Contents of the Spring 2014 Northants News

A visit to the Lüderitz Peninsula                             Trevor Wray

Fog at sunrise over Luderitz

I was privileged to visit Namibia last Autumn, though it was the Spring there. Sue loves to see the African animals and I don’t mind them but would rather see the plants. We spent a week in the north where I was able to take some good photos of the big cats, a decent leopard photo has so far eluded me but I grabbed some this time. And elephants, rhino, giraffe, a dozen kinds of antelope, yawn… I wanted to see some decent succulents.

In the south of Namibia my ambitions were realised. There were several succulent paradises around Aus and Rosh Pinah and especially near Lüderitz. The coastal Namib Desert of Namibia is another ‘fog desert’ like the Atacama I had seen just nine months before; almost zero rainfall but a rich succulent flora is sustained by regular fog bringing vital water from the cold ocean.

Left: A dense fog as the sun rises over Lüderitz.

 

You can guess that the FL would not be visiting anywhere coastal without a boat trip and we duly took a catamaran round the bay to the Diaz Cross on the Peninsula with a few dolphins, (drat couldn’t point the camera quickly enough), thousands of jackass penguins and cormorants, a sprinkling of seals and some flamingos.

I was interested to see the Diaz Cross from the sea. This marks the place near where Bartolomeu Dias, renowned Portuguese explorer and seafarer made landfall in Namibia in 1488. It is also a well-known habitat for Lithops optica and its variety rubra

The Diaz Cross on the Luderitz Peninsula

A shipwreck  on the Luderitz Peninsula

The Diaz Cross on the Lüderitz Peninsula. Near here is the café for a respite from the cold wind and Lithops optica'. 

A battered shipwreck on the beach. This coast is known as the Skeleton Coast because of the number of wrecks caused by onshore gales and dense fog.

The boat trip was exceptionally cold. The ocean is cold from the Benguela Current which causes the fog which was very evident as we set out. We had very warm clothing but were glad to accept the captains quilted coats as well. As we returned to Lüderitz Bay the sun came out and warmed us through.

Fine weather to explore the Lüderitz Peninsula. There is a circular dirt road which was a reasonable drive in our distinctly low clearance 2 x 4 Volkswagen Polo. Dirtier roads requiring high clearance led to beaches but we were not tempted, I found plenty of succulents all along the main road, (if you can call it that!).

Right: Two plants of Augea capensis in the Zygophyllaceae family. The species grows widely in Namibia and South Africa especially on poor soils and overgrazed land.

Augea capensisi

Augea capensisi

Near the entrance was a gated road to the ‘Sperrgebiet’, translated as the ‘Forbidden Zone’. Forbidding signs on the gate, which was open, warned of huge fines and even prison for those without permits. The gate was open but we knew that the regular route around the peninsula was going to allow access to many succulents; and it did. We might come back for a trip round the ‘Forbidden Zone’ with a permit, but that would be a future trip.

We started at a location that was supposed to have Lithops optica and form, variety, or cultivar ‘rubra’ among the individuals. Although the habitat looked very like many views in the Cole’s books I saw no Lithops.

There were however many succulents. Exciting dwarf ‘stone plants’, which were probably Namibia and Argyroderma, one that was dusted with sand and looked like Psammophora

View from Lüderitz towards the Peninsula.

Lichens of the Lüderitz Peninsula

Lichen field of the Lüderitz Peninsula

View from Lüderitz towards the Peninsula.

Views of a lichen field and lichens of the Lüderitz Peninsula which are sustained by the frequent fogs.. Cryptic succulents also grow here especially in the more stony places.

Monsonia (formerly Sarcocaulon) patersonii

Pelargonium cortusifolium

Pelargonium cortusifolium

Monsonia (formerly Sarcocaulon) patersonii in flower. This was very common in places and often covered in lichens.

A small plant of the geophyte Pelargonium cortusifolium showing the succulent stems and the silver hairy leaves that ‘catch’ the fog

Pelargonium cortusifoium in flower.

By mid afternoon the weather had changed; a shrieking gale blew banks of sand laden fog across the exposed slopes. It was distinctly uncomfortable and I was wondering whether I had my gloves and woolly hat in the car. Time was passing and the FL wanted to visit a church before it closed. I was very pleased with my afternoon on the Peninsula and I had seen a good selection of succulents. My one disappointment was that I had not seen Lithops optica. I had searched near the Diaz Point and the location where variety rubra was supposed to grow without success.

Psammophora ponderosa

Psammophora ponderosa

Two views of Psammophora ponderosa; a sticky mesemb which is dusted with sand in habitat.

Unknown mesemb with yellow flowers

I tried one last search by the roadside. Nearby was a small cairn of stones which I thought might be lucky. And it was! A three headed plant was in good condition nestled among the quartz pebbles. Reading in the car the FL put her book down and walked over to the general area I indicated. With a few more clues, like me pointing directly at the plant, she was able to see it. So even the plump clusters can be tricky to see. I had been shown two plants of Lithops karasmontana in habitat near Aus and these were so small and pulled into the ground as to be almost impossible. I didn’t find any others myself there but now at last I had found a stone plant without any assistance. Incidentally as we drove back to the road junction I realised I was opposite the location I had been given for L. optica rubra. I will save that one for another day.

Click to play hunt the Lithops

Lithops optica

Left: One plant the Ed was especially pleased to see; my one and only found-by-myself Lithops. I didn’t actually spend a great deal of time looking because at this habitat there were far more interesting succulents. (I’ll probably get drummed out the Mesemb Study Group now!)

You can play hunt the Lithops full screen by clicking here or the image on the left.

Strangely enough, as we left the Peninsula the sun came out and it became quite pleasant. However looking back we could see the banks of fog still shrouding the low ground and sustaining a succulent paradise.

Trev

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