South Africa 2000
Pictures from this trip can be found in the Photogallery.
After many years of growing plants, together with my father, I decided time had come to see the plants in nature. So in april 2000 I made my maiden South Africa trip towards Namaqualand and the Richtersveld. Petr Pavelka (a rather well known Czech nursery man from Prague), Rainer Von Knetchen (a German doctor from south east Germany) and Werner (a friend of Rainer) were my company.
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We arrived after midnight at Cape Town International Airport. That same night, we drove towards the north. The Gifberg near Vanrhynsdorp was scheduled for the next day. So that basically means about 300 km from the place we arrived. Fortunately Petr was still awake and he drove us towards the Knersvlakte. I admit that I slept for most of the driving. Around 4 a.m., we drove off the N7, which is the highway that connects Cape Town and Namibia. There, in the lights of the VW bus, I first encountered some of the plants I knew so well from culture: Argyroderma pearsonii, Argyroderma fissum and many others. That's certainly a strange first encounter with the veld.
Some hours later, we drove the steep road up towards the Gifberg.
There, within 2 meters of the sand road, I found my first conophytum: C. minusculum, well in flower and accompanied by a nice marked Adromischus filicaulis.
Plants were mostly on some rock and protected against heat by mosses.
These mosses also have the advantage that they can keep moisture rather long.
Close by on the other side of the road, C. obcordellum and Haworthia nortieri were hidden in some shade.
Not a single plant was in flower - too early.
What was rather remarkable, was that only very few bigger clones of the former were here.
Are they short living, or do they remain more solitary than under our over-fed cultivated plants?
Some nice other plants, such as crassulas, Lamparanthus maximilanus and Tylecodon paniculatus were also here.
That afternoon, we drove towards Vanrhynspass. After some brief searching, we found many C. comptonii and anacampseros comptonii. Plants were at some open spots between the bushes. These always had quartz grit. A nice bulb, cyrthantus???, was close by, as well as some Adromischus roaneanus and protea. I however was primarily interested in C. swanepoelianum ssp. proliferans. After one hour, Petr finally found a spot with a few plants. No other spots were discovered. Plants looked very healthy, were large but fairly scarce. I must admit that it was an extremely successful first day in nature. One can not know where to look for plants if inexperienced in the fieldwork.
That morning, we went towards Kouvlei. This is the northeastern part of the Knersvlakte and close to Bitterfontein. Within a few minutes, some huge clones of C. minutum were found here. I was however more interested in the other strange plant that grows here: C. acutum. Lying on my (big) belly, it took me about half an hour to find the first plant within 10 m≤. After finding the first one, all of a sudden, they seemed to be everywhere. Some plants still had their strange flowers open.
Here it was that I had my first meeting with the local fauna: a three-horned viper. Many other interesting plants were seen here: C. calculus, Oophytum oviforme in enormous quantities, Dactylopsis littlewoodii, Pelargonium carnosum, Aloe krapohliana, Monilaria species, Crassula deceptrix, Anacamperos species and many more were present.
Around 12 a.m., we left Kouvlei and drove towards the northeast: Sterkstroom. Close to the river, we found some C. uviforme ssp. decoratum, as well as some C. tomasii. Most of the C. tomasii were however on the upper slopes, favouring a habitat similar to C. taylorianum. Here we also found a strange solitary C. pellucidum ssp. cupreatum. Although a multitude of layers of sheaths were present, not a single plant had offsets. Some other interesting species at this location were Othonna species, Anacampseros species, Trichocaulon cactiforme, Cheiridopsis species, bulbine spiralis, and a well hidden Stapelia.
During my walk down, I managed to fall off the hill for several meters. Both my wrists, arms and legs were bleeding. So that was a very good warning to pay attention in the field. While driving back towards our bed and breakfast, we had a nice chat with Nature Conservation.
