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Pachypodium namaquanum, Pachypodium

Pachypodium namaquanum

Family: Apocynaceae
Origin: Namibia
CaudexLarge shrub 5-10 ftSmall tree 10-20 ftFull sunDry conditionsIrritatingThorny or spinySubtropical, cold hardy at least to 30s F for a short time

Pachypodium namaquanum must rate as the most sought-after and loveable of all large succulents from the arid Northern Cape and southern Namibia, otherwise known as the Gariep Region (Orange River region). These iconic survivors of the Richtersveld who have stood the test of time have a peculiar beauty about them, a mysterious almost magical side that has fascinated generations upon generations. The stems are mostly unbranched and cylindrical but may become branched from near the base and occasionally with a few shorter branches near the apex (tip). Plants are characteristically thickset at their bases, which gives them an unmistakable bottle-like appearance when mature. The spines are more abundant along the top half of the plant and decrease toward the base where tubercles are more prominent.

The leaves are borne on rosettes, green-grey and densely velvety on both surfaces. The leaf margins are entire and very wavy which is another distinctive characteristic of this succulent.

The flowers which appear from July to September are tubular, red on the inside and yellow-green outside.

Pachypodium namaquanum is listed as a Near Threatened species according to the southern African Plant Red Data List.

It is known that P. namaquanum also contains poisonous alkaloids as its sap is also used for arrow poisons. It is said that when the spines that arise from the stem are stroked, the plant produces a series of clicking sounds that supposedly mimics the clicks of the Nama language (a population of people found in northwest Namaqualand ).

Perhaps the most fascinating story that links these plants to the people of Namaqualand is the legend of the halfmens. It is believed that these trees are half human, half plant, which is easy to understand, for when seen in the a distance against the skyline, they could easily be mistaken for humans especially when in groups of adults and young ones. Nama folklore provides a delightful explanation for the tilting of the halfmens: a tribe which once occupied a more forgiving part of southern Namibia was driven southwards after a long and bloody conflict. Eventually its members, found themselves fleeing to the Richtersveld, a forsaken mountain desert with a fiercely broken landscape that must have been created by the gods in a moment of rage. Overcome by grief and longing for their homeland, a few among the tribe paused to gaze northward for the last time. The gods took pity on these wretched souls and turned them into half humans or halfmens in order to comfort them with a distant view of their lost homeland for eternity.

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