Having seen the local flora and fauna in the Arboretum yesterday, today Christophe wanted to take us to St. Augustin and see Aloe descoignyi var augustina in nature. We left the comfort of the hard top and were back to bouncing along dirt tracks again, on a scenic coast track. We passed a sea-cucumber farm; nothing like a mass of greenhouses as found in het Westland in the Netherlands, but partitioned off sections of the bay in the Indian Ocean. Sea cucumbers are not plants but are marine animals with a leathery skin and an elongated body that are farmed here for export to China where they are sold for consumption. I was surprised to learn that there are some 1,700 different species!
The track went into the Protected Area of Tsinjoriake and before too long we stopped for pictures at the monument marking our passing of the Tropic of Capricorne. Nadia waskeen to have her picture taken here as she was born under the star sign of Capricorne.
A familiar sight, as we had posed with similar markers in Namibia, north of Antofagasta in Chile and in NW Argentina, as well as at the Tropic of Cancer marker in Baja California and on the Mexican mainland. Although each marker has the precise coordinates of the tropics written on them, Nature rarely cooperates rarely in accordance with human expectations. Planet Earth spins around the sun with an axial tilt of 23.4371 degrees which corresponds to the latitude of the Tropics – Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere and Capricorne here in the Southern Hemisphere. A graph showing the zonally averaged monthly precipitation on Earth shows that after the North and South Pole, the latitude of the Tropics are the two most arid regions on Earth, which is of course of interest to those interested in cacti and the other succulents that are adapted to life in extremely arid conditions. May be I should consider a presentation of ‘What I Saw at the Tropics’? But the Earth’s spin around its axis has a wobble so that the exact position of the Tropic can vary by a few meters each year around the 23.4371 degrees mark.
This boy, walking his dog, personifies the happy smiling character of the Malagasy people, waving and keen to inspect images that we had taken on our camera’s monitors. The exception was in the tourist hotspots where immediately begging hands would reach out and requests for bonbons (sweets) and cadeaux (presents) were made.
Christophe parked the car and pointed to a sandy footpath leading up a hill. ‘About one hour to the Aloes’ he announced. Should I wait by the car, in the nice cool breeze coming off the bay? Or struggle up the hill in the boiling heat? I reminded myself that I was here on a plant trip and decided to take just one camera and 1 litre of water (cold when we set off this morning, but around my body temperature as I carried it up hill.) I must have acclimatised since that aborted hill on my first day in Madagascar that had shaken my confidence. This path was not as steep and at a steady speed we walked up the hill, with Christophe pointing out plants of interest.
We paused for images of lizards that followed our progress, offering the opportunity to lookover our shoulders to note good progress up the hill. Once at the summit, the news came that we had to walk down the other side and up another hill to get to the small Euphorbia that was our other target plant, but again, already seen before ‘in captivity’ in the Arboretum.
Nadia was the first to spot another miniature Aloe, Aloe antandroi (Kew reports it as A. antandroy), a small grass aloe, related to Aloe isaloensis. Its leaves are narrow, dark bronze, 5 inches long, 0.25 inches wide (6 mm), edged by small soft thorns. The undersides of its leaves has white spots.
Not much farther, and still on the way down from our first hill, Nadia again was the first to spot clusters of Aloe descoignsii.
Just as in the Arboretum yesterday, I was a little disappointed seeing the smallest Aloe in habitat. Christophe assured me that after the rains started anytime soon (?) this plant would show off its leaves in all their glory. I had first become interested in this small Aloe when I saw it in the collection of John Bleck in Santa Barbara, Ca, who used it in creating his hybrid ‘Lizard Lips’ that is still popular in cultivation and often distributed amongst the hobby as a raffle prize in Branch raffles. I’m sure that is also among the parentage of the wonderful hybrids created by Kelly Griffin and Karen Zimmerman in California that aim to create plants with the best leaf patterns, surface textures and teeth along the leaves’ edges.
We searched in vain for the small Euphorbia that should have been found on the other side of the path. Christophe and John went on to search some more on the steep rock side opposite our hill, but John reported finding only a few small plants in this harsh environment.
We had over taken and been overtaken by a bus that seemed to be part of a Guinness World Record attempt at getting as many people as possible in and on the top and sides of a bus. We were unsure if, while we enjoyed lunch overlooking the bay, the bus had reached its terminal and changed its passengers for an even larger number or had just collected even more passengers for the World Record attempt. Amazing. How many UK traffic violations could the bus driver have received. Where is Health & Safety when it’s needed? Later I found a painting at one of the hotels that shows another attempt at the record. That painting too is being framed in Amesbury as I catch upon my notes.
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