Largely due to the combination of landforms and soil types, and the moist character of the region, Kanha is very rich in floral diversity. Kanha has over 850 species of flowering plants. The reserve also has around 50 species of aquatic and 18 species of rare plants.
The streams are fringed with thick bamboo breaks and tall Mango. The upper slopes carry mixed jungle with numerous mahul (Bauhinia vahlii) climbers crowning the trees with foliage and their swinging stems spanning the spaces between trees. The tree tops look white when the mahul is in flower in summer. There are many tree species, of which bija and dhaora are specially remarkable. The forests on the upper slopes are particularly picturesque in winter.
In the middle slopes, bamboo grows abundantly. In the lower slopes, pure stands of sal replace the mixed woodlands. The valleys are covered with dense stands of sal alternating with grassy meadows. The plateau, though essentially grasslands, have sporadic growth of fruit-bearing trees such as achar, aonla and tendu. The nalas are moist-and shady with thick bamboo breaks and tall mango, jamun and arjun trees.
The forests in Kanha are mainly of four types: pure sal, pure mixed, sal with bamboo and bamboo with mixed. Plateaux are mainly covered with grasses along with sporadic and stunted tree growth due to shallow soil depth. Upper slopes are covered with mixed forests with numerous mahul climbers, which are often in flower. These make the tree tops look white in summer. Middle slopes are covered with mixed forests and bamboo, whereas lower slopes are sal forests with bamboo. Valleys and plains other than grass meadows are covered with pure sal.
The Kanha grasslands are magnificent. In fact it is in these grasslands that one is likely to see much of the wildlife in the park. There are 3 type of grassland in the park.
The grass on dadar, as a plateau is locally called, attracts large herds of gaur during rain and early winter.
The best grasslands can be seen in extensive valleys, and they attract herds of ungulates and are the best place to view wild Kanha.
Grasslands on the river beds: These grasslands occur in winding strips along rivers and streams which have a very high water table during the monsoon. These flat, silted beds are locally called behra. Tall grasses that grow in the behras also provide well-sheltered fawning sites much favoured by the barasingha.
Like a true grass, bamboos die on seeding. The bamboo flowers gregariously only once in 40 to 60 years. However, the entire bamboo patch does not flower and die together as clumps of different seed origins continue to flower and seed sporadically. There is a carpet of bamboo seedlings in the year of gregarious flowering as soon as the monsoon breaks. Bamboo is abundant and nutritious. Animals and birds feed on it. The bamboo-bearing area in Kanha has been greatly enhanced since the gregarious flowering of 1962-1964. Mainly two species of bamboo occur in Kanha - Dendrocalamus strictus and Bamboosa arundinacea.
Sal trees have a well-formed stem and a dense crown that stays green almost throughout the year.
Sal forests tend to occur in pre stands. In February-March the leaves are shed but are just as soon renewed, changing hues from brownish red to pale green to dark green as they grow. In March-April, the trees suddenly bloom. The small off-white flowers impart a unique look to the forest and their mild scent fills the morning and evening air.
Soon, the flowers fertilize and fall, leaving behind the juvenile fruit. By late May ripe winged fruits dislodged by wind parachute over long distances. Profuse seed fall takes place during June, in time for the monsoon.
Late summer, otherwise a time of food scarcity, is compensated by a rich crop of sal flowers and fruit. The gaur and deer of Kanha-except the barasingha whose allegiance to grasses is unflinching – have a feast. The langur also shares in this bonanza greedily. Tender sal leaves, although not high in rating for palatability, are sometimes browsed by deer, langur and gaur.
Sal, thus, is the benevolent provider in Kanha. While imparting beauty to its forests, it is also a source of valuable sustenance when the other food sources are low.