The Flowers of Namaqualand

There are many words one can use to describe the Namaqualand flowers in Spring.  Beautiful, gorgeous, outstanding, bewildering, impressive, ....  the list goes on and on.  My favourite is "wonderful" - In the sense of filling one with a sense of wonder at how so much beauty can be created, all in one place and at the same time.  And these are not flowers developed in some artificial greenhouse, continually selecting for the best...  In terms of natural selection these flowers have been selected for their ability to survive and indeed multiply in a somewhat hostile environment.   Dry and hot and dusty for much of the year, they all bring out their delightful flowers in spring, to make the most of the short period before the drought once again settles in, to be pollinated and produce seed, which may lie inactive in the soil for many years.  It is difficult to believe that they bring forth their glory simply to attract bees and butterflies and other insects.

There are enormous stores of seed in the soil of the Richtersveld and Namaqualand.  These plants have adapted to remain inactive in the soil for many years, and only germinate when the conditions are right ... rain during mid-winter, and hopefully lasting through to springtime.  Many of these species have some sort of built in randomiser, so that in any one year only a small percentage of the seeds germinate.  If the initial winter rains do not follow through to the spring, then all is not lost ... there are many more seeds in reserve for the following years.  And when a good year comes, enormous quantities of seed are produced, renewing the reserves in the soil for future years. Different seeds germinate under different conditions of temperature and moisture, so the predominant flowers in each area will be different from year to year, depending on when the first rains fall.

There are also numerous geophytes which store moisture and food in bulbs, corms or tubers.  These plants also take advantage of what little rain there may be, and survive through years of semi-drought.  These plants may reproduce by division of the bulb or root, but this does not allow them to spread far.  So many of them also produce seed, which can be distributed far and wide by the winds.

Wind is an important distributer of seed.  The winds of this region can drive at high speeds during the summer, carrying both seed and sand long distances.  Satellite photographs show wind carrying large quantities of sand many hundreds of kilometres out to sea. 

 

The Halfmens
The Richtersveld is famous for the Halfmens, Click for larger picturePachypdium namaquanam. This strange plant is one of the few tall plants able to survive through the seasons. Growing extremely slowly, they lean over to face the sun and so minimise the heat of the sun's rays on the large thick stem.

These plants are rather rare and not easily seen.  For this reason many people confuse them with the much more common varieties of Kokerboom, or Quiver Tree. This picture clearly shows the difference between the two, with Aloe Pillansii on the left and Pachypodium namaquanum on the right, and was taken in the Goegab Nature Reserve, just outside Springbok. The tendency to lean towards the sun is clearly seen.

In this picture you can see the spines left by old leaves on the trunk, as well as the spiral pattern left behind.

These plants were in flower while we were there, and one of these is shown below.

Flowers en masse
In the following section I have tried to keep a balance between the amount of detail and the download speed.  If you want to see more detail on any of these pictures you can click on the picture to bring up a larger 1200 x 800 image. This will come up in a separate window, to allow you to continue viewing this page while the larger downloads proceed in the background.

The following views were taken in the Goegab nature reserve, just outside Springbok
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The following pictures were taken along some of the backroads between Springbok and Kamieskroon
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The flowers are particularly good in fields which have been cultivated in farming operations.  The following pictures show some fields where the flowers are effectively winter weeds, coming up while the land lies fallow.

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Next page - Some individual flowers
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