Early in the morning, we drove towards AasvoŽlkop, which is east of Bitterfontein and South of Kliprand. We were very lucky to meet the owner of the farm who kindly guided us towards the location of C. reconditum ssp. buysianum. It's wonderful but also frustrating to see these extremely difficult plants growing here: It seems like no trouble at all, until you would try... Unfortunately there were no flowers. C. reconditum ssp. buysianum was accompanied by a single plant of C. pageae. On the next hill, many more C. pageae were found, next to big clones of C. pellucidum ssp. cupreatum, C. uviforme and Cheiridospis meyeri. Another hill however brought us the biggest surprise: Here were Tylecodon species, Adromischus marianae, Vanheerdea divergens and a form of Anacampseros. The biggest surprise was however a huge population of Lithops divergens ssp. amethystina in flower. The funny thing is that even though they are obvious on the pictures, it took us half an hour before we for the first time noticed them. Once we saw one, they popped up all over the place.
That afternoon, we drove along Alwynsfontein. This should be the type locality of C. pellucidum ssp. cupreatum v. terrestre, but they look far more close to normal C. pellucidum ssp. cupreatum compared to the Burdenspits material. Also nearby was a nice population of Stomatium species and Adromischus marianae.
From here onwards, we continued our journey towards Platbakkies. It was interesting to see this place: Many maps mention Platbakkies, so with our non South African minds, we expect some kind of small village. Well, Platbakkies consists of exactly one house where a farmer with his daughter lives.
After five minutes walking, we already found C. pubescens in flower. It's interesting to see that it is that abundant around Platbakkies. Nearby where also some C. pageae. They did not grow in the quartz grit like all the other plants, but rather on some rocky outcrops, I assume granit. In this quartz grit, we found very few C. pellucidum ssp. saurii. But probably there are many plants here. The only difficulty is that their bodies remain covered with grit and that only the flowers are visible. As only few were in flower, they very almost impossible to find. The few plants I've seen had some greenish brown bodies, as if C. pubescens and C. pellucidum ssp. cupreatum met. The flower is characteristically longtubed like all C. pellucidum flowers, but the tube is blocked by additional stamenoides like in C. pubescens.
Also Cheiridopsis meyeri grows here: This small species was in its dry season, which is a big contrast to its active stage: It looks like two completely unrelated species. It was accompanied by some well hidden Haworthia arachnoidea and big bushes of Oxalis.
After some walking, we reached a strange looking hill: It was geologically completely different than its surrounding and is probably iron containing. Half the hill was mined in the early days. This is the location of C. jarmilliae! It's a rather smallish population, and unfortunately the only one that we're aware of. Many plants were scattered around the foot of the hill: goats tried to eat them, but as they apparently didn't taste well, they were only removed from their niche to die in the heat of the sun.
Our intention was to drive to an other place, but here we had our first puncture. After changing the wheel, few time was left, so we stayed a little bit longer in the Platbakkies area. I'm glad we explored some granit plates due to it, because these contained the green form of C. reconditum. Big clones were hidden under some small ridges to be protected from the sun.
Today our intention was to find C. bilobum ssp. gracilistylum at Meulsteenberg. The reason was rather simple: To compare it and its habitat with that of plants like C. jarmilliae. Unfortunately, we did not see it: I still don't understand why, because I'm sure we were at the correct spot. The only plants we saw here were C. obcordellum ssp. stenandrum, C. minutum, C. pageae and Haworthia arachnoidea. As it was extremely hot that day and no wind, we had to give up and got some fresh beer in Garies.
Then we drove towards Buffelsrivierfontein, south of Garies. Just next to the road, we found lots of C. rugosum, even though the total population was about 20 m≤. They were all out of flower, probably they flowered in february. More spots nearby exist, but we did not see them. Also C. obcordellum ssp. stenandrum was present, but only in small quantities. It seems to be scattered all over the area, but without any "real" population: Plants are here and there, spread all over. C. rugosum however tends to overwhelm its niche, covering it fully.
From here, we continued towards Ottaspoort. We found some nice C. uviforme ssp. decoratum along with Crassula mesembreanthemopsis and a new looking Bulbine. A little further we found what we were looking for: C. chauviniae. At that time we were interested to compare it with C. bilobum ssp. gracilistylosum, C. tomasii and C. jarmilliae. None of the habitats were comparable, and nowadays we also know for sure that they are absolutely unrelated.
