Richtersveld succulents: Lithops, Conophytum, Fenestraria and other Mesembryanthemaceae

From 5 to 9 September 2012 

The Richtersveld desert in South Africa hosts numerous succulent plants of the Mesembryanthemaceae (also called Aizoaceae) family, populating several micro-habitats consisting mainly of small areas of quartz or granite blocks. Lithops, best known as "living stones", as well as Conophytums can be seen frequently, but you will need a fine and well trained eye in order to properly locate them.

Richtersveld flowers
The Richtersveld desert is characterized by a wide variety of soil. Some expanse of bright quartz, alternates with vast plains of crushed granite or other pebbles formed by various types of rocks (sand is more rare). For each type of soil, depending also on the exposure and on the micro-climate that is formed locally, you can find different succulent plants specialized to survive in those precise conditions. Therefore, it is easy to imagine how delicate this habitat is: if for any reason one of these small areas is destroyed (livestock grazing everywhere, mining, theft of plants from collectors, natural disasters) some species would risk the extinction, because they live only here. The expanse of quartz visible in the picture above could be the ideal habitat for Lithops and other Aizoaceae.
Lithops Living stones
Lithops picture Living stone
Succulent Lithops

Lithops pictures. In these pictures, a few small clumps of Lithops consisting of several bodies. The Lithops, also popularly known as "living stones" are succulent plants that have adapted to live between quartz pebbles, in one of the driest desert in the world.
Granite rocks

These large granite boulders are instead the ideal habitat for some species of Conophytum, which grow inside the cracks in the rock. If you look closely at these two photos, you will notice the presence of small dark spots, represented by clumps of Conophytums.
Conophytum in nature Conophytum in South Africa
Conophytum quaesitum
Conophytum Succulent plant
Conophytum quaesitum pictures. The roots are able to grow inside very small cracks in the granite, giving proper support to the bodies exposed to the light along the surface of the rock. This is a particular habitat because the granite offers not only a good shade, but increases also the water available thanks to condensation.
Conophytums Conophytum's habitat

More pictures of Conophytum quaesitum.
Conophytum loeschianum
Photos of Conophytum loeschianum. The Conophytum loeschianum grows within incredible small cracks in the hard granite, and is characterized by bodies (modified leaves) approximately 2mm in size, forming very compact clumps. In these pictures you can see the remains of the dry cuticle that covers and protects the vital parts of the plant during the dry season.
Conophytum loeschianum in nature
Conophytum loeschianum in South Africa
More Conophytum loeschianum photos, showing the dense clumps growing in the rock.
Conophytum jucundum
Picture of Conophytum jucundum. This is instead the typical habitat of Conophytum jucundum, which, differently from the other species seen until now, prefers to grow on the ground level.
Photo of Conophytum jucundum.
Conophytum jucundum Conophytum jucundum in the desert
Conophytum in the Richtersveld Richtersveld Conophytums
More pictures of Conophytum jucundum.
South African Conophytums

Some heads of Conophytum jucundum prefer to grow in the shade of rocks or other larger plants, from which they receive protection from sun.
Juvenile Conophytum
Juvenile Conophytum jucundum still having very few bodies.
Fenestraria Fenestraria aurantiaca
Pictures of Fenestraria aurantiaca. This succulent is formed by an agglomeration of highly specialized leaves that come out from soil for some centimetres. Analogously to Lithops, Conophytum and other plants belonging to the family of Mesembryanthemaceae (Aizoaceae), the upper tip of the leaf appears translucent, like a kind of window. The light penetrates from these windows and is then transmitted through crystals of calcium oxalate, to the less exposed areas of the plant (sometimes even under ground) where the photosynthesis takes place. This survival technique allows to extend the surface area available for photosynthesis, without increasing the surface subject to transpiration. Lot of precious water is saved in such way.
Lithops or living stone
Pictures of Lithops growing between orange lichens.
Conophytum saxetanum
More Conophytum pictures (exactly Conophytum saxetanum) featured by reddish bodies.
Mesembriantemacea Succulents plants

Lithops and Conophytum are not the only Mesembryanthemacee (Aizoaceae) that can be found in Richtersveld desert, but there are many other members of this large family.
Succulent plant
Another succulent belonging to Mesembryanthemaceae (Aizoaceae) family.
Pseudobrownanthus Pseudobrownanthus nucifer
Picture of Pseudobrownanthus nucifer. This succulent, still belonging to the family of Mesembryanthemaceae (Aizoaceae), is locally called " scorpion tail " due to the structure of the branches, resembling the tail of this animal.

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Namaqualand and Richtersveld travel guide

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