If you remember (I did!) when we were in Worcester a week or so ago, we asked Budget rental cars to book our car in for its 60,000 km service with the Nissan dealer in Oudtshoorn. This was now significantly overdue. It seemed sensible to introduce ourselves and to check that arrangements for the courtesy car were in place for tomorrow. We need not have worried – everything was arranged. And they are only just around the corner from our Hotel / apartment!
So where shall we go today? We were fortunate to be visiting the well-known botanic artist and plant connoisseur Gerhard Marx at his nursery tomorrow. As he was too busy to join us on any outings, he had produced a list of suggested spots to see Haworthia and so Eunice started the task of plotting locations for some of the most interesting taxa and seeing what we migh conveniently pass on the way.
We did not have much luck at the first stop (S2788) for H. picta. We found just one plant and learned later that we should have crossed the fence to find the core population, however, this spot was right along the main N12 with the car parked in full view of passing traffic – and this stretch was unusually busy. Plus, this was not a user-friendly fence; the wires were pulled tight and a bit higher than convenient. Looking on the internet, there are some amazingly beautiful plants on display under this name. Our plant looked rather run of the mill, ordinary. I wonder if we found the right plant?
We had more luck at the next stop, near Herold (S2789) but ran into taxonomic difficulties. There appear to be (at least) two schools of often opposing thoughts on Haworthia taxonomy, in alphabetical order (in fear of picking sides) of South African Bruce Bayer and German Ingo Breuer and it seems that by selecting a name, you could be accused of picking a side. But should I confuse matters by giving two names for each plant? One from each source? It seems that lists of names accepted by either of these gentlemen are quite fluid, so it’s difficult to pin down a name that would still be recognised when you read this page. In the end I’ve settled on using three names, the original name by which these plants were known, the Bayer name and the Breuer name, so that you can track these and make up which one you want to use. And I thought that cactus names were frustratingly unstable!!! Do all these changes really help anyone or anything? Other than editors needing to fill pages in journals with new names? How many labels should we put in our pots?
I’d have to say that in this case, the picture flatters the plant; the light caught it just right. I would describe it as a rather boring green mat-forming plant with the only surprise being that it grows in pine needles in the shade of trees. At least when we saw it on this date. Jakub Jilemicky reports on his website that when he visited the location (H. heroldia is only known from this, the Type Locality) more or less all the big exotic pine trees had been burned. I’d say that there were still a fair few left. So, one stop, three ticks on my ‘plants seen in nature’ check list! Oh well!
There are various populations of Haworthia truncata and the one we visited was on the outskirts of Dysselsdorp (S2791). The plants were quite abundant in the small area where we looked; they even grew in the dirt track that we had arrived on. Lifting some of the branches of the shrubs to see what was hiding underneath revealed huge patches of plants of up to 1 x 1 m (3 x 3 ft).
You might get the impression from my reporting that Haworthia were the only plants of interest that we were seeing or photographing. Far from it, but many of the other genera have already featured in quite some detail before and the reason for our detour to the east on the way down from Namibia was to see Haworthia. To redress the balance somewhat, There was a very nice miniature Aloe growing here. In fact, I was taking its picture when I noticed the first H. truncata all over the place around it.
Looking through my list for this stop, we also saw Anacampseros and Asclepiads here as well as Opuntia sp, Trichocereus sp. and Agave americana – the latter three escaped imports from the Americas.
Using our SatNav system we moved on to the last stop of the day, near the town of De Rust. Like many towns in South Africa there was the town itself and a km or two down the road was the ‘township’. SatNav was taking us along the shortest route, straight through the township. We felt not a little uncomfortable and conspicuous as three white blokes driving through a black neighbourhood, but Eunice, of Afro Caribbean origin, promised to look after us. Thinking about it – it was not the colour of the skin of the people around us that made us feel uncomfortable – I am colour blind and often joke that it has helped me to see people, rather than skin colours – but the poverty of the living conditions where these people live. South Africa has come a tremendous way since the break up of Apartheid but still has a long way to go to erase inequalities between people living together. And yet, everywhere we looked, people were smiling and when, shyly, we waved out of the car window, were ready to wave back and made us feel welcome. On to the plants:
There was one more feature that will ensure that this place will stay in our memories for many more years – the cemetery. I had noted huge cemeteries outside many villages in South Africa, far larger than one would imagine for a community of its size. I had imagined that these might have been war graves from the days of the Boer War, as some of these village names rang a bell in terms of African Boer War history. When I talked about this with our hosts at family hotels, they smiled sadly and explained that these graves were very recent – from the last ten years. They were the victims of HIV-AIDS that only in recent years is getting the attention and aid that is needed to get this disease back under control. It left us all very quiet as we drove past the cemetery again on our way back to Oudtshoorn.