Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Ex Africa semper aliquid novi: the "dark" continent

Basotho herden on the Black Mountains
Of course, all Humanity ultimately emanates "ex Africa"... I suspect most anyone who stumbles on my blog knows that "out of Africa there are no end of novelties" according to Pliny--and on Martin Luther King's holiday on a toasty January day when an African-American Barack Obama is sworn into his second term, I would like to pay tribute to the most magical of continents...

I love both North and South America for certain, and Eurasia is grand in every way. I'm sure Australia is just peachy, but Africa is where the last of the vast herds of ungulates that sustained and co-evolved with early humanity still persist in a few last strongholds.

Kniphofia caulescens (albomontana) on Oxbow, Lesotho

If I had to name two of the most gorgeous spots I have ever botanized on Planet Earth, Oxbow (above) and Sani Pass (below) would surely be in the top ten. You can glimpse the incredibly protean and variable Kniphofia in another of my blogs. Notice the throng behind the big clump!

Alpine meadow on Sani pass filled with Helichrysum album and Rhodohypoxis
I'm thinkiing I should dedicate a whole blog to the meadow where I photographed this--at 9000' or so on Sani Pass--I have no end of vignettes I have taken there over the years, each with a different assortment of treasures: there must be literally hundreds of species of choice alpines growing on that spot, one more beautiful than the next. I have been enormously privileged to have taken six trips to South Africa over the last few decades--and these have constituted some of the most wonderful days and hours of my life. Of course the impetus for these trips was largely due to researching hardy succulents.
Delosperma 'Fire Spinner'

And this one is the kicker...'Fire Spinner' has created quite the stir this year (another blog!).  Although I have not found this remarkable species in the wild yet, I can't help but wonder if Delosperma 'Firespinner', introduced by the Plant Select program will be the last surprise "ex Africa"? I truly doubt it!

Policy wonks predict that Africa (currently the poorest Continent economically--excepting perhaps Antarctica and Greenland...) is poised in this century to utterly transform much as Asia has in recent decades. The population has burgeoned enormously in the last century--and great growth will have frightening costs for the environment--even as it creates opportunities for young Africans: life is a double edged sword.

What does this have to do with Martin Luther the King (as my pre-school daughter used to call him), or Obama for that matter? Not much--perhaps. Except that these two figures who have done so much to galvanize and transform perceptions about African Americans in our body politic share with the many plants I treasure from their ancestral continent a sort of majesty and capacity to dazzle and summon, perhaps, some deep, evocative--perhaps atavistitic--memory in many of us of our very origins on the steppes and acacia covered savannahs of Africa--the "dark" continent that shimmers..


  1. Very true deeper points at the end. So much for "dark"! Such a huge, diverse continent covering 70 deg in latitude (?), which I've barely read anything about. The closest I got was Sicily, except my distant ancestors who apparently skirted the Med. shores to at least Algeria...or my older siblings who lived wayyy NW in Morocco.

    Not to mention, what a great source for plants, especially as one's zone increases in #!!!

  2. I suspect you and I have more than a few drops of African blood in us, my fellow Mediterranean geo-buff! You better not get bit with the African bug: it's worse than tse-tse fly! Click on this link and watch it and you'll see exactly what I mean!


  3. Wow - thanks for such a wonderful peek into the "dark" continent with the short film by Steinmetz. Besides being a gardener I am also a birder and would love to get a closer look at this land of wonder and surprise... It is the getting there that is the problem!

  4. I really like the way you tie botany to politics. Consilience!

  5. Glad you checked out that magical film by Steinmetz, Mark! He is a master. You must beg, borrow--but do not steal of course--and go to Africa before it is spoiled. I have never seen such a profusion of birds in my life as I did in Botswana: dozens of different raptors, secretary birds, bustards, flamingos, and no end of hornbills: I remember flying through the lowveld in the jeep and watching the hornbills fly past us--and when I saw Lion King a few years later realized they just cartoonized the exact same experience pretending the jeep was an elephant--art blending with life in an amazing way. Everyone must support the wildlife issues in Africa so we do not have everything left just in zoos. Enough humanity already!


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