A L. divergens near Kotzesrus.

Kotzesrus Lithops et al.

By Keith Green (photographs also by the author unless otherwise stated).

Together with my wife and “voice of reason” Debbie, I visited South Africa again in August of 2015, with the focus of our first week being the “Kotzesrus population” of Lithops divergens. In an article written by Terry Smale in the MSG Bulletin 27(3), p. 79 (2012), he reported a “recently discovered” form of L. divergens from the Kotzesrus area of the Northern Cape, that failed to germinate (in Terry’s Surrey greenhouse) until the heating cable was turned off. Terry went on to explain that Lithops from this area were first reported by Peter Bruyns, who sent seed to Steven Hammer. Steven subsequently produced seed for the MSG, and this was distributed as 1872 and 2689 (Terry’s seed came from a “different source”). As I had heard differing views, I wanted to know to which variety if either (var. divergens or var. amethystina), this new discovery belonged, and observing them in habitat seemed the best option. The tiny hamlet of Kotzesrus is strictly speaking and as Terry stated, within the winter rainfall area and relatively close to the Atlantic coast. However, it is still the Karoo and annual rainfall is minimal. I should also say that Kotzesrus is neither coastal nor a town. I will continue this tale shortly.

Prior to the Kotzesrus jaunt, Debbie and I were privileged to meet with Dr. Ronald Uijs in Cape Town, and to subsequently spend a day with him in the veld visiting two localities. Ronnie had gone to a lot of trouble to lead us to see a couple of Lithops taxa in habitat. Without the help of local people who have a wealth of Afrikaans farming connections, overseas visitors like myself have little hope of seeing our beloved plants in nature. It is imperative therefore we do not offend our hosts by removing any seed or plants from the veld, the need for habitat collection having long since past. The first locality Ronnie led us to was the C128 colony of L. otzeniana. These plants are a treasure, and arguably the most attractively patterned in the genus. After a somewhat tortuous drive across gravel, sand and through a river bed, we alighted at the base of a rocky hill. It took a while, but eventually we found plenty of healthy and turgid plants, complete with seed capsules, growing socially with Conophytum and Crassula. Beautifully marked specimens abounded in between the rocks (fig 1), and we had to be careful not to stand on them. Some had been chewed presumably by rodents (fig 2), but clearly were going to survive as they have done through the centuries. They varied in colour from greenish, through brown to pinkish tones, and in size from tiny seedlings to quite chunky single or double heads (fig 3), or the occasional multi-headed clump (figs 4 & 5). They seemed to follow a tenuous watercourse down the hill, although rain in this area was clearly a rare event. The locality was remote, silent, starkly beautiful and dominated by large sometimes heaped-up boulders. The boulders and smaller rocks were generally dark brown and the soil reddish; this could only be Africa.

fig 1. Growing next to a rock gives this L. otzeniana morning sun and afternoon shade.

fig 2. Apparent rodent attack (L. otzeniana).

fig 3. L. otzeniana two headed and turgid.

fig 4. L. otzeniana four headed (or 2X2 heads) and turgid (photo © Debra Green).

fig 5. L. otzeniana six headed and slightly wrinkled.

Ronnie also had details of a non-Cole population of L. divergens var. amethystina in the vicinity of Kliprand, and very kindly had telephoned ahead and got permission from the farmer to look on his land. The friendly hospitality of South African farming families is quite charming, and we had tea and cakes at the farmhouse before heading off to find the plants. Driving through a gate and past a bemused flock of sheep, we followed established wheel tracks into the veld, until the terrain became a lighter colour. We were in fact driving with Lithops passing between our wheels. When we stopped and stepped out of the car, we were encircled by var. amethystina. Another densely populated locality, the plants generally butch, but again ranging in size and in colour, this time from grey-green (fig 6) to dull blue to purplish or reddish-grey (figs 7 & 8). The many plant colours mimicked that of the surrounding pebbles very well. Strongly divergent, the windows were open and the margins clearly defined, some of the greener specimens actually being reminiscent of L. viridis (fig 9). The biggest plants here actually grew in between the established tyre tracks, and were proud of the substrate. The resident sheep clearly posed little threat, so perhaps they really did think the Lithops were stones.

fig 6. Three heads of L. divergens var. amethystina near Kliprand.

fig 7. Colour variation in neighbouring var. amethystina.

fig 8. A reddish var. amethystina.

fig 9. Var. amethystina with similarities to L. viridis.

fig 10. The Namaqualand desert in bloom.

