Sunday, December 31, 2006

Summertime blooms with small differences
Summer is not the best time for flowers in our aloe garden, as most South African aloes bloom in winter. It is only the small area down here in the Western Cape where the winter rainfall aloes bloom in summer. It is logical coming to think of it, flowering in summer result in seeds ready for the rain in winter and the opposite holds true for the summer rainfall aloes. However rainfall in the dry desert areas of Namibia is the mainly in summer but the aloes will bloom before or after winter if there was good rainfall, shifting the flowering times to make the most of the rain. Then there are the tropical aloes which blooms at least twice a year and some hybrids bloom twice a year too. I understand there are some aloe cultivators who aim to develop a hybrid aloe which will bloom the whole year round like many of our cultivated garden flowers.
In short - it is possible to have at least one of the aloe species (or hybrids) in bloom at any time throughout the year. That does not mean changing the watering times will change the flowering times, nature tuned the plants finer than that. The plants have a daylight length timer and temperature timer as well. Having said that, it is possible to manipulate water, light and temperature including hormones, but not for the normal garden.
My favourite in our garden at this time is Aloe comosa the single stem plant can grow up to 5 metres with an inflorescens (flower stalk) that grows around 2 meters . The inflorescens keeps growing as the flowers open. Note the size of the plants (the two blue plants at my feet) in contrast to those long flower stalks. These plants were cultivated from seeds and it is their second year in bloom.

The habitat of Aloe comosa is just about 100 km north of Moorreesburg so we do not have any problem growing this aloe. A. comosa is a single trunk aloe. The flowers are a pastel peach-pink shading to cream as they open. The plant is a very pale blue-green shading to pink in the summer sun. At this time the rosette is very dry, it seems that there can not be any strength left to survive, but it will - provided nobody waters it. This aloe has adapted to no rain in summer.

Aloe comosa in habitat. The stems alone are higher than I am - add to that the rosette and the very long inflorescens. It will be a long time for my plants to grow this size but that is not a problem as they bloom before they develop a stem.
By the way - This aloe makes a fine pot plant. As long as you can keep it out of the rain in summer. The contrast of the blue-pink rosette amongst other green plants makes an attractive display. Aloe comosa can withstand light frost.
 Photo above is aloe comosa left and aloe africana right.
The blooms of  Aloe comosa tip over from pointing upwards to hanging.  Aloe comosa has a raceme more than 2x the length of the Aloe africana raceme.  Aloe africana buds hang down right at the start and then the tips of each flower bends slightly upwards. The effect is completely different racemes.

Aloe africana is another lovely aloe blooming at this time in our garden. It should bloom July - September but it seems slightly confused by our climate. The habitat of Aloe africana is from the southern to the south eastern part of South Africa. It gets summer and winter rain, but before any-one from the rainy countries get excited, no frost.

Photo  is Aloe africana and the spade is to show size. From the distance it looks like "just a typical aloe", but it is a good looking typical aloe and it has a  lovely infloroscens.

A habitat photo of Aloe africana does not show much. Everything is green and that is where this bright green aloe fits in. It is difficult to see on a photo but the whole hill is covered in Aloe africana unfortunately not in bloom at the time. Pity, but imagine it.

Below are the close-up photos of the flowers of Aloe comosa and Aloe africana. Aloe comosa has a raceme more than 2x the length of the Aloe africana raceme. The A.comosa buds point upwards then they tip over to hang pointing down in the end. Aloe africana buds tips over right at the start and then the tips of each flower bends slightly upwards. The effect is completely different racemes.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Spitzkoppe an enchanted very harsh world of beauty and horror tales of murder. Crystals gems played a role but there are also rare plants, insects and  animals - all attracted adventurers through the ages.

Heading back to Windhoek from Henties Bay. Those are not just any hills up front. Pass them, then turn off into a smaller dusty road where only donkey carts and 4-wheel driven vehicles can go and enter a wonderland of gemstones. We were there once many years ago. It was a weird feeling to have to watch your step not to trample on a gemstone.
Please note. I do not suggest that you go there without the necessary permission. The minerals belong to the person/persons who have a mining claim on it. The area is guarded by the Damara people on who's ground it is.

