01 July, 2015

Where the aloes live, on a Karoo Koppie

by Diana Studer
- gardening for biodiversity

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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