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Archive for October, 2012

Wednesday, 31 October 2012 – around Laingsburg (to the south)

After seeing Euphorbia multiceps last night in poor light, Eunice seemed a bit concerned about our promise to go back and see it in better light later on the trip. Today the light was fine, so why were we heading off elsewhere?  It was of course perfectly possible that these plants grew in more than one space….

Instead, after our usual stop at the local Spar shop we headed south from Laingsburg. These Spar shops intrigued me. Growing up in Netherlands I was familiar with Spar grocery shops near every address that we had lived. When we moved to England, we would occasionally see one, but here in South Africa, they were everywhere! Curious and now with Google to answer most questions you can think of, I learned that ‘From its beginnings in the Netherlands in the 1930s, SPAR began its global expansion by introducing SPAR to Belgium in 1947, and expanding rapidly in Europe during the 1950s. Today SPAR is the largest retail food store chain in the world, with 12,680 stores in 33 countries – total retail sales in 2008 of €27 billion came from operations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.’ Wow, that came as a surprise! Although I have lived in the UK since 1967, you can tell that I’m still Dutch, can’t you?

Anyway, I digress. When you push the edges of a large sheet of paper together, it is not unusual for it to fold into a number of ripples. Much the same seems to have happened in South Africa where it seems an invisible hand had pushed the earth’s crust north from the south pole, giving rise to a series of ‘ripples’, a series of low ranges and valleys, each worth exploring for their differences in flora. Heading south on the R323 we took a turn east on a track sign posted for the Floriskraaldam and found ourselves in just such a valley. We decided to mark places to stop on the way back as we drove to and then a few km past the dam for our first stop S2746. We crossed another fence and headed up the north-facing hillside (brief reminder to northern hemisphere readers – here in South Africa, a north-facing hillside had the brighter and warmer aspect, preferred by many plants). I was struck by how different and yet similar things were to say one week ago when we were looking around the Knersvlakte.  There, plants seemed to be shutting down for the heat of summer while here nature seemed to be waking up and in flower. So what were the similarities and the differences? Aloe striata was here, in full flower with somewhat narrower leaves than the plants farther north (subsp. karasbergensis and komaggasensis) and much more abundant.

Crassula deltoidea had been cute miniatures in the north but here they were much larger shrubs, with some impressive trunks on display and also in full flower. Tylecodon wallichii was here looking much the same as in the north. In a few weeks time, as we were preparing to fly home, it was preparing to lose its leaves for a summers rest. New here was Crassula arborescens, looking spledid and also in full flower. And we were to be treated to many and varied Haworthia in weeks to come where as in the north we had only seen a few taxa. Here we saw H. spiralis and David showed me the difference in flowers compared to Astroloba foliolosa. One thing remains unchanged – the problem of selecting just one image for each stop today.

S2746 - Crassula arborescens

S2746 – Crassula arborescens

We were now slowly working our way back to the R323 and at S2747, for the sake of continuity, I could not resist this shot

S2747 - Crassula arborescens

S2747 – Crassula arborescens

but that means that I’d better show you another from here.

S2747 - Haworthia arachnoidea ssp scabraspina aka Gigas

S2747 – Haworthia arachnoidea ssp scabraspina aka Gigas

I’ll claim the honour for finding these Haworthias here, David found this particular individual hidden in the deep shade underneath this rock. My D600 took the picture without too many issues. Amazing. Naming wise, I’m told that the names of Haworthias change every time that a new journal is published somewhere in the world – there’s nothing like a bit of stability in taxonomy to encourage people to join the hobby – but I guess that’s not the purpose of the science. David tells me that if I use the name ‘Gigas’ in my talks, everyone in the audience will know which one I’ll mean.

We had been told that there was an interesting plant that grew along this track – I believe David had seen it on a previous visit. We stopped where an outcrop of very dark coloured rocks reached the track and found it (S2748)

S2748 - Pleiospilos compactus

S2748 – Pleiospilos compactus

It made a nice change from all those plants on the blinding white quartz of the Knersvlakte last week! These leaves here were a perfect match for the rocks that they grew in.

We got back to the R323 and headed back towards Lainbsburg, but as it was still early, we found another track, this time turning west. Again, we followed the track as far as time permitted and used this stop, S2749, as a turn around point. Here there was yet again something different:

S2749 - Pachypodium succulentum

S2749 – Pachypodium succulentum

The Pachypodium beat Haworthia lockwoodii, as presumably we should have warned of our visit so that the plants could have tidied themselves. Covered in dried up old leaves, they looked a mess – so no picture here!

