Once in lock down, the inscrutable Diamond Coast is now open to tourism. What was hidden behind razor wire and security patrols it is now accessible to ordinary citizens. And what treasure it reveals!
Situated in a narrow strip known as the Strandveld, the Diamond Coast is host to many of the Succulent Karoo plant species – a global biodiversity hotspot.
The Succulent Karoo comprises 6,356 different plants, of which 40% are endemic. This in a harsh, arid environment, where one sheep requires 5,000 hectares of land to support it. The diversity is so extraordinary that you’ll find one species endemic to a small 100 square metre patch of earth.
The adaptations that all forms of life have made to survive in this harsh landscape are revelationary. The surprises take your breath away. For example, Euphorbia morantanica is a deciduous evergreen. Yes, that’s right it goes both ways! Losing its leaves in summer to reduce transpiration and retaining chlorophyll in its stem to continue photosynthesis. Or how about the Namaqua Dwarf Adder, the world’s smallest viper, that collects the fog rolling off the Atlantic Ocean on its scales to drink?
In the floral kingdom life-strategies and adaptations fall into two broad categories: evasion and tolerance. Generally the annuals, the flowering plants that Namaqualand is famous for, fall into the evasion category. They exhibit a rapid completion of their life cycle in a short, favourable period i.e. spring. Differing germination regulation mechanisms mean that not all species flower every year – there is a staggering of procreation over a series of years. One could also call it a sharing of the available resources . Other species produce two different kinds of seeds: one favourable to one set of germination conditions and another to a different set.
The succulents and stone plants generally fall into the tolerance category, where a thick outer skin and fewer stomata reduce water loss. Some have even adopted a different photosynthetic pathway and only take in carbon dioxide at night, when opening their stomata means a reduced loss of moisture. Others, called windowplants, actually withdraw under the soil allowing only a small “window” to protrude at soil level to let sunlight in.
It’s all quite mind-boggling. And extremely humbling.
It appears that this extraordinary tenacity and versatility has rubbed off on humans. Ancient middens provide proof of mankind’s presence up to 3,000 years ago. More recently, hardy settlers survive in Namaqualand’s harsh environment. It’s almost as if Namaqualanders realise that under such extreme conditions the smallest adaptation can make the difference to existence. That’s why you’ll find the people of Namaqualand incredibly helpful. If there’s anything they can do to help, they’ll do it. They know, to the core of their beings, just how priceless this phenomenon called Life is.