• John Mendelsohn

Fairy Forests


This image covers 9.5 km from west to east, and shows a stretch of miombo woodland in eastern Angola. Miombo is the name given to a broad area of woodland stretching across southern Africa, covering much of Angola, Zambia and Malawi, and substantial parts of Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania and the DRC. Frequent dry season fires are one of several environmental characteristics of miombo, and the effects of fire seem to play out in several interesting ways.\n\nJohn Mendelsohn in the Ongava Research Centre calls the large circular features in this image ‘fairy forests’, to reflect their fanciful, enigmatic shapes which resemble the well-known fairy circles that dot many desert landscapes in southern Africa. Fairy circles are normally less than 10 metres in diameter, and thus much smaller than diameters of hundreds or thousands of metres across fairy forests. No one has studied these fairy forests, but it does seem likely that their smooth, rounded borders are due to fires killing off any trees that protrude into the surrounding grasslands and open savannas that do burn very often. The fires thus shave off and smooth the edges of the forests, which burn infrequently, by contrast.