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When we arrived at the hotel in Port Nolloth, Eunice had spotted a leaflet advertising guided tours into the Richtersveld. Curious as to what might be covered, she asked hotel reception to contact the guide for a chat, so last night, impressed with what was on offer, we arranged to be driven around for a change.

Aukwa Towa Tours

Aukwa Towa Tours

It was an early start, compared to our usual work-day-like 9 a.m. start and it was quite cozy in the Toyota Hilux with our guide Conrad behind the steering wheel, Cliff riding shotgun, David and Eunice in the back seat, with me squeezed in the middle and Conrad’s assistant, Flooris lying on top of the luggage for the day, in the back.

The weather was typically for the northern South African coast – low clouds / coastal fog, a stiff breeze and at times a light drizzle so it was with some reluctance that I got out of the car at our first stop (S2664, the Western Cape Lichen Field near Alexander Bay. We had driven past this two days earlier, but at the end of the day, with day light fading and the uncertainty about the availability of a bed for the night. Conrad took us through a few gates that would have kept us out if we had been on our own. I was unaware that lichen could grow so large and be so colourful, amazing, but what a shame that the light was too poor to realise its full potential. Once again I was glad to be wearing my ski jacket with a jumper underneath. The camera spent most of the time inside the jacket, to protect it from the drizzle. Despite this, we saw some wonderful plants such as Lithops herrei, the nearest Cole number, C237, is the type locality of Lithops herrei ‘translucens’  and, thanks to Conrad’s persistence, Fenestraria rhopalophylla, again not in flower, so I can only assume that it is subsp. aurantiaca due to its coastal location. For me, these were the stars of this stop, mainly because I was already familiar with them in cultivation and had never expected to see them growing in such harsh conditions. There was also a Euphorbia (the names E. ramiglans and E. stapelioides have been suggested), some Mesemb clumps – Cheiridopsis brownie is reported from the area, as well as a number of Crassulas. My challenge now is to select just one image to show here.

S2664 - Fenestraria rhopalophylla ssp. aurantiaca

S2664 – Fenestraria rhopalophylla ssp. aurantiaca

I chose this because it also shows some of the lichen, especially the large reddish one on the right, the Cape Hair Lichen – Teloschistes capensis.

S2665 was a small hill just past Alexander Bay with views over the Oranje Rivier, now that the sky was clearing a bit. This image illustrates some of the difficulties of plant ID in the field

S2665 - Conophytum sp

S2665 – Conophytum sp

 The small globular things resembling rabbit or goat droppings are probably Conophytum at rest, covered in papery skins and the somewhat beaten up plant above them could be a Tylecodon sp. (or a Crassula or Mesemb for that matter). If you meet plants out of their growing season then often, certainly as a newbie, relying on finding a name by looking through books and the internet, you’re stuck. People publishing images to share with others tend to pick plants looking their best, in optimum growing conditions, not the way that you find them when you happen to see them in nature. I probably have a few hundred images of Conophytum looking like this ‘Conophytum shrivelled-ianus’ from a range of locations, almost certainly all different species or at least subspecies, but all (to me) looking the same.

Conrad next took us to Cornellskop, a low hill, famous for its stand of Aloe pillansii (S2666)

S2666 - Aloe pillansii

S2666 – Aloe pillansii

We had been looking for this two days ago, but had driven straight past it, mainly because the stand of Aloes grows on the other side of the hill, when seen from the road. How could we have missed it? Then we had just stopped (S2656) for  a single A. pillansii near the road and were side tracked by magnificent A. striata subsp. karasbergensis and so found ourselves rather pushed for time.

Much later (Christmas Eve 2012) whilst looking through succulent plant literature, I came across Bradleya #16 (1998) with a familiar looking Aloe on the cover, posing next to Sir David Attenborough! The picture was taken during the filming of ‘The Private Life of Plants’ (1993). Inside the cover is a very interesting article by Graham Williamson on the ecological status of Aloe pillansii (Aloaceae) in the Richtersveld with particular reference to Cornellskop. Ittranspires that this is the type locality of the species.  The article expresses concern about the future of Aloe pillansii and of the plants at this location in particular. A number of observations and suggestions are made to protect the plants, but the images taken during our visit do not show any evidence that any of these have been implemented. Keeping our fingers crossed for the future may not be enough.

On to S2657, where according to Google Earth we were at Halfmenspas. We saw our first Pachypodium namaquanum in habitat but I have chosen this picture of a Hoodia, as we’d be seeing better examples of the Halfmens at the next stop:

S2667 - Hoodia alstonii

S2667 – Hoodia alstonii

We had been calling it Hoodia flavum at the time, but Graham Williamson in the latest edition of his Richtersveld book calls it H. alstonii. Checking descriptions later, in front of the tellie back home, I agree with Graham.

As promised, we saw more Pachypodium namaquensis near by, at our next stop (S2668), still in Halfmenspas, the Afrikaner name for this plant is Halfmens – half human.

S2668 - Pachypodium namaquanum

S2668 – Pachypodium namaquanum

Unlike my observations earlier for Conophytum, we had timed it spot on for the Pachypodium, finding it in leaf and in flower everywhere we saw it.

And on to S2669, south of the Akkedispas. Although Afrikaans and Dutch are quite similar, it sometimes takes a bit of imagination to work out its origin. The pass here is the Lizard Pass. The Afrikaans Akkedis derives from the Dutch Hagedis. A lot can change over four centuries, including the modern Dutch that I’m comparing with the Afrikaans. The image I’ve selected here is of a Conophytum that has not yet shrivelled away. Any suggestions for a name?

S2669 - Conophytum sp

S2669 – Conophytum sp

The next stop, S2670, was for lunch and as I’m trying to be economic with my limited free space allowance on this blog, I’ll skip lunch pictures and include two from S2671:

S2671 - Asclepiad sp

S2671 – Asclepiad sp

S2671 - Tylecodon paniculatus

S2671 – Tylecodon paniculatus

Unlike the Boterboom seen early on in the trip, where their magnificent stems were hidden by dense vegetation, due to generous rains before our arrival, here they were nicely exposed.

The hairy flowered Asclepiad contrasts nicely with the brightly coloured flower seen at the next stop S2672

S2672 - Orbea carnosa

S2672 – Orbea carnosa

Notice the huge seed horn that almost obscures the bright flower. We were now in the Hellskloofpass, Hell’s Canyon Pass, and we were very glad to be in the 4×4 Toyota rather than in our Nissan XTrail. I wouldn’t have taken the Nissan over this track.

S2673 was for the amazing valley full of Aloe pearsonii – I believe that this is the only place where it occurs in nature.

S2674 - Aloe pearsonii Tylecodon paniculatus

S2674 – A few Tylecodon paniculatus in a valley full of Aloe pearsonii

S2675 - Aloe garipensis

S2675 – Aloe garipensis

We arrived back at Port Nolloth in the dark. Thanks to Conrad and Flooris we saw many more interesting plants than we could have seen on our own and the 4×4 took us where our car would have struggled. Many thanks – we had a great day!

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