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Plants and Animals

Cities in SRI LANKA


Plants and Animals


Sri Lankan vegetation is very similar to the rest of tropical Asia, supplemented by many endemic species. Due to the differences in climate, the vegetation also varies in different parts of Sri Lanka. The largest part of Sri Lanka, however, has been cultivated with palm groves, rice fields and tea plantations.

In the mountains many familiar species grow: daisies, roses, chrysanthemums, carnations, rhododendrons, lotus flowers and gladioli. The hibiscuses and bougainvilleas are beautiful.

Particularly colourful are frangipani, murates, jacaranda, paltophorus, coral tree and cannonball tree.

Very beautiful is the amherstia, named after Lady Amherst, the wife of an English governor of Burma. A special shrub is the 'nillu', which flowers every five to ten years. Rare is the blue-yellow Cynoglossum furcatum, which flowers between February and September.

The national trees of Sri Lanka are the sacred fig and the Ceylon ironwood. A common tree is the Cassia fistula with its striking small, yellow flowers. Impressive is the whimsical baobab or monkey bread tree, which can reach 30 metres high. Other species are the rain tree or 'guango', the banyan tree, mahogany tree, kapok tree, banana tree and rubber tree. Sri Lanka is also known for its many palm species: betel palm, cabbage palm, king palm, palmyrapalm, taliput palm, coconut palm and kitul palm. The taliput palm is the tallest native tree; it flowers after about 35 years, then needs two years to form large and hard fruits and dies soon after.

The coconut palm has many uses: the trunk and leaves are used as building material for houses, the coconut milk can be drunk and the hard shell of the coconut is used as fuel. The husk fibres are processed into rope, mats, brushes and clothing. The leaf stalks are used to make fences, baskets and brooms.

Thorny forests are typical of the areas with less than 635 mm of rainfall. A large part of the dry zone has some grassland areas, called talawas. The tropical rainforest, which is also highly endangered here, is typical of the wet zone. Palms, pandans and mangroves are found along the coast; in many places in the northwest grows the nuceanda, a beautiful green shrub with white flowers.

The national flower of Sri Lanka is the blue lotus.


The animal world of Sri Lanka is very similar to that of India, although there are also striking differences. Typical Southeast Asian mammals such as tiger, striped hyena, wolf, rhinoceros and (wild) cattle are absent. Panther or leopard and sloth bear are the biggest predators, three smaller cat species are the fish cat, the jungle cat and the leopard cat.

The Ceylon elephant, next to the lion the national animal of Sri Lanka, is a separate subspecies (estimated at 2500-3000 individuals) of the Indian elephant, which is remarkable because often the tusks of the bulls are missing. Other species include the jackal, the water buffalo, the horse deer or sambar, the fallow deer and the axe deer. Sri Lanka also has two smaller deer species, the kantjil and the muntjak.

There are four different species of mongoose in Sri Lanka, including the rare striped mongoose. The northern island of Delft is home to wild horses, descendants of a herd once brought ashore by the Portuguese.

The two most common monkey species are the common hula and the Ceylon croon monkey, the white-bearded langur is rare.

Special mammals are two subspecies of the giant squirrel, the flying dog and the flying squirrel. An animal that regularly sticks its long nose into a termite nest is the scaly anteater.

Sri Lanka has about 400 species of birds (150 migratory), including 21 endemic. Crows, bearded birds, buzzards, parakeets, mynahs, daycatchers and mockingbirds can be seen in the cities and gardens. The national bird of Sri Lanka is the Ceylon hen.

Inhabitants of the wetlands along the coast and inland are cormorants, darter, plover, kingfisher, spoonbill, water pheasant, Indian cormorant and Indian never-so-cute.

The forests are home to blue kittas, pied ground thrushes, Malabar troughs, Ceylonioras, drongos, bearded birds, hornbills and minivets, among others.

Sri Lanka also has a large variety of birds of prey, especially hawks and eagles: white-bellied sea eagle, white-tailed fish eagle, black eagle, rough-legged crested eagle, brahmin kite and snake eagle.

Sri Lanka has a number of large reptiles, of which the sea crocodile is the largest at eight metres. Also the rock python and the Bengal monitor lizard. In the dense jungle of Udawattekele lives the bizarre lierkopagame, a large colourful lizard that only occurs in Sri Lanka. In the mountainous part of Sri Lanka lives the rare rhinoceros lizard, whose closest relatives are found in Africa.

Of the seven known species of giant turtles, five species nest on the beaches of the southwest coast.

The crystal-clear waters around reefs are rich in sharks, rays, tuna and groupers, as well as smaller species such as grunts, clown fish, Indian sweetlips and fleas.

Snakes are abundant in Sri Lanka. Of the approximately eighty species, however, only four are poisonous, including the cobra, the Ceylon krait and the Russell viper. Sri Lanka is an amphibious paradise, with for example more than 250 species of frogs, about 10% of all frog species in the world.

Nature conservation is fairly well organised; the government has declared several nature reserves, scattered throughout the country, as protected areas by giving them the status of national parks or reserves. The largest and most famous national park is Ruhuna, better known as Yala. This park is located in the dry zone and is home to most of Sri Lanka's large mammals, including the elephant. Other important national parks are Gal Oya and Wilpattu. The Mihintale National Park is in fact the oldest wildlife sanctuary in the world, because as early as the third century BC, King Devanampiya Tissa, after his conversion to Buddhism, ordered that no animals were to be killed in this area.

The Sinharaja Rainforest Reserve in the south is home to the largest concentration of animals found only in Sri Lanka, the so-called endemic species.


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Last updated May 2024
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