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Wildflower Spectacular Namaqualand

Are you passionate about wildflowers? Then this is for you!

Come August each year, everybody in South Africa and many people around the world know that one of the biggest spectacles in Nature is about to happen: The transformation of an arid, desert-like area of about 200,000 sq. kilometres, known as Namaqualand, into an awe-inspiring, dazzling, spectacular mass-display of wild flowers arguably unequalled on the planet. My wife and I have been there many times and would like to share our experience with you.

Where is Namaqualand? 

Namaqualand is in the Northern Cape, north of the Western Cape province of South Africa, in which the well-known Cape Town lies. Namaqualand has as its boundaries the Matsikamma Mountains and Olifants River to the south, the towns of Pella, Pofadder and Calvinia to the east, the Middle and Lower Orange River Valley to the north, and the cold, misty Atlantic to the west. Click here for detailed map.

Biodiversity Hotspot 

Namaqualand is included in the Succulent Karoo biome, one of only 25 Biodiversity Hotspots in the world.
Two factors are considered for hotspot designation. Hotspots are regions that harbour a great diversity of endemic species and, at the same time, have been significantly impacted and altered by human activities. Plant diversity is the biological basis for hotspot designation; to qualify as a hotspot, a region must support 1,500 endemic plant species, 0.5% of the global total.

The thought behind designating biodiversity hotspots speaks for itself: The 25 biodiversity hotspots on our planet contain 44% of all plant species and 35% of all terrestrial vertebrate species in only 1.4% of the planet's land area. (www.skep.co.za)(For more information on Biodiversity hotspots worldwide, visit www.biodiversityhotspots.org.)

The Succulent Karoo is exceptional among the world's arid regions for its spectacularly diverse array of 6,356 plant species, 40% of which are endemic, found nowhere else on Earth. This is about four times the concentration of species found in comparable winter-rainfall deserts elsewhere in the world. The Succulent Karoo is the only entirely arid region to be recognized as a Biodiversity Hotspot.

At this stage you can whet your appetite by paging through an album and/or slide show by Araly.

Why do we have such an exceptional variety of plant species in Namaqualand as compared to any other arid region on earth? 

  1. The annual rainfall in Namaqualand is so low, that it is regarded as a desert according to some definitions. However, the difference is that virtually all the rain falls in winter, which means that most of the moisture is retained in the earth when spring arrives in August. This sets the scene for the floral miracle when the earth starts heating up in spring. Plants have adapted to this special situation of enough moisture and heat in spring, followed by very dry and high temperatures (40 deg. Celsius) desert-like climate in summer.

  2. On the one hand annuals dominate the scene with mass display of predominantly yellow, white and orange flowers for a short space of time. The seeds germinate quickly, the plants grow vigorously and flower profusely, completing the cycle of survival by producing millions of seeds and then die when the summer heat and drought strike them.

  3. On the other hand succulents also benefit from the moisture available in spring. They respond quickly when temperatures start to pick up after the cold winter and bloom eventually in overwhelmingly striking colours. However, unlike the annuals, they don't die when summer heat and drought strike them. They have developed special ways to retain their moisture and survive in summer, to be ready for next year's spring.

  4. Finally, a certain group of plants, known as geophytes, have other ways of survival. They store their energy in bulb-like structures underground, unaffected by soaring temperatures and drought in summer. (image from SKEP) Come spring, seemingly out of nowhere they appear in abundance - some leaves first and many flowers first. Incredible.

Namaqualand consists of five distinct areas: 

Soil types, topography, rainfall, geology, vegetation and animal life all contribute to create four identifiable regions within Namaqualand.

  1. The Namaqualand Uplands encompass the highlands of central Namaqualand in the Northern Cape Province. The area is known for its spectacular displays of spring flowers and high diversity and endemism of bulbous flowers. The 33,500-hectare area includes 1109 species, of which 286 are Succulent Karoo endemics and 107 are Red List species. In addition to its diversity, the region contains large zones of transitional vegetation between succulent and Fynbos habitats.

  2. The Namaqualand Klipkoppe is what can be considered as the true Namaqualand. These 'Klipkoppe' or rocky outcrops are made up of a fragmented chain of mountains measuring approximately 50kms in width. Significant to the topography of the area are the characteristic large flat or round granite outcrops surrounded by sandy alluvial valleys. This area is known for its spectacular displays of spring flowers and high diversity and endemism of bulbous flowers. 1109 species, of which 286 are Succulent Karoo endemics and 107 Red List species are found here.

