2013 - On the track of Succulents in Ethiopia

Rikus van Veldhuisen

Early morning of 7 November 2013 Wiebe Bosma and I arrived at Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and even still in the plane it was obvious we were no longer in Europe (Figure 1). Soon afterwards met our two travel companions, Leo van der Hoeven and Bob Potter. Our aim was to find as many succulents in general as possible, where Wiebe has a special interest in Stapeliads and I of course in euphorbias.


In the three weeks we spent in Ethiopia we normally had very nice weather, but sometimes we also had heavy rains (Figure 2). These rains caused that the quality of the roads did not improve (Figure 3). But the advantages of this is that it was not extremely hot and that the plants we found were in excellent shape.


Ethiopia has a fair share of euphorbias, but not as many as South Africa and Madagascar, Stapeliads are very well represented, mainly the genera Caralluma, Orbea and Echidnopsis and also a good range of Aloes.

Of the latter Aloe citrina is one the best in my opinion, with its blueish white leaves and green white flowers densely covered with small hairs like hoarfrost (Figure 4 and 5).

Also succulents of other plant families can be found such as Dorstenia and especially Bob was very happy to find a whole field covered with many huge caudexes of Pyrenacantha malvifolia (Figure 6 and 7).


Caralluma edithae is a very handsome plant growing into a small compressed robust shrub and when in flower it is even more striking (Figure 8 and 9). Echidnopsis scutellata is a very inconspicuous plant growing between rocks and however the flower is very nice, it doesn’t make it much easier to find (Figure 10 and 11). These are just a few species mentioned here, but one Wiebe was very thrilled to find is Orbea laticorona, which is extremely rare and only found a few times ever (Figure 12).


I was amazed the amount of many different species of birds we came across in Ethiopia. vultures we saw at many places, sometimes fed in the towns by the local butchers. But when an Ear Vulture (Torgos tracheliotos) flies over just a few meters high (Figure 13), everyone is silent.

Another impressive bird is the Kori Buzzard, debateable the largest flying bird in the world, came walking by (Figure 14) when I was picturing Monadenium ellenbeckii.

In the Bale National Park we were very fortunate to see two Ethiopian wolves hunting for rodents (Figure 15). The Ethiopian Wolf is supposed to be the rarest canine species in the world estimated with less than 500 animals surviving in nature.

A must see thing is of course the giant Lobelia, Lobelia rhyncopetalum, another Ethiopian endemic growing at high altitude in the cold afroalpine climate (Figure 16).

Another interesting Mammal we saw was the Gelada Baboon. It is the most terrestrial primate, except humans and grass is its main food. They were sitting in large groups, seemingly in perfect harmony, on fields with short grass, eating together (Figure 17).


Of course I was there to see the euphorbias I knew so well in nature and the absolute highlight of the trip was to find Euphorbia gymnocalycioides (Figure 18 and 19). Even though we were only able to find one plant in a three hour’s search with the four of us.

Euphorbia awashensis in full flower at the hot springs in Awash National Park (Figure 20), with the roots in volcanic debris and the edge of the water are never to be forgotten.

South of Dire Dawa we found a spiny Euphorbia with a very short and thick main stem (Figure 21). I believe this could very well be the long lost Euphorbia monacantha, but this can only be proved by finding this plant at its type locality near Goba.

The rarest euphorbia we saw is most likely a plant most us will pay not much attention to, as it is a large shrub growing in the shade under a tree (Figure 22). Euphorbia breviarticulata var. trunciformis, which plant was not known since its first discovery.


It is very hard to decide what is the best thing of travelling Ethiopia, the plants we came to see (Figure 23), the many magnificent sceneries, as overlooking the canyon of the Shebelle river (Figure 24), the Abbay Gorge with trees of Euphorbia abyssinica (Figure 25) or feeding the Vervet monkeys at Sof Omar (Figure 26). But if one has to make a choice it is for sure the most kind, hospitable and proud people of Ethiopia.