Where the aloes live, on a Karoo Koppie

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity
in Cape Town, South Africa

When we travelled towards Worcester in July 2010, to the Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden, we left Porterville's wheat-fields with their isolated pockets of Renosterveld. At the foot of the Mostertshoek Twins 2030m we saw the sunshine bush – golden leaves on the Leucadendron proteas. Lighting up the fynbos slopes of the mountains, then winding away along the road not taken, to Bain’s Kloof Pass. To the Little Karoo. Semi-desert, because it does get a little rain, now in the winter.

Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden with blooming aloes and snow in July 2010
Karoo Desert National Botanical Garden
with blooming aloes and snow in July 2010


We earned our lunch. Sitting on the terrace, looking across the garden, aloes blooming, snowy mountains in the distance. Cupcake, one of those tiny fluffy Yorkshire terriers, bounding across the lawn.

Crassula, Euphorbia Felicia Oxalis
Crassula, Euphorbia
Felicia
Oxalis

What lit up this garden, beneath the flaming torches of the aloes, was the chartreuse-gold of Euphorbia mauritanica NOT from the Moors in ancient Mauretania, but from South Africa and Namibia). Grey leaves and white flowers of wild rosemary. A little pink-and-white-prettiness Crassula has two tone leaves, supporting those flowers. Feathery mauve Felicia, not the commonorgarden kingfisher blue. (Wakes up in yellow pyjamas, and only puts its mauve dress on, when the sun comes out!) In the path, the first of the pink Oxalis.

Botterboom Cotyledon orbiculata
Botterboom
Cotyledon orbiculata

Nature weaves a tapestry of textures. The thick trunk with fleshy luminous green leaves, just in winter, is the botterboom - happy to tick this one off my list for the False Bay garden. With blue-grey leaves edged with burgundy from Cotyledon orbiculata.

Karoo Desert NBG landscape
Karoo Desert NBG landscape

This landscape is covered with an understory beneath the trees and the tall aloes of Karoo bossies, like wild rosemary, which are eaten by the sheep. Giving Karoo lamb which is famous (but not to these vegetarians). In a harsh climate, people survive by farming sheep.

Worcester aloe Aloe ferox
Worcester aloe
Aloe ferox

I think that spotted leaf is the Worcester aloe (Spotted Aloe microstiga from their nursery went to Porterville). The aloe flowers are probably Aloe ferox, which has green leaves, no spots.

Karoo NBG bulbs moss and lichen
Karoo NBG bulbs
moss and lichen

Along the rocky path, where they benefit from the trickle or flow of water in winter, but risk hikers boots, there are bulbs. A brave bud just starting to show its head. And despite that semi-desert climate, in winter, there is moss and lichen, in shady places.

Karoo Desert NBG Karoo Koppie
Karoo Desert NBG
Karoo Koppie

This, is a Karoo Koppie. A rocky outcrop, with its own particular community of plants. (Inspiring our Karoo Koppie in Porterville and again on False Bay)

Karoo NBG Haworthia
Karoo NBG Haworthia

If you grow small succulents, Haworthia or Gasteria, remember that although they come from a hot dry climate – when they are at home, they grow like this. In the shade of a small twiggy bush. Tucked in under the canopy, where leaf litter gives them a little nourishment, and the sun, cannot quite reach them.

Wild rosemary Eriocephalus
Wild rosemary Eriocephalus

The bush might be, as this one is, wild rosemary. But daisy, not sage, family. Eriocephalus. Grey leaves. China white flowers which cover the bushes. A tiny knee high light house. If you click on the flower detail, you will see the seed-heads developing. Tiny feathery cotton-bolls will cover the bushes in a second wave of white, after the flowers have faded. See those delicate burgundy markings on the flowers?

Karoo NBG with snow in July 2010
Karoo NBG with snow in July 2010

Hike up and around the Koppie. The Ungardener panting from the exertion, and my stiff legs, reminded us that we are not fit.

Pictures by Jurg and Diana Studer
of Elephant's Eye on False Bay

(If you mouse over teal blue text, it turns seaweed red
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Comments

  1. I have never saw the flower of the Aloe, its amazing,,, the land looks quite arid, beautiful landscape and brought to life even more so than the photos with your beautiful narration,

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    Replies
    1. I visit when I can hope for snow on the mountain and aloes in flower.

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  2. You are fortunate to be able to hike comfortably even in your winter! The Wild Rosemary is lovely.

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    Replies
    1. and to come home to a warm house filled with sunshine today

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  3. Beautiful images, Diana. I loved seeing the aloes bloom in the winter when I lived in California. xo Laura

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  4. I am hot and tired too...did you bring some lemonade??? :)

    How beautiful the scenery is on this hike...

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    Replies
    1. (I've never made, or drunk, lemonade. But I have been filing away recipes. I always walk with a bottle of filtered water from home.)

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  5. I did not know that aloe bloomed! What a beautiful landscape.

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    Replies
    1. I so much associate blazing red torches of aloe flowers with driving across the Karoo in winter. Fireworks!!

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  6. Seeing what are houseplants for us in their natural habitat is a special treat.

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    Replies
    1. a little like visiting a friend at home

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    2. I am continually fascinated how one country's tame houseplant is another's wild one.

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  7. Diana, I am again impressed with the part of world in which you live. A tapestry of textures indeed!

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  8. It is this green carpet that protects our earth.

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  9. these plants remind me of the flora I saw in the Flinders Ranges, probably similar climate. There were Aloes that had gone wild in the caravan and camping park, and they looked horribly out of place there. To see yours in their proper habitat is a joy. And there were daisy bushes like the wild rosemary. This post makes me feel restless, wanna go back to the bush for a nature fix ...

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    Replies
    1. The Eucalyptus trees on farms feel like ours. But the bottlebrush does look alien. When I see Port Jackson seedlings my fingers itch to pull up unwanted invaders.

      Are those aloes at the campsite originally planted as garden specimens? Or simply invasive?

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    2. they were planted as garden specimens. They've spread at the camp site, luckily I didn't see any in the bush outside.

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  10. Seeing all those beautiful colourful plants makes the word desert strange ...

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    Replies
    1. Namaqualand and the Karoo - I expect my deserts to make flowers in their season. But it is amazing, if you can stop, and walk, how much there is to see.

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  11. That's a fascinating landscape! I didn't know about these plants.
    Regards
    Elke

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  12. That does look like a hard landscape to live in, but love all the little living treasures you pointed out! That explains why one of the succulents I was trying to grow really wants more shade, not full sun. And love all the lichen growing there where it can!

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  13. When I was younger, and less appreciative, I used to hate seeing aloe plants. Now, that I am older and wiser, I appreciate it for it's different beauty, and water-wiseness.

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  14. It's amazing anything grows in such a difficult environment. It makes you respect the plants who do make that area their home all the more.

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    Replies
    1. and watch in quiet admiration as my succulent garden LUSHes out.

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  15. More fit than me I suspect....love these excursions into your fascinating wild areas...wild rosemary...love it!

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