  3. The Knersvlakte, a 48,500-hectare area, is an extensive dry plain in the centre of the Succulent Karoo hotspot bounded on the east by the Bokkeveld Mountains. The area is typified by very low rolling hills covered in white quartz pebbles and is extremely rich in plant species, in particular unique dwarf succulent plants: A total of 1,324 species, 266 of which are Succulent Karoo endemics with 128 species being listed on the Red List.

  4. The Coastal Plain has the highest rainfall. The 34,600-hectare area includes 432 plant species, 85 of which are Succulent Karoo endemics and 44 of which are Red List species. Plants grow higher and are more shrub-like. Although diamond mining and tourism development have transformed much of the Namaqualand coastline, the Central Namaqualand coast incorporates a crucial 30 kilometre wide tract of relatively pristine coastline where access to diamond mining areas was controlled.

  5. The Richtersveld lies to the north and is a mountainous region with the lowest rainfall. This area is regarded as the area with the world's highest succulent diversity. Plant life consists of a staggering 2700 plant species, 2160 of which are succulents and 560 endemic. Within this area there's a smaller area known as Gariep, which hosts the highest cover, density, and diversity of lichens in the world with 29 different species, many of which are associated with minute embedded succulents.

Nieuwoudtville 

Nieuwoudtville is one of the most visited places in Namaqualand, and for very good reasons as well. As a matter of fact, nobody goes to Namaqualand without spending a lot of time in this area.

It hasn't been discussed in this article simply because it's technically not part of Namaqualand, although everybody treats it as such.

Another reason why it has not been included, is that it justifies an article all on its own. As a matter of fact, my lens on Nieuwoudtville has just been published and I invite you to read it at www.squidoo.com/geophytes.

Maybe you shouldn't go there ... Unless you're up to it ...

For once you've experienced Namaqualand in its full glory, your life won't be the same anymore!
There's a saying that goes as follows:

"Upon arriving in Namaqualand one cannot stop crying, but upon leaving Namaqualand , the bond has grown so much so that once again you cannot stop crying."

So where do you go from here? 

Well, it seems like you have two options:

Option 1: You go there.

  1. First you go to Cape Town, Western Cape Province, South Africa. That's where the journey starts.

  2. But before doing that, you book yourself a decent room in one of the many hotels in Cape Town.

  3. Then you book yourself a guesthouse room in all the towns you wish to overnight in Namaqualand. There's a number of options available and you won't believe how inexpensive they are. I supply only 13 in different towns on your journey.

  4. Then you hire a car, get yourself a decent map, hit the N7 highway and start the journey of a lifetime. (Obviously, you could opt for the easy way and go on one of the many guided tours, but doing it on yourself is so much more exciting!)

Option 2: 

You could buy a VIDEO on the wildflowers of Namaqualand!

Option 3: 

You can go for the consolation prize and buy some of the books listed below. Amazon lists more than 60. I'm showing only a few. Merely click here and you will see them all.

Books on wildflowers of Namaqualand 

Flower Watch: A Guide to the Cape's Floral Wonders by Peter Joyce

Amazon Price: $14.95 (as of 09/20/2008)

Namaqualand by Shirley M Pierce, R.M. Cowling

Amazon Price: (as of 09/20/2008)

Namaqualand - Garden of the Gods by Freeman Patterson

Amazon Price: (as of 09/20/2008)

Namaqualand (South African Wild Flower Guide) by A. Le Roux

Amazon Price: (as of 09/20/2008)

Namaqualand: A Visual Souvenir (Visual Souvenirs) by Colin Patterson-Jones

Amazon Price: (as of 09/20/2008)

The following links are very useful 

I acknowledge hereby having made use of information provided by SKEP in particular.

SKEP

The Succulent Karoo Ecosystem Programme was initiated as a planning programme by Conservation Internationals South African Hotspots Programme. In 2003 the programme received a block grant of over $8 million from CEPF and CI agreed to play a co-ordinating role for the programme until local South African and Namibian organizations were ready to take over this function.

PLANTZ

At this link you can get pictures and a complete description of all the plants in South Africa.

SANBI

This is the webpage of the South African National Biodiversity Institute.


Highlights

Come August each year, everybody in South Africa and many people around the world know that one of the biggest spectacles in Nature is about to happen: The transformation of an arid, desert-like area of about 200,000 sq. kilometres, known as Namaqualand, into an awe-inspiring, dazzling, spectacular mass-display of wild flowers arguably unequalled on the planet.

» Read full article

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Thinking about nature reserves in South Africa, the Kruger National Park immediately springs to the mind, but people tend to forget - or simply do not know - that South Africa boasts a number of other world-class reserves, among which the Pilanesberg National Park/Game Reserve, the fourth biggest in South Africa. In this article I would like to show why it would be worth your while to visit this superb national park in Pilanesberg.

» Read full article

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