We said goodbye to Ronnie that evening, and the following day set out to Kotzesrus. It looked straightforward, but our route became blocked by a vast mine not marked on our map. We had to double back and drive in a great loop along some rather challenging gravel roads to eventually arrive at our destination. On the upside, our detour took us through the beautiful Namaqualand desert which was in full bloom (fig 10). Following the road out of Kotzesrus we stopped at a few spots but failed to find Lithops. Eventually though, my “voice of reason” suggested exploring a small sparsely quartz covered mound, where we struck gold! The Lithops were plentiful, and as with our two localities of the previous day, grew with Conophytum, Crassula and a host of other plants I could not name. Lithops always display a functional beauty in the veld, but of course they grow without labels; so what name should we give this population? The largest individual heads found were around two centimetres at the widest points, and grew in a clump of two (fig 11) and four respectively (fig 12). Other specimens were somewhat smaller and single or double headed (fig 13). The colours ranged from a dull mauve-blue (fig 14) to a grey-green (figs 15 & 16), the latter in the majority. The windows were somewhat flecked with white (“frosted”), and the plant bodies strongly divergent. In shape, some of the grey-green and dull-blue specimens were very similar to some of the var. amethystina we had seen the previous day. On the other hand the plants here were just a little smaller, the windows slightly more obscured or “frosted” and the margins less obvious. We admired the plants and enjoyed the tranquil isolation for a while, before abruptly being chased back to our car by swarming bees! My impression is that the small locality we found is part of a much bigger one, but based chiefly on size and shape, my initial thought was to place them with var. amethystina. The tale continues shortly.

fig 11. Three heads, and a passing tape measure (L. divergens near Kotzesrus).

fig 12. Four heads of L. divergens near Kotzesrus (photo © Debra Green).

fig 13. Two habitat heads (L. divergens near Kotzesrus).

fig 14. Shades of var. amethystina (L. divergens near Kotzesrus).

fig 15. Green shades (L. divergens near Kotzesrus).

fig 16. Grey shades (L. divergens near Kotzesrus).

The following day around the Bitterfontein area and thanks to excellent directions, we found an unambiguous colony of L. divergens var. divergens. These were very small plants with heavily “frosted” windows, the bodies of which were quite sunken into the ground. They ranged from a greenish (fig 17) to a brownish-grey in colour (fig 18). They were plentiful, but it took a concentrated search on hands and knees to find them. The area was generally flat, sparsely covered with quartz, and home to very many large Argyroderma. So prominent were the Argyroderma (fig 19) that it was at first hard to look past them and enter the realm of the Lithops. As often recounted though, the first sighting of a habitat Lithops soon reveals a host of others, and this locality was no exception. Here were tiny plants, many complete with tiny seed capsules (fig 20), just where previously you had looked but not seen. It is amazing that such delicate looking gems survive and thrive in such a harsh environment, but thrive they clearly do. Aware as I am that decisions should not be based on limited observation, the tiny size of the Lithops here compounded my notion that the Kotzesrus plants were var. amethystina.

Our second week was spent in the area of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu war (no Lithops), where we were lodged close to the famous rock at Isandlwala. Prior to our flight home we drove into Johannesburg, and met with Naureen and Professor Desmond Cole. I presented Des with the photographs I had taken, and asked for his thoughts. I could tell as much from the things Des did not say, as from the things he did, so more time cross-checking my photographic evidence with Lithops-Flowering Stones 2005 was clearly necessary. The upshot is that although somewhat intermediate, I now consider the plants I saw outside of Kotzesrus to be L. divergens var. divergens. Whilst these Kotzesrus plants were generally larger than the unambiguous var. divergens we saw around Bitterfontein, they were still within the var. divergens colour and size range, had “frosted” windows and very narrow margins. To place them with var. divergens also makes more sense when the current known geographic distributions are considered. I do not think they are sufficiently distinct to warrant a new taxon.

fig 17. Green shades on L. divergens var. divergens near Bitterfontein.

fig 18. Pinkish brown tones on var. divergens near Bitterfontein.

fig 19. Size comparison; L. divergens var. divergens growing with Argyroderma.

fig 20. Seed capsule and a human finger for size perspective (var. divergens near Bitterfontein).

Clearly there is no substitute for the wealth of knowledge gained by the Coles on their numerous field trips, and I am most appreciative for both their gentle guidance in this matter, and for their unceasing hospitality. I also send sincere thanks to Ronnie Uijs, Harald Jainta, Terry Smale and Debbie, all of whom helped me enormously with this little venture.

For the record I state that at all localities visited, no seed, plants or plant material was removed.

References:-

Cole, D.T. & Cole, N.A. (2005), Lithops Flowering Stones, Milano: Cactus & Co.

Smale, T. (2012), ‘GERMINATION OF LITHOPS DIVERGENS’, Mesemb Study Group Bulletin, 27 (3), p. 79.