WINDHOEK VIA WALVIS IN WINTER

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

 

 

 

Together with my wife Debra we visited Namibia in May 2009 and drove an extended return route between Windhoek and Walvis Bay, searching for Lithops along the way. This was the beginning of the Namibian winter, but although some of the local people were wearing coats and hats, the average day time temperature of 26 degrees C was quite agreeable to us. With the exception of a couple of misty mornings on the coast at Walvis Bay, our days were brilliantly sunny and nights spectacularly clear. There had been good, even excessive summer rain, but little for several weeks prior to our arrival. None the less I was impressed by the amount of vegetation evident on leaving Hosea Kutako International Airport; far more than my previous visit of October 2007 when I travelled with Professor Desmond Cole and his wife Naureen, but not Debra.

Prior to leaving England I had arranged to meet with Windhoek resident Tok Schoeman and to explore three Lithops localities with him in a single day. Tok is a retired teacher of Afrikaans, a first rate bowls player and a most knowledgeable grower of Lithops. Tok’s wife Denise joined us and together the four of us set out early.

Our first port of call was to see a “pallid” form of Lithops pseudotruncatella subsp./var. pseudotruncatella on a farm to the south west of Windhoek. This was not a Cole locality and the farmer had only realised Lithops were growing there (Fig. 1) when the plants revealed themselves by way of flower. After a short search Tok found a lovely plum coloured seedling (Fig. 2) growing among quartzite and overlooked by thorny trees that Tok thought were Acacia mellifera. The discovery of adult specimens soon followed (Figs. 3, 4 & 5) which was much to the surprise of the farmer who had no idea that so many Lithops were around that area of the farm. Although the plants were in their winter “dormant” state, they were a joy to see. As often happens at this part of the growth cycle the dusky dots were quite conspicuous whereas the channels they often occupy (even in “pallid” plants) were quite obscure.

We then drove on to the only known locality of L. pseudotruncatella subsp. volkii which is C069. This grows near the top of a hill (Fig. 6) in the company of some “Shepherd Trees” (Boscia albitrunca). A reasonably long walk up through thorny scrub revealed the quartzite and subsequently the beautiful Lithops. Although I am still finding thorns in my socks from that climb it was very much worth the pain. Subsp. volkii is very difficult to make out in habitat, but once spotted is quite stunning even in its winter form. The plants were gem like, almost pure white or tinged with pink and had few facial markings (Figs. 7, 8 & 9). I was not aware of any seed capsules whilst I was at the locality, but when I looked through my photographs I found a capsule partially hidden within the fissure of one specimen (Fig. 10).

Our third target of that day was L. pseudotruncatella subsp. pseudotruncatella var. riehmerae. This proved to be a somewhat tortuous drive along a dirt track and through many farm gates. Eventually we came to a house and were led up to a small quartzite covered slope (Fig. 11) by the occupant where we found Lithops. This was indeed var. riehmerae and the plants were the most turgid of the day, looking quite pristine in fact as if in cultivation (Figs. 12, 13 & 14). Again when we looked through our photographs we discovered something we had not noticed at the locality; in this case a seedling (Fig. 15). The ornate markings of this variety were tinged with blue or pink or a combination of both, yet were dulled in a most pleasant way. They shared their home with an unidentified Anacampserous species and several trees that may have been Acacia ataxacantha.

Daylight was now fading but entirely thanks to Tok’s extensive local knowledge, this had been a most interesting and enjoyable expedition.

The following day I looked around Tok’s cultivated Lithops and I was most impressed. He grows his plants to a high standard and has some very interesting forms as well (that he may choose to publish in due course). Before we left he gave us information of where to search for L. pseudotruncatella subsp. dendritica and L. gracilidelineata subsp. gracilidelineata var. waldroniae on our subsequent travels, which was to prove most helpful. Debra and I extend sincere thanks to Denise and Tok for their help and hospitality during our brief time together in and around Windhoek.

Thanks to this advice we were indeed able to locate L. pseudotruncatella subsp. dendritica a couple of days later. We actually searched at two localities to the south west of Rehoboth, only finding specimens at our second search site (Fig. 16). Due to the terrain it is my belief that subsp. dendritica was also present at our first search site, but evaded us by way of camouflage as Lithops do. Although very dry and shrunken well down into the ground, the specimens discovered at the second locality still manifested lovely shades of brown and buff tinged with a little mauve. They were heavily wrinkled but I could imagine them plumping up to make impressive specimens come the rains (Figs 17, 18, & 19). To me, finding these plants was akin to discovering buried treasure (Fig. 20). Human activity made me cut short my time here, but I believe this locality was C073.