I find the natural beauty of crystals dazzling, more so than a cut precious stone. In these informal stalls along the roadside near Usakos, stones are sold way cheaper than in any of the many shops that sell the mineral crystals, gemstones and semi-precious gemstones in Namibia. Gemstones and crystals have been traded for centuries although not on the scale as the last decades.
These informal traders know their stones. Not only the common names but also the scientific names and some geological information too.
It is difficult to resist "all that glitters" - but that is another blog.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Aloe asperifolia and the salt road along west coast Namibia.  We are on our way to see the desert aloe Aloe asperifolia. Driving along the salt road to Swakopmund and on to Walvis bay where we saw a large crane trying to pull out a stranded fishing boat.
As to the salt road. It is really made of the salt from the salt pans which are plentiful along the west coast. The gypsum, which is one of the components in the salt binds with the sand, the salt as such helps to catch the water from the fog that keeps the mix from drying out and form a hard crust. It is a good road to travel on, like a tar road. This road can not exist where it rains or where the air is dry.
We traveled from Windhoek to Karibib, visited the cemetery at Usakos and took the turn-off into the dust road. That took us to Henties bay, from there along the salt road to Swakopmund and tar road to Walvis bay

Karibib - can you believe that quiet street? I am standing in the main road taking this photo. This is the main road down to the coast, so there are often cars travelling through and some people on the main road at the few shops. There is one shop that we do not pass when we are in Karibib and that one sells gemstones and rock crystals. It looks like nothing from the outside, but inside it is huge with the things that glitter which stops a woman's heart. sighhhh

 I need some information here regarding the photo (above).  Please take a close look.  The large obvious plant without leaves is a Cyphostemm species, I want information on the plant with the thin branches next to the Cyphostemma. The plant with the thin long greyish branches and pretty seedpods which look like wings of a bird flying. Those pods are large. One pod is nearly the length of my hand.  In the background is the Karibib police station.

At Usakos the plants were dry with no sign of the wide spread rain that fell in the rest of the country. The Aloe hereroensis in the old cemetery were not in flower like Aloe hereroensis in the southern areas of Namibia. Some of the aloes showed a faint green coloring in the center of the rosette assuring me that these aloes are tough, they will survive.

The dust road to Hanties bay. The grass fields in the desert are unbelieveable !  We never saw so much grass in the desert before. The local habitants (mainly small animals and insects) did not experrience this in a century.

The main road between Swakopmund and Walvis bay. Lovely picturesque dunes.
Below:- The crane pulling the fishing boat out of the sea. The fishing boat is past the point of seafaring ever again, it will be sold as scrap.

Imagine what it would have been like centuries ago to land on this shore. Nothing but large dunes. Not altogether so bad as the mouth of the Swakop river is less than 5 kilometres away. Skeleton Coast starts to the north, but anybody shipwrecked would not be able to get far without water on this coast, even if they are not yet in the skeleton coast area.

One of the trees adapted to the life in the desert. The branches are not higher than 40 cm at the most and the diameter of the tree with all branches included is not quite 2 m. but the tree is actually larger as the main stem is underground like a huge water reservoir.

Aloe asperifolia can survive the desert habitat very well. The plants are in excellent condition with the pale green plants showing new growth. The thick leaves are full of moisture which are absorbed dew or fog from the sea-air.
Most plants have bloomed out. The single raceme with flowers that we saw was very small and not much to look at. It happens that aloes send out a sub-standard raceme after it bloomed. It shows the typical sideway growth of the inflorescens.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Windhoek Namibia

aloe littoralis the pride of Windhoek Namibia. Aloe littoralis is on the emblem of Windhoek city. Aloe littoralis is a tall tree aloe hardy from below freezing to sizzling summer temperatures. The outstanding point about Aloe littoralis for the garden is that it blooms from a young age.
Windhoek is the capital city of Namibia. This neat clean city without smog, is situated between mountains on an uneven hilly terrain. Wild animals like the Kudu, jackal and different small mongooses can be seen in the hills around the city, especially in times of drought.

The habitat of Aloe littoralis is North- western  Province of South Africa, all the way up through Namibia up to Angola, to the east into Botswana and a short distance into the northern Province of South Africa. Photo below shows the dry winter scene in Namiba. Aloe littoralis blooms early winter before frost can damage the blooms and seeds.

A visit to the botanical garden in Windhoek is certainly worth the effort for succulent plant enthusiasts and anybody who would enjoy to see the endemic trees and rare plants of Namibia. The botanical garden covers a large area over the hill with walking trails.

Aloe dewinterii planted in the botanical garden the same way as it grows in the natural habitat - hanging from cliffs.

The baboons tend to be a dangerous nuisance. They are cute to look at, but they can attack and the males are large enough to kill a human or dog. The photo below is from a large handsome male who saw the ripe papaw in the garden and decided that it was just what he wanted. We did not want to agitate him so we took the photo through the kitchen window. This gives the impression that he is behind bars, but we were strictly speaking behind the bars not him.