We had earmarked the next stop, S2750, as we had driven up the track earlier, for the mass of the impressive stand of plants at the top of the hill. We still had time for a closer look and were not disappointed:

S2750 - Senecio (Kleinia) tomentosa

S2750 – Senecio (Kleinia) tomentosa

Time for one more stop, S2751,

S2751 - Stomatium sp

S2751 – Stomatium sp

[I write this as clocks around the world click down to midnight on 31 December 2012 and on to 1 January 2013, so it seems appropriate to wish regular readers the very best for 2013. Do come back to see what we did on the 1st – of November 2012 that is!

[ HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

PK   ]

Tuesday, 30 October 2012 – Worcester to Laingsburg

We had enjoyed good internet facilities in Worcester. It was good to catch up with emails and to have a few chats with my girlfriend Angie back home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, so we must me very fond of each other !!!

We had also taken the opportunity to re-establish contact with Gerhard Marx for a visit to his nursery once we’d reach Oudtshoorn. He was kind enough to send us some tips for things to see in days to come, which was very useful as David had not yet travelled in this area on previous trips and our info for things to see was thin.

The internet can be a great source of information, if you know and trust the originator. At other times it can be the reason for going on a wild goose chase, such as our first stop today for a choice Aloe. Eunice and David might remind me which one – we did not see it, so I have no name for it. The information was very accurate, a photo possibly taken with a camera with geo-tagging capability. When we got near the spot we found ourselves in the middle of a privately owned vineyard! Tracks that lead higher up the hill to where the plants were supposed to grow, close to the low cloud base, were not suitable for our Nissan XTrail and even with a 4×4 would have taken farther on private property. There was a mountain bike trail nearby and we suspect that the photographer of the image on the internet might have been a mountain biker, so S2742 was a ‘no plants’ stop, with just some scenic shots of the vineyard.

For S2743 we followed a track sign posted to Pienaarskloof. My images tell me that it was a nice sunny day with nice white fluffy clouds in the sky for photographic backdrops. Shame that we did not find a mass of interesting succulent plants. The best we could do (David’s find) was the red flower of a parasitic plant, the genus Hyobanche seems to provide a match.

S2743 - Hyobanche sp (parasite)

S2743 – Hyobanche sp (parasite)

At S2744 we were greeted by a sign that told us that ‘These premises are protected by CCTV camera’. Good to know that we would be safe, but our conscience was clear as we had no criminal intend for being here. So what plants enjoyed this kind of protection? Well, here is the plant list: Adromischus sp. in flower, Aloe microstigma., Asclepiad sp., Cotyledon sp in full flower, Crassula sp -‘bald’ C. barbata, Euphorbia sp., Mesemb sp. small shrub, Tylecodon paniculatus, T. wallichii, Unidentified genus species huge bulb, gone over and Unidentified genus species bulb, white flowers – in other words, nothing special. Nice Cotyledon, though.

S2744 - Cotyledon sp

S2744 – Cotyledon sp

It was around 17:30 and the sun was low in the sky, casting long shadows and a red cast on things to photograph. S2745 was therefore more to see where we were and how to get back to the hotel, when Eunice took a look out of the car and saw a plant that a few days ago we spent hours looking for: Euphorbia multiceps! Despite the poor conditions, I still took 18 images of which this one at least shows the plant. We promised Eunice to come back here again.

S2745 - Euphorbia multiceps

S2745 – Euphorbia multiceps

Monday, 29 October 2012 – around Worcester

We found lodgings at the comfortable Protea Hotel, that David recognised from his previous trip. First priority of the day was for Cliff and I to get the tyre fixed. Due to the non-standard size of the tyre, it had to be ordered but would be there, first thing tomorrow morning. Next on to the Budget Rent-a-car offices. This appeared to be limited to a nice lady in a small office with just a few car waiting for customers. Unfortunately there was nothing that she could do during the period that we were in town. She explained that their normal practice for servicing cars is a deal with the local (in our case) Nissan dealer, with the bill being covered by Budget. We looked at our plans and at the towns where such a service could be arranged and settled on Oudtshoorn in about a weeks time. We explained that by then we would be several 1,000 km over the 60,000km service point, but she accepted that this was beyond our control. She called the Nissan dealer in Oudtshoorn and made the arrangements – another weight of our mind.