More homework prior to leaving the U.K. led to my first habitat sighting of L. schwantesii subsp. schwantesii var. urikosensis a few days later. This grew on a private farm, but the owner had given me permission to look on the property and although not at home when we called, had left a map indicating where to look for the plants. We followed the instructions as best we could, but after half an hour of searching had found nothing. A farm worker then became curious and asked us what we were looking for. We did not share a common first language and to say we were given “blank looks” would be an understatement. Then I had a brainwave and showed a photograph of a Lithops on my digital camera, which caused the “penny to drop”. “I know these plants” was the immediate response and we were led a matter of yards to where the plants were growing in proliferation. The Lithops were on a slight slope surrounded by stone that looked like it had been tipped straight from a builder’s truck. The stone was in fact calcrete (Fig. 21) and it was strewn over a brown soil making the Lithops as cryptic as ever and difficult to initially find. The farm owner here had gone to great lengths to protect some of the natural farm flora, which was reflected in the large number of Lithops we saw (Figs. 22, 23, 24 & 25). The var. urikosensis were slightly shrivelled, easy to identify and in places difficult to avoid standing on. This was the C105 locality and I am pleased to report that all is very well here.

In stark contrast our next search was very difficult and in open desert. Our attention subsequently turned to L. gracilidelineata subsp. gracilidelineata var. waldroniae at the C189 locality (Fig 26). Had we not received information from Tok about this locality I think we would have given up. This proved to be an extended search (on two separate days) that revealed only one double headed specimen. Around the area there seemed many Lithops friendly patches, but with the one exception all failed to reveal plants. I suspect this is either an extensive but sparsely populated colony or that we were searching at the edge of the range. Either way it seemed appropriate to nick name our find “Lonesome Lilly” (Figs. 27, 28 & 29). Although the defining factor with regard this variety is the small flower size which we could not confirm, in other ways Lilly was typically var. waldroniae in appearance. She looked “brainy”, was quite turgid and yet grew completely exposed to the hot sun. Her only neighbours appeared to be a Hoodia species I cannot identify and a beautifully camouflaged Namaqua Chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis: Fig. 30). We had coffee in the silence of the Namib Desert before driving away.

A couple of days on I repeated my unsuccessful search of eighteen months previous at the type locality of L. werneri. Although I was aware that others had searched this area to no avail in the interim time, I had to try again. It was frustrating in that (like the var. waldroniae search) there were many likely Lithops niches, but as before my searches proved negative. I can only hope that one day someone will find L. werneri in habitat again.

On a much more positive note I can report that in spite of recent speculation to the contrary, L. pseudotruncatella subsp. pseudotruncatella var. elisabethiae remains alive and well in habitat. The plants were seen by Tok and Denise Schoeman just weeks prior to our arrival into Namibia.

On our way home we spent a couple of days with Professor Desmond Cole and his wife Naureen at their Johannesburg home. Whilst there I was able to see L. karasmontana subsp. karasmontana var. lericheana ‘Lerichegreen’ (Fig. 31) and plants of L. karasmontana C417 (Fig. 32) for the first time. The status of C417 is still to be considered as it may constitute a new variety. Bad weather limited our activities, but once again Debbie and I extend sincere thanks to Naureen and Des for their warm hospitality.

When I returned home to the beginning of the northern hemisphere summer, I found my Lithops looking dry and slightly withdrawn into their pots. Fortunately my younger son had not lived up to his promise to “water the Lithops every day”! As far as I was concerned they looked just fine, just how they look for most of the time in the veld.

Fig. 1: Our non C-numbered locality of L. pseudotruncatella subsp./var. pseudotruncatella.

Fig. 2: A seedling var. pseudotruncatella very similar in colour to some of the surrounding quartz.

Fig. 3: An adult var. pseudotruncatella with dusky dots quite evident.

Fig. 4: A slightly sun burnt var. pseudotruncatella.

Fig. 5: A double headed var. pseudotruncatella.

Fig. 6: A general view of the C069 locality.

Fig. 7: Subsp. volkii in winter mode.

Fig. 8: Two double headed specimens of subsp. volkii in habitat.

Fig. 9: Subsp. volkii among habitat quartzite.

Fig. 10: Subsp. volkii with deep seated capsule.

Fig. 11: The var. riehmerae locality in late afternoon.

Fig. 12: Slight sunburn on one var. riehmerae head.

Fig. 13: Two double headed var. riehmerae in habitat.

Fig. 14: A pristine habitat var. riehmerae.

Fig. 15: A double headed var. riehmerae with seedling.

Fig. 16: A general view of the subsp. dendritica locality where we found plants.

Fig. 17: Subsp. dendritica withdrawn into the soil.

Fig. 18: Subsp. dendritica in partial sun.

Fig. 19: Slight sunburn on a habitat subsp. dendritica.

Fig. 20: Botanic treasure; subsp. dendritica in habitat.

Fig. 21: A var. urikosensis (just above centre shot) growing among calcrete.

Fig. 22: A double headed habitat var. urikosensis.

Fig. 23: A slightly stone covered var. urikosensis.

Fig. 24: A large single headed var. urikosensis.

Fig. 25: A slightly grass shaded var. urikosensis.

Fig. 26: The general locality of C189; var. waldroniae is here somewhere! Photograph © Debra Green.

Fig. 27: “Lonesome Lilly” in the author’s shadow.

Fig. 28: “Lonesome Lilly” is centre frame.

Fig. 29: “Lonesome Lilly”; a closer habitat view.

Fig. 30: A C189 neighbour; Chamaeleo namaquensis.

Fig. 31: L. karasmontana subsp. karasmontana var. lericheana ‘Lerichegreen’.

Fig. 32: L. karasmontana C417.