The wild life in and around Windhoek includes many cute animal like this gecko.

Gorgeous little fellow. Those large eyes are handy for his nightlife adventures. He can run on the ceiling by tiny slits under his feet that form a suction on the substrate. His feet feel like velvet if he is on your hand. I do hope the old tale that they are poisonous has been cleared in modern times. He will hiss to try and defend himself and his bite feels like a soft pinch. It does not even leave a red mark, far from drawing blood, let alone the ridiculous poison tale.  My guess is the hissing reminded people of a snake and from there the poisonous tale.

The little gecko will run if he is on a wall but on this carpet he thinks that he will disappear like when he is on the bark of a tree, so he remains still. This works out fine in nature on a camelthorn tree but at night on a carpet some-one will step on him. Consequently any gecko on the carpet, no matter how cute he looks, is put outside.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Aloe dichotoma and Aloe hereroensis in the southern Namibia. All endemic aloes are strictly protected in Namibia.
Namibia has only 2 seasons, a long hot summer and a short cold winter. It is now September which should be spring, but here that is no option. The dry heat is not as depressing as humid heat of tropical countries, but the hot day temperatures reach dangerous levels in the sun.
Namibia has 27 endemic aloe species. The habitat of some of these aloe species go over the borders into the neighbouring countries as plants do not grow inside political borders, but there are aloe species with a very small habitat inside Namibia only.
This was not a tour to see all the aloes of Namibia, but a quick trip up to Windhoek with a day trip to Swakopmund visiting family. It is a pity that time was short.

The dry semi-desert southern part of Namibia is the habitat of Aloe dichotoma.
It was exhilarating to find such a healthy young Aloe dichotoma tree. Very few seeds reach this stage. The photo below shows an old tree with dead branches - battle scars dealt out by nature.

An Aloe dichotoma garden with pelargoniums and mesembs at a petrol garage with Bed&Breakfast bungalows at the small town, Gruenau. It was a pleasant surprise to find the petunias in bloom protected by some reeds on the other side of the Aloe dichotoma garden. The dry hot day temperatures scorch anything that is green and yet here are these fragile flowers growing happily.

The distance from the border to Gruenau is 120 kilometres and to the next town Keetmanshoop is 146 kilometres. Few tourists do not stop for petrol here, which is just fine for al concerned in this lonely location. (petrol = gas in the USA)

Informal shops catering for tourists, at the roadside opposite the Bed&Breakfast. Never be out in the midday sun over here. Note the barren mountains in the background.

The elephant is astonishingly realistic. I hope that the pile of hardwood for sale as well as the carved animals and figurines are from dead trees. Namibia has a very low supply of hardwood trees. The Camelthorn tree is very hardy but in a harsh climate it grows slowly.
The seedpods and seeds of most Acacia trees are edible and used as fodder for farm animals. (The wild herbivores appreciates it too). We saw many small stalls alongside the roads where people were selling bags of Acacia pods in the central parts of Namibia.

There are a few very special and rare aloes in the southern regions of Namibia. We did not have time to drive out to Aus but I would like to mention Aloe pachygaster. I took some photos of this aloe in the botanical garden in Windhoek.
Aloe pachygaster grows in the most harsh conditions in Namibia. Aus is the coldest place in this country with freezing winters, even snow. This should be good news to aloe enthusiasts in the cold countries. There is no need to bring Aloe pachygaster inside in winter but keep this aloe out of rain all year round. Water it sparingly in autumn only.
for more photos and tips see my web site

Aloe hereoensis in bloom a few kilometers past Keetmanshoop on the way to Mariental.

Aloe hereroensis has a wide distribution throughout Namibia to the neighbouring countries. Photos below left were taken during the good rains in the beginning of the year 2006. Photo right were taken in September 2006 - the aloe plants are in bloom and the grass so green on the photo left are now dry with the seeds blown away by the wind.

Aloe hereroensis in the old cemetery of Usakos. We expected them to be in flower, but although they showed some new growth, the rain was obviously not enough.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Aloe habitat and wild flowers in Namaqualand

photo above: Namaqualand in summer above

Namaqualand in the winter with splashes of purple mesembs and orange daisies

Most people know Namaqualand as a large flower garden in winter, but that is just one side of the plant world in this part of South Africa. The flowering time last 3-4 months of the year if the flowering time of all the lilies and other plants are included with the daisies and mesembs. All plant life seem dry or dead in dull shades of brown the rest of the year, but most succulent plants are alive in a dormant or semi-dormant state.

