The Cactus Patch
Volume 10       April 2007      Number 04

Gcwihaba at Last!
A Letter From Bruce
by Bruce Hargreaves

Unlike last year when it dumped rain, February was fairly dry.  We set out on the 20th across the Transkalahari Highway and reached Ghanzi at dusk.  Polly & I (traveling in our own LandRover) checked into a chalet at the Kalahari Arms while the rest of the Millennium Seed Bank bunch camped out back.  (Polly & I did our camping there back in 1969.)

Next day while government vehicles got themselves organized, Polly & I plus the MSB vehicle went out to the little Tsau Hill on the edge of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve but failed to find the Adenium boehmianum which grows there.  We finally all joined up at Sehitwa, but Polly & I headed north to the nearest gas station at Gomare.  The rest went straight on to Gcwihaba and camped in the dark.  Polly & I stopped and slept on top of the Rover when it got dark, joining the others and setting up our tent in the morning.

Gcwihaba was a real sight.  BeBeers has sponsored an exploration effort to uncover more caves and had set up a real tent city with contingents from Xaixai (also spelled Caecae etc.) Village, the Museum and the BDF (Army).  They even had a dish and generator so they could watch TV!  Although most of the excavated sand had been carted away, there was still a mound by the main cave entrance.

After setting up the tent, we joined the rest of the MSB group at the cave entrance for lunch.  We toured the cave and Polly finally got to see the fig tree roots going down into the entrance (the roughest part of the tour as the trail goes down a steep jumble of rocks).  We then looked at cave formations which have a break in them from a time when there was an earthquake.  Although the tourist route now avoids the main bat roosts, we did see quite a number of them as well as cockroaches and other insects which feed on the thick layer of bat dung.  Fortunately the cave is dry, so this is not a real problem.

We looked at plants across the valley from the cave and found an orchid!  Actually it was Puna Makati from Veld Products Research & Development who found it.  She asked me what it was and I off-handedly said (judging by the long narrow succulent leaves) "It's probably another Albuca species".  Puna insisted on knowing which one, so I dug it up to grow and see.  Much to my surprise it had tubers in a chain which is typical of some Eulophia species.  "It's an orchid", I said and Puna asked "How do you know?"  To this I replied, "The tubers look like testicles (Orchis in Greek).  Puna then said, "I wouldn't know about that!"

We next stopped at a beautiful stand of Aloe littoralis on a rock cliff next to the cave, but our work was interrupted by lightning, wind rain and hail - the only storm of the whole trip.  When we got back to camp we found two of the lightweight tents were flattened.  Our tent was standing, but half of a leadwood tree was leaning on it!  (Fortunately our two camp chairs blocked the fall so there was no damage.)

    While dinner was underway I walked around the camp site and found many plants of Aloe littoralis had been toppled in a recent fire.  One of them had ten heads! (In a species described as having one!)  I also found a large Raphionacme, but was unable to dig it up as the large tuber was wedged between rocks.  It looks like one I collected north of Francistown two years ago, but which has not bloomed.  It is probably Raphionacme grandiflora. (This is not in the latest checklist for Botswana, but Peter Bruyns says he collected it here.)

Next day we drove west and found a few interesting plants - Euphorbia monteiroi, another Eulophia (not as succulent), an Orbea (probably lugardii) and a shrub with orange fruits that taste like (and are related to) Persimmons.  We collected bags of this last fruit!)  We proceeded through Xaixai to the new Aha Hills road.  We climbed the hills, but found nothing interesting.  Polly rested under a mongongo Nut tree (a succulent barked tree in the Spurge family) and managed to dig up a bulb of Pancratium ( a hallucinogenic relative of Amaryllis) without even leaving her sleeping mat!

We then turned back to Xaixai and went west to the Namibian border.  We followed a rough border track north back through the Aha Hills and found some wild sweet potatoes dug up by wild pigs.  We spent the night at the Police camp at the border post of Dobe.  Showers and drinking water were available next door at the army camp.  Quite a change from the old San (Bushman) village recorded here in years gone by.

Next morning we proceeded east to Qangwa and collected a rare yellow snapdragon.  The rest of the group went back to Dobe and then north to the northwest corner of Botswana.  It was rough going in deep sand, they had flats and were exhausted, but they eventually made it back.  Polly & I headed east and found a tall bright yellow Albuca.  While I dug up the bulb, Polly tried to put the plant in the herbarium press and found the juice very irritating.

To be continued ....

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