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Today our trip started properly. Instead of taking the N7 main road between Cape Town and Windhoek in Namibia, which would have taken us to Clanwilliam in just over three hours, we decided to take the slightly longer, scenic route via Paarl and Citrusdal, land of orchards.

We made six stops, having to turn off the main road to find opportunities to park the car.

S2561 was north of the village of Saron to photograph fields full of white and purple coloured wildflowers and bulbs. [PS: Although I have copies of John Manning’s excellent Wildflower book and The Colour Encyclopedia of Cape Bulbs by Manning, Goldblatt & Snijman, I’m prioritising finding IDs for the succulent plants that we saw but hope to come back to wildflowers and bulbs in months to come.]

At S2562, a little farther up the road, I did at least recognise bulb flowers from the genus Albuca that I had photographed (including labels) yesterday at Kirstenbosch.

After a hamburger and cola lunch, we took a turn west, signposted to Paleisheuvel (Palace Hill) and stopped for more wild flower photography (S2563). Here we spotted the first member of the Family Geraniaceae of the trip. I hope to see Sarcocaulon / Monsonia and had bought Charles Craib & John Lavranos’ book ‘The Bushman Candles’ that neatly sidesteps what to call these plants. I’ll be calling them Sarcocaulon in these Diaries. However, the plants here were not that genus. Pelargoniums? With 280 species in that genus, this plant too will take a while to ID. [PS: Pelargonium triste]

Next we took a track up the Middelbergpas, where under heavy clouds despite light drizzle and strong winds we made another stop (S2564) and I introduced my camera to its first succulent plant, probably an Adromischus (note to self: ask Father Christmas for the John Pilbeam, Chris Rodgerson, Derek Tribble Adromischus book).  Derek has a very useful website at http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/adrodisp/ that covers lots of information about the genus from which I learned that identification of the 47 taxa in 5 Sections relies heavily on different flower structures. Great! Throughout our trip I saw no plants that I suspect to be members of this genus in flower – just dead flowerstalks, broken off around some 15 cm (6″) above the plant. So it’s down to searching for images that might provide a match and Google searches for genus + nearest town name to see what crops up (aka geographical botany, not perfect!)

Adromischus hemisphaericus near the summit of the Middelbergpas.

Adromischus hemisphaericus near the summit of the Middelbergpas.

I had a molar extracted a few days before our flight from the UK and the after effects were still bothering me. [a few days later this turned into a nasty sinus infection] so pointing my camera from underneath the hood of my jacket in a cold wind and drizzle I was not enjoying my first plant experiences of Africa. Fortunately I continued to take pictures so that I am now able to enjoy this stage of our trip.

We moved on, with me dozing in the back seat, until we stopped alongside a large lake, a man- made lake in the Olifants Rivier, created by the Clanwilliam dam (S2565). The weather had dried up again and there was some late afternoon sunshine as I photographed the Boterboom (Butter Tree, Tylecodon paniculatus), which is not a tree at all but rather a stem succulent in the family Crassulacae of some 1.5m  (5 ft) in height. The plants were in full leaf but, as we would hear many times during our stay, South Africa had experienced the wettest year recorded during the last fifty years, with the previous year also much wetter than usual. So while I was happy to take some nice pictures of this plant, I was disappointed that the fat stem, that is the reason why the plant is grown by hobbyists, was here largely obscured by other vegetation.

One thing that I was unsure of, through ignorance, for most succulents that we were to see, was how common or rare the plant in front of my camera was. So I treated each occasion as may be the only opportunity to take their picture. We were to see Tylecodon paniculatus many more times in weeks to come and I did get some nice shots of the exposed stems later in the arid areas in the north.

There were also some nice Crassula sp. here, with a thin row of hairs along the leaf’s edge. I’m provisionally calling it C. tomentosa, but am open to alternative suggestions.

Crassula tomentosa

C. tomentosa is reported to be a variable species.

It was more of the same, plant wise at the last stop of the day (S2566), farther along the reservoir.

Not a bad crop of images for the first day, despite me feeling like death warmed up and with weather conditions not what we had expected. It could get a lot better!

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