Richtersveld succulents: Aloe pillansii, Pachypodium namaquanum and other Aloe
From 5 to 9 September 2012
The Richtersveld National Park in South Africa, hosts numerous species of Aloe, some of which are rare and endangered, mainly because of the limited area of distribution and the human activities. Like the rest of Namaqualand, this region is home to many Pachypodium namaquanum, a strange-looking succulent locally called Half Man.
In the heart of Richtersveld desert, close to the border line between South Africa and Namibia, there is an interesting Aloe pillansii colony, populating the sides of a tiny hill. This species of Aloe, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is classified as "Critically Endangered" as the world's population is represented only by a few hundreds of specimens that live within a distribution range of less than 100 squared kilometers.
Pictures of Aloe pillansii. Spectacular Aloe pillansii specimens populating an hill in the Richtersveld desert. The trees are very old, with an estimated age that could reach 500 years.
More Aloe pictures. The presence of some very young specimens gives some hope that the Aloe pillansii population of this hill will remain stable, although some studies indicate that this species has a 50% chance to become extinct during the next three generations.
Photos of Aloe striata karasbergensis. The Aloe striata karasbergensis has a very short stem, topped with an elegant rosette of leaves.
In the Richtersveld desert there are also the more common Aloe dichotoma.
The desert is an hostile environment where the border line between life and death is so thin. In this skeleton of Aloe we can observe the internal structure of the trunk, which does not have a traditional compact wood, but rather wood fibres simply wrapped around the vascular system. This particular structure still provide the necessary strength to support the tree, but ensures also additional space to be filled with a spongy tissue used to store water.
Photos of Aloe ramosissima. The Aloe ramosissima is actually a variety of Aloe dichotoma, at least according to some botanists. This species (or subspecies) is characterized by an abnormal branching which gives to the plant the appearance of a dense bush. On the left picture, an Aloe ramosissima in the juvenile form.
Photo of Aloe pearsonii. Though there are literally millions of Aloe pearsonii among the sides of these valleys, the species is considered vulnerable because the populations, although numerous, are limited to a few areas in South Africa and Namibia, where the natural environment is threatened by mining.
More photos of Aloe pearsonii. The reddish color of the leaves is quite normal and not caused by health issues.
Pictures of Aloe gariepensis. These Aloe gariepensis are growing on an hillside on the edge of Richtersveld National Park in South Africa. On the left, a young Aloe gariepensis grows protected by another succulent.
More pictures of Aloe gariepensis
Let us now turn to another succulent very characteristic of the Richtersveld desert: the Pachypodium namaquanum. This succulent plant, belonging to the family of Apocynaceae, consists of a trunk up to 4 meters high, sometimes branched, that on the upper part has long spines and an elegant rosette of leaves. It is a succulent plant endemic to Namaqualand, but being quite common in the region. It is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as low risk.
Pictures of Pachypodium namaquanum. Due to its shape, the Pachypodium namaquanum is popularly known as "Half Man" (the rosette of leaves on top resembles an human head). The name Pachypodium actually derives from Greek and means "elephant foot", referring to the base of the trunk which indeed resembles the foot of an elephant.
Pachypodium pictures. The trunk of Pachypodium namaquanum has long spines, especially towards the tip, in order to protect it from animals.
More photos of Pachypodium namaquanum
showing the rosette of leaves on the top, and some flowers.
Some Pachypodium namaquanum populating the sides of this hill.
A dead Pachypodium namaquanum. The loose stones around the base of the stem, which also has some roots in sight, suggest an attempt to eradicate the young tree with the purpose of selling it to some collector.