Gamkaberg Nature Reserve’s Amazing Succulents

gamkaberg nature reserve - copyright scott ramsay-2If you’re planning to visit Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, be sure to pack kneepads because it’s at ground level that you’ll find some of the most interesting inhabitants.

Although Gamkaberg Nature Reserve is located within the Cape Floral Kingdom, the reserve is of particular interest to botanists as four of the South African biomes are represented, namely Fynbos, Succulent Karoo, Subtropical Thicket and Evergreen Forest.

The best times of the year to visit are during spring and autumn, although visits throughout the year can be just as rewarding. The vast, open plains of Gamkaberg are home to an astonishing array of succulent plants.

Gamkaberg Nature Reserve is located in the Central Little Karoo geographic priority area of SKEP. The Central Little Karoo lies in the valley between the Langeberg and Swartberg mountain ranges in the south of the Succulent Karoo Hotspot.

When at Gamkaberg Nature Reserve, look around and you will be amazed by the variety of shapes and textures. Red and yellow star-shaped flowers look like starfish stranded in the desert. Flat grey leaves do a good job of impersonating stones. Tiny hairs give some plants a velvety appearance.

Rainfall is scarce in this area, so the plants have developed ingenious strategies for survival. They store moisture in fleshy leaves and stems, and are often compact and low on the ground. Some have their roots close to the surface so that water from a small shower (or even dew) can be soaked up quickly.

A succulent like perdetand (horse’s tooth) retreats into the ground when it’s very hot and dry. But when the rain comes, more of the plant pops out to take advantage of the water. The colloquial names of many plants are just as delightful. Just take worsie (sausage), gansmis (goose poo), skoenveter (shoelace) and Crassula orbicularis (hen-en-kuikens).  The best way to explore these living treasures is on the Gamkaberg Day Trails.

Another plant, the descriptively named Gibbaeum heathii (bababoudjies), stores its seeds within a capsule. These are released only when it rains and raindrops scatter the seeds in all directions. Bababoudjies favour quartz patches, another clever way to escape the sun’s wrath and keep from drying out. The white stone pebbles reflect the sun’s rays and help the surrounding succulents stay cool.

Gamkaberg Conservation Area is made up of six separate protected areas, joined in various places by private land corridors. CapeNature has stewardship contracts with these landowners to ensure sustainable land use and conservation on their land. This has meant that the protected area has grown from 10 000 ha to 80 000 ha over the years.

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