Another day, another trip: This time towards south of Kliprand. We immediately found some lonesome C. uviforme. But nothing interesting was observed in the beginning. That's part of a trip to South Africa: You never know what you'll find, or if you find something. But noon, we continued in the area and explored an interesting looking hill. The same Othonna species as seen at Sterkstroom was present, and some nice haemanthus. At the top of the hill, a single plant of Anacampseros species filled a nice niche, but no conophytum was here. After half an hour, we finally found some white flowers: C. pellucidum ssp. cupreatum! Probably this is an unrecorded population. At least I never heard of it.
On our way back towards the car, we all of a sudden found a small population of euphorbias. The biggest surprise is that they're E. stella-espinah. These beauties are only known from the Garden route. So this probably represents the most northwestern population of all. Most of the plants were dying: Goats ate the tops out and fungi contaminated the wounds. Hopefully nature conservation can save these beauties.
Later that afternoon, we drove along the road between Paulshoek and Platbakkies. Here we found some interesting stuff: the old O. australe, C. pageae, and more interesting: A big population of C. pubicalyx. Even though the location itself was small, plants were crowdy all over the place. Several pinheads were in flower. In the middle of the spot was a single Haworthia arachniodea.
That evening, we had a nice braai: A typical South African BBQ where there is food for at least 3 times as many people.
We explored an entire day the hills at Nuwerus. I must say that it was a promising but long walk. In the beginning we only found C. minutum and the tuberous Crassula saxifraga on the slopes. It took me a while to realize that the flower stem with its two microscopic leaves at the base of it were indeed a crassula.
On the top of the hills, the show only started: Haworthia arachnoidea, echidnopsis framesi and a strange, longish tylecodon resembling T. krisingeri, length was up to about 25 cm. Nearby, we also found some smaller tylecodons, which seemed to represent seedlings. These were about 5 cm heigh only. It took us about half an hour to find these after we found mama. Also Aloe melanacantha, monilaria, Senecio bruynsii and sarcocaulon striata were nearby.
As my goal was to find conophytums, I became a little nervous: Something should be growing here! I was of course hoping for C. bruynsii, but that was way too beautiful to be true. The reality was however more much better then I hoped for: Before we realised, we all of a sudden were in the middle of a huge population of C. brunneum. Millions of plants were here. The best way to describe them is to say that they represent a purple flowering C. auriflorum, but with a brown epidermis. Funny is that C. minutum was within pollination distance and no sing of hybridisation was observed. An interesting fact is that to me, the bodies of the plants seemed smaller, and a little bit bullet shaped the further we went to the south of the population. Also intruiging: its flowers closed by 6 p.m., while flowers of C. minutum were still open.
That evening, I found out that my ears were several times sun burned. South African sun is much more intense than our European globe.
That morning, we drove towards Komkans. We stopped some times and found C. pageae and H. arachnoideae. We stopped at Meerhofskasteel and found C. minutum en masse on the white quartz rocks. But further nothing too peculiar was here, so we drove towards Bitterfontein to have a tire repaired.
At this obliged stop, we were invited by the farmer of Steenkampskraal to explore the quartz fields on his property. I first climbed a high hill to find C. minutum and H. arachnoideae. But the more interesting plants were in the flats downhill: Oophytum species, Monilaria species, Argyrodermas and even C. acutum were here. We had inside information regarding a population of Lithops divergens. We indeed found some plants, but they were very cryptic and difficult to find. Probably there were many, but we only managed to find a minority.
This day, we slowly drove towards the north. Instead of following the N7, we used the Studers Pass and thus drove through the central Khamiesbergen. At the base of the Rooiberg, we found a population of C. pellucidum aff. lilianum. They grew in a grit pan and were completely covered by the little stones. Even after cleaning them slightly, they still remained almost invisible. Meanwhile the baboons were crying nearby, but we didn't see a single one. Here they are much more shy than near Cape Town.
South of Leliefontein, we explored a few granite rocks and surprisingly enough, they contained a few C. khamiesbergense. I did not expect them to occur at these low altitudes, but they did not seem to be in a perfect condition, as if it was too hot for them. Nearby, Adromischus alstonii was in much better shape.
North of Leliefontein, we stopped for a small break and because we saw some interesting granite pans. I was astonished to see it completely filled with C. depressum. Plants had up to 4 heads, none were bigger. Gently blowing the sand away revealed however many young seedlings. It's surprising to see it thriving here, while we have such a hard time to grow it. After blowing the sand back, we drove to the north, towards Springbok to spend the night.