Back at the hotel we made quick plans of what to do on this cold and rainy day. Rather than exploring in the rain we settled on a drive to the famous Sheilam’s Nursery at Robertsons and a visit to the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden in Worcester. At least we could find shelter there if the rain should suddenly come down hard and driving on good tarmac to get there was not too bad with our temporary tyre.

I’ll leave images for plants in habitat for days to come.

Sunday, 28 October 2012 – Calvinia to Worcester

From Saturday lunch time until Monday morning, many South African villages are empty and silent, with the exception of the appealing sound of churchbells ringing. Here there were also trucks passing through at regular intervals – I have no idea where they came from or where they went.

We set off, not quite sure where we might spend the night; we had a number of options, depending on the quality of roads / tracks and the time we’d spend out of the car taking pictures. We headed south on the R355 and made a stop to look for a plant that David believed he had seen here before (S2735). There wasn’t anything new or spectacular (well, you get very spoilt after the sights of the past weeks!) and David grew more anxious and decided to walk ahead, inspecting road cuttings as he went. Plenty of Crassula deltoidea, Tylecodon paniculatus and T. wallachi, here with fresh flower spikes and buds – summer was really on its way! As we caught up with David, he had a big grin on his face and pointed triumphantly at the road cutting. There it was:

S2735 - Crassula barbata C tomentosa

S2735 – Crassula barbata (bottom) and Crassula tomentosa (centre & top)

I had seen pictures of these hairy Crassula before, but rarely seen them offered for sale. David tells me that C. barbata is the choice one, flowers when still quite young, and then dies – it’s monocarpic. It seems that nurserymen don’t want to run the risk of plants dying before they reach the sales bench and that the public is not keen to reinvest in a plant that they’ve probably already killed before. Still, nice photogenic plant, if you can find a clean one that is either growing completely in the shade or in the full sun – the contrast can be quite an issue for plants growing half in the sun and half in the shade. It quite likes to grow in the shade of shrubs and then picks up dead leaves as they fall off the shrub.

We drove on, pleased to have such an early success finding one of today’s target plants already and stopped again for some nice large Aloes by the side of the road (S2736).

S2736 - Aloe sp

S2736 – Aloe microstigma

[while writing this posting, the Aloe has been identified as A. microstigma on iSpot]

Soon after setting off again, Cliff felt the steering on the car pull to the right. A quick look confirmed puncture #3 of the trip, a couple of 100 kms from the nearest town, on a Sunday. We decided to stick to the R355, with regular (c12 cars per hour) passing traffic and head for the nearest tarmac and on to the nearest large town with a Budget Rent A Car office (Worcester). Planning in advance is great but must allow elasticity for unforeseen circumstances.

In addition we agreed to be a bit more economic with our stops, in case of further incidents. So S2737 was another quick Aloe stop and by S2738 we reached the Tankwa Karoo National Park. Here, and at S2739, both along the R355, it was flat, hot, featureless with just very low Mesemb (?) shrubs. I’m told that there are some interesting plants here, but sadly we did not see them. Perhaps we were just a bit too anxious about driving on a temporary max 80 km p hr tyre on a gravel track.

Saturday, 27 October 2012 – Vredendal to Calvinia

All four of us, at some time have stayed in the small settlement of Cataviña in Baja Mexico and some how I had a mental block on the name of the town that we were going to next – Calvinia.

To get there, we again needed to climb up the Bokkeveld Escarpment at Vanrhynsdorp Pass, the twisting pass to Nieuwoudtville that had been shrouded in clouds when we were last here on 26 September. This time it was nice and clear and we pulled over into the car park at the top of the hill for some scenic shots of the Knersvlakte that stretched out before us. We had seen many interesting plants here and enjoyed taking their pictures.

S2733 - View from Vanrhynsdorp Pass

S2733 – View from Vanrhynsdorp Pass

At the view-point car park (S2733), David told us that this had been called ‘Compton’s Corner’ by Gordon Rowley when he had visited here in the 1970s. Various succulents named after Robert Compton, Director of the National Botanic Garden at Kirstenbosch grew here, I don’t recall which – IPNI lists an amazing 121 taxa of plants with the epithet comptonii, but if David reads these notes, he might drop me a line with the full story. Alternatively, when I visit Gordon for another cup of tea, he might tell us the story himself. It’ll be a good opportunity to pick his brain on the many Crassula, Anacampseros and Avonia that we photographed and still await an ID.

