LITHOPS ON LOCATION

by Keith Green (photographs also by the author).

 

 

 

At the end of October 2007 I spent a week in Namibia with Professor Desmond Cole and his wife Naureen as we searched for Lithops and revisited a few of their C-numbered localities.

My understanding of two points became especially highlighted during my trip. The first was that naturally occurring Lithops are rare, and the second was the way this rarity has been compounded over the years by humans. Building projects and sundry other activities that destroy plants out of ignorance are one thing, but the illegal digging up of habitat specimens by so called enthusiasts is quite another, and is most disturbing.

Prior to my visit severe drought in some areas had lessoned my chances of finding wild Lithops even further, but with the experienced Coles by my side I was surprisingly successful. We found one colony where the Lithops were fully turgid, and later that same day visited a first rate privately cultivated collection. Later in the week (but on separate days) we discovered two other natural colonies that were dust dry with only single specimens visible at each, and later still we concluded our searches with an unfortunate but possible in situ extinction.

Naturally I photographed much of what I saw, and made accompanying notes as follows.

Figure 01 - My hosts Naureen and Desmond standing beside “Bokkie”, their tried and trusted 4X4 on the road from Swakapmond to Hentis Bay, 27-10-2007.

Figures 02–06 - Individual examples of L. pseudotruncatella subsp./var pseudotruncatella from the same locality near Windhoek. This colony grew for the most part under the partial shade of a spiky African Acacia tree (hence the somewhat dappled images), although one individual grew beside a breeze block (figure 05) and several others were far more exposed to the hot sun. Although there were numerous specimens here, they were much localised and I estimate that I could have strolled into and out of the growing area in a dozen or so steps. The natural variation of var. pseudotruncatella is quite evident in the pictures, yet all were well camouflaged in their natural setting, something that is really remarkable to see at first hand. I am also pleased to say that there was no shortage of seed capsules.

Figure 07 - The reticulate form of L. amicorum. This plant was in the private collection of Tok Schoeman who lives in Windhoek, and although is no more than a normal variant was new to me. Tok grows most of his Lithops grouped together in trays surrounded by natural stones (although not in habitat collected soil), and the effect is most pleasing.

Figure 08 - Naureen somehow spotted this specimen of L. ruschiorum var. ruschiorum after all three of us had been searching for the best part of an hour at this hot and desolate locality, east of Rossing Uranium Mine. I do not know how she found it, but of course there can be no substitute for experience. This is as seen from standing height and although other specimens are probably in shot these are withdrawn from view into the substrate. If anyone ever doubted that Lithops retreat underground during severe drought conditions (as we found here), I can assure you that they do.

Figure 09 - The same plant as figure 08 but in close up, which better reveals the sun-wrinkled heads and the seed capsules. This specimen was imbedded in “soil” akin to concrete in texture!

Figure 10 - A single L. gracilidelineata subsp./var. gracilidelineata in its remote quartz strewn locality. The plant was extremely cryptic as can be seen by this image that was taken from a kneeling height. Conditions here were also bone dry and extremely unfavourable for Lithops hunting, yet Naureen once more spotted this specimen after extensive searches by us all. No doubt other specimens are again within frame but withdrawn from view due to the severe drought conditions. Note the “fuscous” stone to the right that mimics ‘Café au Lait’.

Figure 11 - The same individual as in figure 10 but in close up, revealing a seed capsule to the right of the plant body.

Figure 12 - The spectacular type locality of L. werneri. No drought conditions here but unfortunately we failed to find any specimens and we must now accept that this species may be extinct in the wild. The story banded around is that the colony had been wiped out by a severe thunderstorm that swept away the soil from the shallow depressions in the rock where the plants grew. However, as L. werneri had no doubt been growing at this locality for thousands of years we cannot discount the possibility that someone has dug them all up and invented an alibi! Whatever the cause the implications are obvious to all who cultivate L. werneri. We must pollinate our charges carefully (no hybrids) and distribute the seed and resultant seedlings responsibly. We should of course do this with all our Lithops but here we have an especially important case.

I have been fortunate indeed to have glimpsed something of the amazing localities visited by the Coles over the years, and I have learnt a little more about how difficult it can be to find the plants in habitat at all. As I mentioned in the introduction I have also discovered more of the threat posed to wild Lithops by criminally irresponsible collectors, and because of this I have been vague as to the exact locations we visited. I would like to think that all Lithops enthusiasts would place paramount importance on protecting specimens growing in habitat, but alas there are some people who cannot be trusted! To anyone fortunate enough to discover naturally growing Lithops in future I can only request that you do not dig them up. If you truly value Lithops (and the wider natural world) you will take only pictures, cherish the moment and leave them be.

My sincere thanks go to Naureen and Desmond Cole for the invaluable help, knowledge and friendship they showed me during our fascinating trip together.

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