After putting our stuff at the bed and breakfast, we drove along the N7 towards Ratelpoort. Man, that was suffering! The hill is not only steep, it is also very high and hot. The only shade one can find are the sparse Aloe dichotoma that grow on the slopes. Of course that was not sufficient to feel comfortable. Anyway, after a long walk, we made it to the top of the quartz ridge and there they were... C. ectypum ssp. brownii. Even though they were still in their old sheat, the plants were already fully in flower. They grew in cracks and fissures along with Haworthia arachnoidea. A little bit further, C. bilobum ssp. bilobum was present, but I could not see any hybrids. But there should be some. Only on one of the upper parts of the enormous quartz ridge, C. regale was hiding. It is north facing and hides very deep in the fissures between the quartz. It's even that deep that one might wonder if the big side window is an adaptation to increase the incoming light. Other plants we encountered were Adromischus alstonii and Tylecodon paniculatus.
We changed the VW bus for a true 4x4 Toyota, because from here on, the heavy work was starting. We drove from Springbok towards north of Eksteenfontein. This area is not only very rough, it is also inaccessable for most vehicles. In this area, we found several endemics. For their protection, I don't reveal the locations. A first location we visited was an enormous hill, consisting of black vertical layers. At the bottom, we found C. jucundum ssp. russchii accompanied by a tuberous form of Crassula. Halfway the hill, many Microloma calycinum were in flower. The contrast between the ugly wires and the wonderfully coloured flowers is enormous. Aloe ramosissima, Cheiridopsis pilosula, Stapelia simili and a strange Pelargonium were also present, as well as Haworthia venosa and Stapelia mammilaris. We however came to see Conophytums... From 2/3 of the hill onwards, C. bilobum ssp. bilobum was found and a little bit later C. cubicum joined. I wonder how many plants we passed before we found the first plants: They are very well hidden in the vertical fissures. While going up, one hardly see any, when going down, one looks down into the fissures and it reveals its treasures. Most plants were in flower and it is remarkable to see that the flower matches extremely well C. jucundum ssp. fragile. Some plants even had pink!!!! flowers instead of the normal white ones. Plants grow until the top of the mountain, not a pleasant fact for someone with fear of height. Several other plants grew on the slopes: Pachypodium namaquanum, Massonia,...
Late that evening we drove further towards our next sleeping place: a dry sand patch under the blue sky. That's freaking cold at night!
During the morning, it warmed up well, so by 7 a.m. we were already exploring the surrounding hills. They were covered by C. bilobum ssp. bilobum, C. jucundum ssp. fragile, Lithops geyeri, C. stevens-jonesianum, Adromischus and Tylecodon aff. rubrovenosus. We walked all day and had a nice encounter with a three horned viper. Fortunately none of us, nor the snake got hurt. In a desolate canyon, we found on the slopes C. quaesitum ssp. rostratum. It is remarkable that they favor a slope where the dry river bed seems to produce fog some times. After about 15 km walking with only 3 liters of water, we were completely lost. We had no idea where the car was supposed to be. By accident, we found it back. Fortunately! Close to the car, we crossed a quartz field. Petr didn't mind to stop, but I felt too exhausted to keep my head up. That's how I all of a sudden saw that the entire quartz patch was filled with green dots. After a closer examination, it appeared to be a geophyte conophytum. They had the shape of C. hammeri. That species is known from places about 30 km towards the south, thus it seemed possible. But something was not correct. I thought of it the entire night, after having drunk many liters of water to recover from the dehydration. The more I thought of it, the less it matched with C. hammeri. The next morning, we looked at the spot again and found one plant which was recently out of flower. This plant suggested long, purple flowers, thus certainly new: C. subterraneum. All other plants were by that time already long out of flower. As we did not have a collection permit, we however could not take any material along. It had to wait for another year. But it was well protected: A hairy black scorpion walked through...
That same morning, we had another surprise: Werner had lost his bag containing his passport, wallet, glasses, mobile phone and all credit cards! He was convinced that one of us had stolen it and burnt the remainings in the camp fire. He searched the ashes and found some silver paper in it. In his opinion this was an indication he was right. We could not change his opinion in any way and he behaved more and more neurotic about the loss. When we arrived in Springbok, he even refused to leave his room anymore. To bad for him, because we went to Rietkloof and Breekriet the next day.
