Saturday, June 23, 2007

The iceplant Mesembreyanthemum crystallinum
The thought struck me that I should at least give the scientific name of the iceplant in my description of this plant in the previous post. To my surprise the first information I looked up on the web gave the distribution of the plant as Mexico and the USA. That was when I decided to go to the web site of the University of California. The plant is from South Africa but it was accidentally introduced to America by the first seafarers.
Crystalline iceplant occurs along the immediate coast from the SanFrancisco Bay region south into Baja California, Mexico. It can also be found on all the California Channel Islands..... It is found primarily in saline soils on coastal strand, coastal sage scrub, coastal bluffs and cliffs, and other disturbed ground. It tolerates saline soils, but not frost.
Mesembreyanthemum crystallinum grows not only on the coast but also in the dry sandy loam of Namaqualand which contains a lot of salts. There is frost inland so that it could not be very sensitive to frost in habitat possibly because it is protected by shrubs and boulders.

Something special about the plant - In the old days it was (probably still is) used to clean pots. A little sand added to the leaf mush will scour and clean a pot quickly. Not so long ago I met a woman who grew up in a household where the pots were scoured and cleaned in this way. I can imagine the women who live far from towns in the dry Namaqualand with very little cash money, could still be using this plant for soap and water. The juice and pulp of the iceplant is very good treatment for the skin.
In addition to the healing and feeding of the skin it also forms a thin membrane which protects the skin against drying out and even sunburn.
I found a photo of the iceplant that we took a previous winter. This photo was taken in Namaqualand.

  I was more interested in taking a photo of the dashing grasshopper "knight with his armor" than the iceplant.

Is he smart or what ?!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

the quiver tree Aloe dichotoma in habitat. During his visit to us my son wanted to see the "Quiver Tree forest". That is an experience not to be missed by anybody visiting South Africa or Namibia. To appreciate the full effect of the harsh climate in which these aloes grow visit in December, which was when these photos were taken.

The drive is roughly 500 km there and back.
 Our grandson Thomas enjoyed the boerewors and mielies for lunch (beef sausage and corn on the cob) at a picnic spot in the shade.

Exploring the world with Grandpa - on the shady side of the tree.  Note there is only a hint of green. Everything goes without water until the rains start after April.

Where are the lions and elephants ?

Because of its sponge like fibrous composition the trunk of Aloe dichotoma has a very light weight. Thomas (aged three years and five months) kindly agreed to demonstrate the weight of a dead Aloe dichotoma trunk. The wind was strong and made it difficult for him to keep his balance, but he was not going to give up.  If a guy must pose on a photo for Grandma he will do it with a smile.
Finally the stem was in line with the wind and he could pose.

A last stop to get some of the high quality sandy loam for Grandpa's seedlings.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

terrestrial orchids companion plants for aloes
The small terrestrial orchid Pterygodium.volucris can grow happy in the same conditions as the aloes in the garden. The name orchid usually goes with pretty or very odd flowers, but not in the case of this small orchid. The flowers are so plain and the same colour as the leaves so that it is easy to overlook them. The plants are neat and they grow very easy.  Pterygodium volucris is from the winter rainfall area so it needs rest in summer and water in winter. It can remain in the ground in a dry climate.
The orchids grow next to the Paintbrush lily Haemanthus coccinius (The two large leaves in photo ) which bloomed a few weeks ago. 

 The Paintbrush lily sends out the flower first( photo below), then the leaves. The leaves measure, each 39 cm long and 17 cm wide. In inches that is roughly 16 inches long and 7 inches wide. I measured them.

The little blue aloe in the top photo is a hybrid growing without any attention. I would have liked to ask it to make an offshoot or two, but it seems that is not going to happen.
The winter rain has started and the dry patches between the aloes are turning green - soon there will be flowers all over. For now we enjoy the green and the anticipation.