Friday 3 August 2012

Elephant's Foot

Image: Martin_Heigan via Flickr
Pachypodium namaquanum
It's an Elephant's Foot! It's taller than an entire elephant! And... where's the rest of the elephant?

The Elephant's Foot is a great, big plant from an area known as the Richtersveld. The place is all rock and mountain and desert, a little less red than Mars and situated in northern South Africa and southern Namibia.

Image: Petr Kosina via Flickr
Looking north
The Elephant's Foot looks something like a cactus with a hairdo. The stem normally reaches a good 3 metres (9.8 ft) tall, although up to 5 metres (16.4 ft) is not unheard of. It is particularly fat at the bottom, tapering as it reaches the top, and they have the interesting characteristic of always pointing northward.

They are also known as Halfmens, from the folklore of the local Khoisan Bushmen. The story is that the Halfmens are Khoisan people who kept looking back at the Kalahari Desert when they were chased out by invaders. I guess they sort of... took root. That's the past for you.

Image: Martin_Heigan via Flickr
Varying number of branches, all pointing north
Usually there is just the one big stem shaped like an extremely awkward bottle. If it gets damaged, another branch grows to make it look like an even more awkward bottle.

Image: Petr Kosina via Flickr
You've gone too far and you know it
Sometimes it gets a bit much.

Image: mutolisp via Flickr
Thick, crinkled leaves protected by an abundance of spikes
At the apex of this towering figure are the juicy leaves, thick, velvety and expertly crinkled. Some people would spend a lot of money for hair like this, and it would bounce deliciously with every step. One wonders if it's wasted on a plant.

They guard them jealously, though! Just under the leaves is a great mass of spines to dissuade animals from climbing up there and grabbing a succulent nibble. The whole plant is like one, big, spiky pole. I'd prefer the greasy one, at least it's less painful.

Image: Martin_Heigan via Flickr
Flowers bloom around September and eventually develop into seed pods that split open to release the seeds. These have white, tufty hairs which send them parachuting away in the breeze.

Image: Martin_Heigan via Flickr
I am win
They'll land in one of the most unforgiving environments imaginable. Many won't survive, but the amazing thing is that at least a few of them will grow and become peculiar totem poles of the desert, just like their parents.


TexWisGirl said...

it is really pretty cool!

Crunchy said...

I've always thought of these things as the "special needs" part of the plant kingdom. Like they've got the basics down, and they're not quiiite doing it right, but they're really enthusiastic and excited about it.

Joseph JG said...

Hahaha! They definitely win the prize!