Namibia 2013

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

 

 

 

I was able to return to Namibia in November of 2013. This was my first visit since February 2012 when I was part of the conservation based group that explored the Lithops werneri C188 locality, as reported in the B.C.S.S. journal CACTUS WORLD vol. 30, pp. 99-102 (2012), and on this website (see "the RETURN of LITHOPS WERNERI"). My intention this time was to try and photograph Lithops at localities new to me, but of course to check on progress at C188 as well. My wife Debra and elder son Christopher accompanied me, and accordingly our trip encompassed a considerable amount of driving, photography and relaxation.

For me it was 22 months since I last visited the L. werneri locality and re-introduction site. My family and I were in the company of my good friend and Windhoek resident Tok Schoeman, and as often is the case in the Erongo Mountains, conditions were severe. There had been hardly any rain over recent months and everything was bone dry. Where previously dry grass was visible, this had been eaten away by hungry animals (probably zebra), who had also been scratching around at the pebbles. While this does of course pose some threat to the Lithops, it is a natural hazard and not of particular concern. The heat reflecting from the surrounding rocks was oppressive and it made the area feel like a giant kiln. None the less we found L. werneri; both the mother population (Fig 1) and some of our re-introduced “satellite” plants. Clearly they were affected by the heat and ongoing drought, but they were coping just as their ancestors had done for thousands of years. Although reduced in size from “thumb nail” as they appeared to me in February 2012, to “frozen pea” size now, they were fundamentally healthy. Many were withdrawn into the surrounding pebbles that clearly gave some relief from the fierce sun (Fig 2). We did not remove much of these surface pebbles in our search for our re-introduced seedlings lest we caused fatal sun-damage, but with relative ease we saw withdrawn specimens, wrinkled but sturdy. Then a joy to behold as we found one of our re-introduced plants had produced a seed capsule (Fig 3)! Clearly some of our captive born babies have fully adapted back to their natural home.

Fig 1: A dry Lithops werneri of the mother population (November 2013).

Fig 2: L. werneri withdrawn into the gravel. Note Avonia species to the right and spider above.

Fig 3: One of our 2012 re-introduced L. werneri with seed capsule (November 2013). Surrounding stones removed but replaced post picture.

Driving west and leaving the tarred road, Tok took me to a recently discovered locality of L. gracilidelineata subsp. gracilidelineata var. gracilidelineata among granite. I had generally become accustomed to quartzite indicating the possibility of Lithops and to my eyes this was a most unlikely locality. As we approached I was aware of some huge granite blocks, maybe 25 tonnes, standing together waiting for collection by some enormous lorry. These had been mined from the surrounding area and were of great commercial value, no doubt destined for some designer high society kitchen. Mining had now stopped, but the damage to the environment was plain to see. Moreover, many of the actual spots where Tok previously had found Lithops had been subject to quite destructive digging after mining operations had ceased, and for reasons that were soon to become apparent (Fig 4).

Fig 4: Destruction of habitat by gem stone hunters.

It was difficult to find Lithops, but eventually Tok found three specimens. As we fussed over the plants and took photographs (Figs 5 & 6), two dust covered men ambled over us from the wilderness and asked what we were doing. It turned out these were ex-miners from the granite works, who having been laid off were now busily digging up the veld looking for gem-stones such as quartz, aquamarine, topaz and feldspar in order to eek a living. Heaven knows how they survive out in the veld, but somehow they managed. They were completely un-aware of Lithops but soon wanted to know if there was any commercial value attached to them. On learning Lithops were both in-edible and finically worthless they looked puzzled, apparently finding the concept of “an interest” hard to grasp. Clearly the basic business of survival was uppermost in their minds. We asked they leave the plants alone and did not dig in areas where Lithops grew. Although they nodded agreement we have no way of knowing how genuine this was, and I fear this is a most vulnerable locality. None the less the plants we found were looking healthy in spite of the ongoing drought conditions.

Fig 5: Old leaves and granite giving protection to L. gracilidelineata subsp./var. gracilidelineata.

Fig 6: A small but colourful habitat L. gracilidelineata subsp./var. gracilidelineata.

Approximately 20 km further west into the Namib Desert we came to a locality of L. ruschiorum var. ruschiorum (that could have been C241), home to some good sized and multi-headed specimens. The Lithops were living among a diffuse but brilliantly white quartzite patch (Fig 7), and were in good condition. Almost pure white, they grew well above the substrate, fully exposed to the hot sun and yet perfectly well hydrated, presumably by mists that roll inland even at this distance from the coast. At any rate recent rain seemed unlikely. Also growing at this locality was a specimen of Larryleachia which last I saw in habitat at another L. ruschiorum locality back in 2007 when I had the good fortune to travel with Professor Desmond Cole and his wife Naureen. On that occasion drought had made Lithops hunting almost impossible, and I recall Naureen spotting just a single double headed plant partly withdrawn into the substrate. By contrast I now found myself surrounded by plentiful living jewels of the desert, complete with copious seed capsules. Those capsules were of course left untouched by us, the seed destined be distributed into the veld by the forces of nature. This was a most delightful spot and currently appears to mark the eastern most boundary of the L. ruschiorum range. The relative proximity of the previous L. gracilidelineata locality made me wonder if somewhere along the road a true natural hybrid between L. ruschiorum and L. gracilidelineata may really exist, although I tend to think not. I made sure I took the time to simply enjoy being out in the silence of the veld among those beautiful plants.

Fig 7: Our quartzite locality and our hired 4X4 in the background.