That morning, the three of us left Springbok towards Breekriet. After a steep climbing, we made it to the top. The top itself is a flat quartz field completely covered with C. flavum ssp. novicium and C. bilobum ssp. bilobum. After some searching however, we discovered a much more abundant plant: C. ectypum ssp. cruciatum. It grows within some quartz grit and only the small day flower is fully visible. At the sides of the ridge, they were a little more exposed, but still hard to see. Also C. stevens-jonesianum and a very dark flowering C. stephanii was present. They were accompanied by Anacampseros baeseckii and Crassula tormentosa.
After a long exploration, we went to the adjacent hill: Rietkloof. Walking uphill still remained a torture in the heat. At arrival to the top, C. bilobum ssp. bilobum, C. flavum ssp. novicium, C. stevens-jonesianum and Haworthia arachnoidea welcomed us. So basically more or less the same vegetation like on Breekriet. The top itself however consisted of two peaks. At the second, bigger peak, we found a much more interesting plant: C. irmae. Plants grew here abundantly and were fully in flower. Also here C. bilobum ssp. bilobum was present, but less frequent than on the other peak. It is remarkable that only a valley of about 500 meter separates C. irmae from C. ectypum ssp. cruciatum.
On the way back, we briefly visited C. tantillum ssp. amicorum at a quartz hill south of Springbok. First we had some troubles to find it: We went towards the top of it, but that is only covered with C. flavum 'tetracarpum'. Only during our descent, we passed the vertical quartz wall that contains C. tantillum ssp. amicorum. It's marvelous to see that such a species is discovered that recently, even though it grows on such an obvious place.
That day, we drove towards Blesberg: Our target was to reach the Kristalbergen from the south east. But before we tried, we first passed a small quartz ridge halfway to Umdaus. One would hardly notice it, because it is only 1 meter elevated from the surrounding area. Nevertheless it contained some very interesting plants: A C. flavum ssp. novicium with red anthers. Could this be the lost 'rubrostylosum'? It might be, but is hard to say. A very interesting form and possibly new form of Avonia was also present: It was very long and papery, see also the photo gallery. But after this short interludium, we continued our mission towards Kristalbergen. With lots of effort, we made it up to about 8 km from it, but we couldn't find any other way through. On the slope of a hill, we found some greenish C. longum in flower. They faced the west and were probably most of the day in shade. On the top however, we found a few C. obscurum. They were in a very bad condition and hardly alive on top of the hill. Near the ridge, some more plants could be found in a slightly better condition, but still in pretty bad shape. As it is very dry here, they really have to struggle to survive. From here we drove towards the south and we passed the Groendoring mine. Near to it, we saw a promising quartz vlakte. We stopped and were very much surprised to find C. wettsteinii. Normally it requires some altitude and only the superficially resemblent C. flavum ssp. flavum can be found in these habitats. We are however certain that it is C. wettsteinii, because one clone was in flower.
On a hill a little bit further, we found again C. obscurum. It represented the same form as previous, but in much better condition. Near to it, Lithops marmorata, C. devium and Stapelia gariepense were present.
From here, we drove towards Umdaus. We entered this botanical paradise from the north. At the beginning of the area, we stopped at a quartz field. After some bellywise exploration, we found one of th things we were looking for: the type locality of C. maughanii ssp. latum. It was accompanied by C. flavum ssp. flavum and a very active black scorpion. From here we drove along the Wyepoort valley. At the southern end of Umdaus, we stopped for another exploration. After a short climb of about five minutes, we reached many conophytums: C. flavum ssp. novicium, C. ectypum, but most importantly C. armianum! Plants were hidden within some quartz stones and fissures. The sun only borderline makes it to the bodies. These plants represent the southern part of the distribution, but the northern population should be much bigger and plants are probably easier to find. However, due to lack of time, we had to leave the field. And by leaving, we ended our field trip: We had to go back towards Cape Town and to Europe. Unfortunately, because it was a wonderful experience to finally see the plants I cultivated for years in their true habitat. By doing so, I got a much better understanding of the genus. But some more trips and many more nice experiences followed the next years.
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