These days a barbed wire fence stands between the car park and where David remembered the plants grew. David had already disappeared over the fence, while Cliff and I searched for an easier access point. I was already in and helped Cliff by steadying the fence when a pick-up truck pulled in and the driver asked us, angrily,what we were up to. ‘Hoping to take pictures of some succulent plants’, we explained. ‘You’re on private land, my land, get off!’ We apologised and tried to explain that there were no signs to indicate where we should go to ask permission – there were no obvious buildings around where we could have asked. He did not want to listen, watched briefly as I climbed back out of his land and drove off. I dare say that we could have climbed back again, but the man was right, we had been in the wrong, so disappointed to have failed on this stop to see the plants, we returned to the car. A bit later, David joined us again, surprised that we had not followed him – I believe that he took some pictures of the plants that we had hoped to see.

Next we headed for a location for which David had received information. It was quite a bit out of our way, but we had travelled all the way to South Africa to see plants, so a few extra miles were not an issue for this special plant:

S2734 - habitat overview

S2734 – habitat overview

Exciting! Isn’t it? In this and many other gravel / sand pans around it in the rocky surface grew a range of exciting miniature succulent plants! Lets take a look at them;

S2734 - Mesemb sp

S2734 – Mesemb sp

The stems of this charming little plant are covered by the sand. It would make a wonderful hanging basket plant if the bright edges of the leaves show up in poor northern hemisphere light. Perhaps it already is?

S2734 - Anacampseros comptonii

S2734 – Anacampseros comptonii

 

S2734 - Mesemb sp + Crassula

S2734 – Mesemb sp + Crassula

S2734 - Crassula fragaroides

S2734 – Crassula fragaroides

‘fragaroides’ = like a strawberry. I first learned about this plant when I read its description as a new species in Bradleya 29 (pages 51 to 56), less than a year ago and had not imagined that I would be face to face with it so soon.

S2734 - Othonna cacalioides

S2734 – Othonna cacalioides

On the other hand, I took some persuading that this, to me, ugly plant is highly desirable amongst collectors of succulent and caudiciform plants. Why? Answers on a post card …. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess.

Now that I have seen it in habitat, perhaps I should try to grow this quartet, bought from  European nurseries, in my collection in its own gravel pan.

S2734 - Car and Crassula

S2734 – Car and Crassula

It has been suggested that I’m a bit of a cactus and now succulent plant tourist, as I try to avoid endurance walks to see plants in remote places. I have nothing against making the effort to seeing plants in remote places, but I love it when the journey can be made by car!

For me this was one of the best stops of the trip!

Friday, 26 October 2012 – around Vredendal, Knersvlakte pt 2

Refreshed from their break yesterday Cliff and David were back on board for another day in the Knersvlakte. Two days ago, we had seen signs for another Kokerboom nursery and had passed the Knersvlakte Spens nursery. People in England had told us to go to a nursery, some 30 km out of Vanrhynsdorp on the N7 to get a key to a track with choice succulents. Was this the one?

S2729 was an opportunity to find out as we pulled in to ask. The lady who helped us did not speak English but with her Afrikaans and my Dutch we managed to understand that the owner had gone into town and might be back later. We decided to take a look around and found many of the local plants growing in tins and plastic bags, without much sign of propagation and nursery activities. Was this a case of people digging up local plants as and when there were gaps on the sales bench? They seemed to have as much trouble as I had with plant IDs, as there were no labels to suggest names. The list of species reported by one European traveller at one stop near here on his plant list suggests that he had been around the Spens Knersvlakte nursery and had given names to everything that he had seen, using alternative names where he was not sure of the exact ID! Other people’s data can be full of surprises!

We went back to our tried and tested formula of looking for plants with some random stops on random tracks from random turns on the N7, with our eyes open for quartz patches. The first of these was along a track signposted to Beeswater and Rooiberg (I guess ‘Redhill’ in English, but quite different from the Redhill in Surrey where I used to work in the 90s.)

Eunice spotted a Euphorbia from the car and called the stop (S2730). The expected Argyroderma sp. was here but the attention was on the Euphorb,  many short cylindrical stems forming small clumps, red fruits. E. pentops is reported from here, but without flowers (the name means ‘five eyes’) it’s difficult to say.

S2730 - Euphorbia pentops

S2730 – Euphorbia pentops

We had to make a U-turn as the track came to an abrupt end at a locked gate, but it was not long before we had found another track, heading south, with a quartz patch and a low quartz hill (S2731). Yes, more Argies, but what was this? It was obviously a plant at rest, and is that a Mesemb type fruit capsule that I can see between the papery tissues at the top of the leaves? But what is it?

