One of the more common, and easily recognizable, plants along the trail is the giant lobelia, below.

1 Giant lobilias in the Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

There are two species of giant lobelias in the park.  I think these are Lobelia gibberoa (or Intomvu in Kinyarwanda).

After the explorer Johannes Mildbraed first saw this plant in Nyungwe in 1907, he wrote:

[It] would have awakened the interest of the veriest dullard at botany. . . .  When I first espied these strange shapes. . . my heart beat fast at the realization of a long-hoped-for sight, a feeling that is comparable only to that of a hunter at the first sight of some rare game.

13c Giant lobelia, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

The one above was only a few feet tall, but more mature specimens towered over our heads.

13d Giant lobelias, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

After about 45 minutes, we arrived at the canopy walk.

14a Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In the photo below, our guide was explaining to us how the suspended bridges can support two cars, or twenty cars, or five elephants, or something like that.

15a Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Oh, why not. . .

16b Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Below:  looking down from the platform of the first tower. . .

18 Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

Below, we started out onto the middle and highest section. . .

19 Treetops, canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

and began to look down.

20 Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

22 Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

23 Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

It is unsurprisingly difficult to take pictures while standing on a 12″ wide swaying walkway.

Below, you can see the tops of tree ferns, for which the trail is named (in Kinyarwanda), and we could hear water from a hidden stream.

25Look down, Canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ures

A park guidebook says, “The walkway is strong and secure but will provide the visitor with a definite burst of adrenaline.”

26 View from canopy walk, Nyungwe Park, Rwanda:enclos*ure

In the photo above, taken from the walkway, you can see what I think are the young reddish-rose leaflets of Carapa grandiflora.  There is a wonderful full-color field guide on the plants of the park (here*), but, of course, mine was sitting back home on my desk during our trip.  However, I’m sure this was the best thing for my relationships with my husband and daughter, not to mention the guide.

Although the forest is home to many species of birds and monkeys, we did not see any along this trail — possibly because the popular walk is a bit noisy with humans talking.  But we saw both blue and L’Hoest’s monkeys along the road on the drive back to the lodge and from the balconies of our rooms.  And there is another park trail that features groups of chimpanzees.

And the next day, when we were almost out of the park, we spotted this guy, below, and a friend walking along the side of the road (photo by M. Koran).

Baboon in Nyungwe National Park.  Photo by M. Koran/enclos*ure

To scroll through larger version of the images, click on ‘Continue reading’ below and on any thumbnail in the gallery.

*Sometimes you can find it here in Rwanda at bookstores or museum shops.  However, they were not selling it at the park or lodge when we were there.
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Filed under landscape, nature, plants, Rwanda life, Rwandan gardens, travel