Welcome To The Land Of Wild Flowers, Namaqualand

The Wild Flowers of Namaqualand. Garies, Namaqualand, Northern Cape, South Africa, August 2007. Martin Heigan

The Northern Cape’s Namaqualand region is unique in every way. During the springtime this gentle desert erupts into a myriad of wildflowers in dazzling array. It is said of this spectacle “you weep twice when visiting Namaqualand – first when you arrive, and once when you leave….”

  • Namaqualand, in South Africa’s far north-western corner, is much-loved by botanists and visitors as one of the world’s most special places and the most unusual desert on earth.
  • Conservation International has recognised this desert as the earth’s only arid hotspot of biodiversity, placing it among the 25 most ecologically valuable places in the world
  • This dry land is home to almost 3 000 plants, most of them found nowhere else on the planet.
  • When spring comes to the Namaqualand, the dry land is covered by wild sweeps of orange, pink, white and yellow flowers. It is a time of frenzied reproduction, when plants generously show off their wares to prospective pollinators, yet the spectacular display lasts for only two months, at most, often less
  • Ditch your binoculars in favour of a magnifying glass. It will give you a startling insight into the “landing lights” designed by the flowers to attract their favoured pollinators
  • Neil McGregor, who owns the farm Glen Lyon just outside Nieuwoudtville found a way of farming his sheep in such that it guarantees maximum biodiversity, echoing to some extent the effects of the trekbokke (springboks) decades ago. Every spring, farming takes a backseat while he drives fascinated tourists around on special bus tours that are booked up months in advance by foreigners and locals.
  • The spectacular sweeps of colour over the landscape are spectacular are also Nature’s highlighters, indicating old fields or where ground has been overgrazed or ploughed up. In fact, the fields of orange and yellow that are so sought after at Skilpad Nature Reserve, now part of the promising Namaqua National Park, are kept flowering by careful dint of disturbance and ploughing after spring.
  • There are about 1 000 species of succulents, and they are among Namaqualand’s most charismatic plants. They make up at least one third of the desert’s flora, and one tenth of the world’s succulents. Some are minute, the smallest in the world. The Mesembryanthemaceae (mesembs, or vygies) are the foremost family among these succulents.
  • The first thing you learn as a flower tourist is that the flowers are incredibly sensitive to temperature, generally closing when the temperature is below 17 deg Celsius (or even 20 deg C on the coast).
  • The Namaqualand is full of edible and medicinal plants – if you know where to look. The slimy roots of Grielum humifusum, better known by the more descriptive name Pietsnot, can make a meal, if you’re really hungry. In fact, they and the underground organs of many other plants formed the staple carbohydrate diet for Khoi and Nama.
  • Colla Swart, a photographer who lives in Kamieskroon (in the middle of the Namaqualand) has opened many people’s eyes to the beauty of Namaqualand, but she always says the flowers are just the lipstick on the face of a beautiful woman whose face is exquisite, but different, all year round.
  • Possibly the most touching thing about the Namaqualand is its tenacious beauty that seems ever willing to transform the land in unexpected places.
  • The Kokerboom or Quiver Tree (Aloe dichotoma) is one of the few large plants in the Namaqualand. It acquired its name from the Khoi’s use of the hollowed out stems or branches to hold arrows. These trees are concentrated in the eastern and northern parts of the Namaqualand, and can live to be 100 years old.

Written by Ph

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