S2731 - Oophytum oviforme

S2731 – Oophytum oviforme

Lower down the hill we ran into more Finger-and-Thumb plants, but these seemed larger than the ones we had seen earlier so I guess that this is Mesembryanthemum (Dactylopsis) digitatum ssp digitatum. It was very hot – mid thirties C – so it was heat rather than boredom that got us back in the car.  Less than 2 km along, we got out again as Aloe variegata was spotted along the track. In Europe, certainly in the Netherlands and in the UK, this plant is often seen in windowsills of houses where none of the other plants on display suggest an interest in succulent plants. It has a number of common names, including Tiger Aloe and Partridge Breast, due to its leaf markings and, in Afrikaans, kanniedood, literally ‘can not die’ referring to the harsh conditions it endures in habitat. Despite the fact that it is said to be common in habitat, we had not yet seen it and it seemed to try to disprove its Afrikaner name as it looked pretty beaten up.

S2732 - Aloe variegata - kanniedood

S2732 – Aloe variegata – kanniedood

Thursday, 25 October 2012 – Around Vredendal; trip to Lamberts Bay

During the planning stages of this trip I had suggested that we should allow some elasticity in the planning by including a few rest days. After all, the full on approach of looking for plants may be fine for a three week trip but nine weeks without a break from each other ultimately causes stresses and tensions. My suggestion was met with a resounding ‘No’ at the time. Oh well.

It was therefore no great surprise that over breakfast David announced that he was going to stay at the hotel today. Within minutes, Cliff announced that he too was staying ‘home’ today, to go shopping for a new pair of boots as the ones he had brought along had given up. That left Eunice and me to make some on the spot plans for today.

When we had stayed in Vredendal before, Eunice had been suffering from a bad cold and half way through the day had asked to be taken back to the hotel to recover. That day (26 September) Cliff, David and I had then driven on to Strandfontein and late in the day (poor light) had seen some nice Euphorbia schoenlandii near Papendorp. As Eunice had missed seeing these and my shutter finger was itching to take more pictures, we decided to go and take another look.

Heading out on the R363 to Luderitz we again passed underneath an impressive railway viaduct that crosses the Olifants River. We stopped to take some pictures on this very scenic spot – I’m sure that I had seen the view on tourist posters for the area – and we were lucky to catch a train crossing the viaduct. We had seen trains in the Knersvlakte yesterday and, without counting the number of carriages, had been impressed with their length. Was this the same railway line with the same trains? What were they carrying? They looked like the long trains that we had seen in Chile that carry ore and coal, rather than those in the US that carry containers from China from the ports ultimately to the consumers around the country. The saying in the US used to be ‘You bought it, a truck brought it’ but these days trains have taken over that chore. Our friend Alain in Belgium works for the Belgian Railways and even on holidays takes a great interest in the local trains, so I decided to try to find out a bit more about this one on Google, once I got home. But first of all, here is the view (S2723):

S2723 - The Sishen-Saldanha railway crossing the Olifants River

S2723 – The Sishen-Saldanha railway crossing the Olifants River

 

From Wikipedia: ‘The Sishen-Saldanha railway line, also known as the Ore Export Line, is an 861 kilometres (535 mi) long heavy haul railway line in South Africa. It connects iron ore mines near Sishen in the Northern Cape with the port at Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape. It is used primarily to transport iron ore and does not carry passenger traffic. The railway crosses the Olifants River on a 1,035 metres (3,396 ft) viaduct between Vredendal and Lutzville and reaches the coast about 160 kilometres (100 mi) north of Saldanha. From here it follows a coastal route. These 41,400 tonnes total mass, 3780 metres long trains (8 locomotives and 342 wagons), are the longest production trains in the world.’

Wow!

S2724 was a touristy stop at Strandfontein, S2725: the same for the lighthouse at Dooringbaai, and S2726 at Lamberts Bay. We left the best to last: S2727 at Papendorp at the mouth of the Olifants River where the Euphorbia schoenlandii this time were bathing in sunshine.

S2727 - Euphorbia schoenlandii

S2727 – Euphorbia schoenlandii

It was much too early to return to the hotel, so we drove past Vredendal, to Vanrhynsdorp for a visit to the Kokerboom succulent plant nursery (S2728). Unlike nurseries in Europe where glass cover is needed to protect the plants from rain and cold, here the plants need to be protected from too much heat and sun. It was useful to see the plants that we had seen in habitat, now with labels. It might even suggest some names for my Argyroderma dilemma!