Thursday, August 5, 2021

Plants like stones and others

 Michael - Thursday

Southern Africa is rich in extraordinary plants. The Cape Fynbos is one of the world's six floral kingdoms with nearly ten thousand species of plants. These include the proteas that are symbolic of  South Africa. But if you move away from the winter rainfall area of the Western Cape into the arid regions of the Karoo, the Kalahari, and the Namib deserts, you meet a new vista of fascinating plants.

South Africa's national flower - King Protea

Take the Welwitschia of the Namib. This plant has a genus all to itself. It grows from the sand and never develops more than two leaves. The leaves appear as a scraggly mass of pieces because they are torn by the wind, but they come from just two nodes, and unlike other plants, the leaves continue to grow throughout the plant's life. It seems a pretty hopeless survival strategy, but the plants are known to live for thousands of years in the least hospitable conditions imaginable.

Yes. Two leaves. Really.

In other areas you find a profusion of different succulent species, cleverly adapted to their environments. This is the Stapelia. A beautiful flower opens giving off a putrid scent reminiscent of rotting meat. There aren't many bees in the desert, but there is a profusion of flies. QED.

It seems to work...

Then there are the lithops. Not only are they fat and fleshy to store what moisture they can find, but they'e  disguised as stones. In A Carrion Death, Kubu describes how he was taught to see what was hidden by his Bushman school friend who took him into the desert and showed him that in an apparently barren area of sand, there were plants like stones, trapdoor spiders, and other fascinating things camouflaged from his sight. After that he looked below the superficial and that stood him in good stead as a detective.

Stones or Lithops?

Lithops flowering

It seems that whenever something is unusual, people want it. They don't want it where it lives and where they can appreciate it's fit with its environment, they want it in their homes. To look at. As a talking point. To own. I'm not sure why that is...

Policeman inspecting seized boxes of Conophytums
New York Times

So now there is a new target for the poaching and smuggling trade - southern African succulents. They are protected, but stolen from their desert homes, stacked in cardboard boxes and sent off to locations around the world. They are not endangered. Yet. Sadly they grow slowly, so attractive specimens take many years to grow from seeds. It's much cheaper and quicker to dig them up. A full report appeared in the New York Times this weekend about the Conophytums. Once again South Africa is facing a "wildlife" poaching and smuggling problem. The section of the police tasked with addressing this is called the Stock Theft and Endangered Species Unit. Since it's obviously easier to dig up plants than deal with large cows and angry farmers, their focus has moved to endangered plants. A good haul can net you a hundred thousand rand on the black market - about $7,000. (They sell for much more to the collectors - particularly the rare and endangered species.) That doesn't sound like a lot of money, but to paraphrase what Kwei said yesterday at the end of his excellent blog, South Africa doesn't have a criminal problem, it has a poverty problem. The people arrested on the ground are usually poor and out of work. What else can they do?


Sadly, Bouchercon has been cancelled. However (as things stand at the moment), Stan will still be at Nashville for Killer Nashville. Facets of Death is a finalist for the Best Investigator Silver Falchion there!

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on the nomination Michael (and Stanley). Yesterday I had lunch with a Greek couple who raved on about the beauty, camps, and wildlife of Botswana. I of course turned them on to your well as your always interesting Thursday postings. Well done indeed!