I want to show a few photos of Namaqualand (Namakwaland) which are not often seen. Flowering plants and lilies which do not grow in large masses and which are overlooked in the veld with a few photos of the small inhabitants.

One of the aloes growing in this region is Aloe melanacantha. Aloe melanacantha is impressive with large black thorns on both side of the leaves for protection. The raceme is long with dark pink flowers.

Aloe melanacantha with seedpods. Most of the seeds were damaged by the larvae of insects eating them. No food is wasted - the dry season with little to eat is very much longer than the season of plenty.

Photo left:- Aloe melanacantha plant curled up in drought and below the plant opens up in the rain season showing new growth with white thorns. On the right is the long raceme with dark pink flowers fading colour as they open

A grasshopper on an Cleretum sp., ice-plant.

Life goes on. We saw these tortoise skeletons some distance apart, while walking in the veld, August 2006. The skeletons had no injury marks on them which would suggest that the animals died as a result of the drought before the rain season started.

Three of the many beautiful lilies. Above left is a Feraria species and right is Synnotia variegata which is a Gladiolus species. Below is Gladiolus orchidiflorus.

Photo left:- The beetle-daisy invites the beetles with markings on the flowers which resemble beetles. The beetles pollinate the flowers when they visit for nourishment and also to meet their own mates.

In this dry climate where there are no flowers for near to eight months a year, beetles seem to be the main pollinators. The flowering season for the daisies is short. Competition to get pollinators are tough in good rain years when huge areas are covered in thousands of flowers. Any attraction out of the norm will give that plant's flowers an advantage over the rest.

Photo below left:- pretty glittering little lovebugs covered in pollen. They eat nectar which does not harm the flowers in any way. The small longhorn beetle on the photo right, eats the flower pedals, but that is not much for the flower to pay in exchange for pollination.

On the photo left is only one of the "living stones" succulents of the Conophytum species - Some plants in flower. The single plant is about the size of the tip of a lady's finger. The plants go dormant in the dry season protected by a papery covering, which slough off in the rain season as the plants grow and fill up with water. It is very difficult to see them when they are dormant. In the top left corner on the photo are some real stones.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Aloe ferox medicinal aloe with photos
Aloe ferox has a very wide habitat distribution in South Africa where this aloe has been used for its medicinal qualities for millennia. Only the gel of Aloe ferox (or any other aloe) should be used by the novice. The sap or bitter yellow exude originating from the green outer cells, can be used for its purgative effects, but it is not recommended as there are better and safer laxatives available.

This scene is to the left of the Breede river photo above.

How to prepare the gel

Cut the leaf in portions and peel off the green outer part. The gel is in the translucent leaf pulp. It is not bitter, in fact it is near to tasteless with only a slight "fresh" taste.

Fresh gel on the skin has a cool feeling. The gel is absorbed by the skin cells in seconds with only a thin silky layer that remains on the skin, giving the skin a
lovely silk smooth texture. The gel revitalizes the cells and the layer protects the skin on the outside.
Store the gel in an airtight container in the fridge for a few days only. It is better to freeze the gel in cubes for use and then remove a cube as needed.
The whole leaf can be stored in a cool dry place for a long time, even weeks. Cut off a portion of the leaf as needed.

The gel of most aloes (species or hybrids) can be used, but most aloes does not have much gel. Aloe barbadensis (known as Aloe vera) is well known for its gel. The gel is not as consentrated as the gel of Aloe ferox, but that does not matter. It is easy to cultivate Aloe vera from offshoots.
Aloe vera has been used for about 3000 years. The habitat of this aloe could be Arabia, but it has been cultivated for so long that the origin of this aloe has been lost in time.

Another South African aloe that is very good is Aloe maculata, also known as Aloe saponaria or the common name "soap aloe". The hybrid Aloe maculata x Aloe striata grows faster than Aloe maculata and it has the same high quality gel. The downside is that it is a much smaller plant than A.ferox or A.barbadensis, thus the gel is strictly speaking more expensive, but the gel is the best.

I take a teaspoon gel (mixed with any food or drink, it is tasteless) daily to build my immune system. I also give it to my pregnant cats in their food. I do not like to suggest anything to be taken internally, so please do it on you own risk. Do not take the green skin or sap! A quick rinse after you peeled the gel will remove the sap. A little sap would not hurt. If the gel taste bitter, then there is sap on it. eee-yuk .... do not believe the old tale that it has to taste awful to be good!

Aloe ferox is a large heavy aloe but it blooms from a young age at a relative small size. This easy growing aloe is an excellent focal point for a garden.