It had been a long and hot day during which we had successfully found Lithops at three localities. Without doubt this would not have been possible without the local knowledge of my good friend and fellow conservationist Tok Schoeman, to whom I once again send sincere thanks.

Fig 8: A beautiful 6-headed L. ruschiorum var. ruschiorum in habitat.

Fig 9: A fully turgid double headed habitat L. ruschiorum var. ruschiorum.

A few days later Debbie, Christopher and I drove south on the main tarred road past such towns as Mariental, Gibeon and Tses, with the Brukkaros Mountain (said to be an extinct volcano) on the distant horizon. For me this was both a frustrating and painful experience. The frustration came from lack of time to explore for L. vallis-mariae, and the pain came from a scorpion sting on my right foot! Our destination was our booked lodge near the Fish-River Canyon, and a search the next day for L. fulviceps var. fulviceps and L. karasmontana subsp. karasmontana var. aiaisensis. Those extensive searches duly took place (Fig 10) but were entirely negative. I suspect the preceding 2 years of below average rainfall was to blame, the plants dry, dust covered and withdrawn into the substrate just under foot but out of sight. Such is often the way when searching for Lithops. The fantastic landscape and array of other wildlife (Fig 11) did ease my disappointment however.

Fig 10: The author in standard Lithops hunting pose (photograph © Christopher Green).

Fig 11: Gemsbok; Oryx gazelle (photograph © Christopher Green).

The next day I followed up a lead and drove to a farm where L. karasmontana subsp. karasmontana var. karasmontana had previously been seen. I was unable to telephone the farm prior to knocking on the door, but fortunately I was given a friendly and very helpful welcome. Over their breakfast table the farmer and his wife again explained that rainfall had been minimal for a long time and that they did not think Lithops would be visible on their land. They were happy to show me the general growing area however, and soon we found ourselves exploring a slightly sloping quartzite strewn area in the warm sunshine. Very quickly I found the first Lithops. A beautiful specimen of var. karasmontana sheltering just below a quartz stone (Fig 12). Very soon after that Debbie noticed a seed capsule just poking above the substrate, attached to another specimen sheltering within old leaf sheaths (Fig 13). Then a double headed specimen was found (Fig 14), turgid and as beautiful as anything in cultivation. Clearly the minimal rain had been enough for these Lithops and this population was both healthy and extensive. Although Lithops have no economic value to the farm, the owners are both proud and protective of their natural flora, and it is comforting indeed to meet such people. As always I took the time to appreciate the surroundings before sincerely thanking the farmer and his wife for their time and help, thanks I extend again now.

Fig. 12: A single headed L. karasmontana subsp./var. karasmontana sheltering under the quartzite.

Fig. 13: Old leaves on var. karasmontana providing shelter from the hot sun.

Fig. 14: A double headed var. karasmontana again with a quartzite shelter.

On our subsequent way back up north I was also able to see L. schwantesii subsp. schwantesii var. schwantesii. Although we overnighted in the “metropolis” of Helmeringhausen I was refused permission to look on two farms, including the one we slept on in the hotel! Fortunately, and due to extensive prompting by my son Christopher, I was subsequently shown a delightful Lithops locality on another neighbouring farm. The farm owners were most protective of their plants, and had even discretely marked some in order to monitor their ongoing condition. The farmer explained that drought was affecting the whole area and that the Lithops were not at their best. They did however look lovely to me (Fig 15). A wonderful red-brown colour with quite exquisite rubrications evident even in their withdrawn state (Fig 16). The matching colours of the plant bodies and surrounding rock was of significant note (Fig 17). There were quite a number of plants in the local area, but the farmer is convinced many more exist elsewhere on his farm. The problem as always is that Lithops hide very well, and he can only really explore for them when they flower. If only I could return at the appropriate time to help him! Some days later I learnt from Professor Cole that he and Naureen had previously visited this same farm. I have however been unable to reference a corresponding C-number locality, and my assumption therefore is that the Coles never collected plants from this place. The farmer and his wife treated us to coffee and extensive hospitality for which we were all most grateful, and for which we again send thanks.

Fig 15: L. schwantesii subsp./var. schwantesii within a rock crevice.

Fig 16: Even when very dry the bold var. schwantesii rubrications are evident.

Fig 17: Amazing colour similarity between var. schwantesii and habitat rock.

That was the end of Lithops hunting for this trip, and we spent the remainder of our time close to the sand dunes at Sossusvlei before returning home via Windhoek and Johannesburg. Those stop overs enabled visits to see Tok Schoeman, the Coles and their wonderfully well grown cultivated plants. Fig 18 shows L. ‘Silwersalm’, a “charming mongrel” recently established by Tok in the M.S.G. Bulletin vol. 28, p. 76 (2013) and grown to perfection in his care. This presumed hybrid came about by chance from seed labelled L. gracilidelineata subsp. gracilidelineata var. waldroniae ‘Fritz’s White Lady’, but the salmon colour bodies and conspicuous pale grey dusky dots immediately make one question the parentage. I remain in the debt of both the Schoemans’ and the Coles’ for their enduring help and kind hospitality.

Fig 18: L. 'Silwersalm'.

References:-

Green, K.G. (2012) ‘The return of Lithops werneri’, Cactus World, 30 (2), pp. 99-102.

Schoeman, C.J. (2013) ‘TWO NEW LITHOPS CULTIVARS’, Mesemb. Study Group Bulletin, 28 (4), pp. 76-77.