Fiona McIntosh gets some insight into the unique flora of Gifberg from an expert.
Jacques Tredouw, a freelance guide specialising in ecology, botany, birds and rock art (and is a former Head Field Guide at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat), grew up in the Gifberg area.
Why is it so special?
The top of Gifberg is a transition zone between two biomes – the Succulent Karoo and Fynbos. From Gifberg to the north you get the Succulent Karoo Biome with its famous succulent plants and, in spring, spectacular displays of daisies and other wildflowers. To the south is the Fynbos Biome with its proteas and restios and ericas. In the shallow rock puddles, you get an accumulation of sand and white quartz pebbles, which simulate the conditions of the Namaqualand.
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The overlap on the mountain results in a floral landscape that you don’t get anywhere else in the world. Look around and you’ll see vygies growing underneath protea bushes!
What wildflowers will you find?
“One of my favourite plant species in these rock puddles is the kliprosie (Conophytum). They are minute, but react to the first winter cold and dew and start blooming in May, normally for only a week,” says Jacques. They are so tiny that they disappear on the rock plates and if you don’t look where you step you can accidentally tread on them without even noticing. “Here on the top of Gifberg is a miniature Namaqualand knersvlakte, right in the middle of a Fynbos Biome.”
Bergboegoe, also called anysboegoe, (Agathosma capensis) is another interesting plant. The sweet-spicy oil was used by the bushmen to treat blood pressure problems, stomach and digestive problems, but also mixed into animal fat and rubbed on the body as perfume and insect repellent.
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The bushmen who lived on Gifberg used poison from the caterpillar of the African monarch butterfly on their arrows. The female butterfly lays her eggs on the leaves of the mountain milkweed (Gomphocarpus cancellatus). When the eggs hatch the caterpillars start eating the poisonous milkweed, and become concentrated with poison. The bushmen would collect the caterpillars for the poison, which didn’t kill the antelope but slowed it down and made it easier to run down and kill with a spear.
“In addition to being a guide I’m a leather-smith, so I love the rockwood tree (Heeria argentea),” says Jacques. Otherwise known as the “basboom”, or bark tree, it has this lovely fresh smell when you crush its leaves. The bark contains a lot of tannins that were used in the leather tanning process.
Jacques Tredoux can be contacted on +27 (0) 72 815 0160.