Did you know?
The Richtersveld is the only place in the world where the halfmens plant can be found.
The mirage-like landscape of the Northern Cape hides one of nature's great gifts to the world: the Richtersveld National Park which contains South Africa's only mountainous desert. This remote, harsh environment is famous for its great diversity of succulent plants, which store water in their trunks or leaves and so can survive the long, dry periods common to this region. One of the most famous plants is the Noordpool (North Pole) or Halfmens plant (half-person).
The plant can be recognised by its distinctive rosette of leaves, resembling a green 'afro' set atop a narrow trunk that can grow to as tall as three metres. From a distance the plant is often said to resemble a small person, hence the name.
Most odd is that the crown of the Richtersveld Halfmens always leans slightly to the North, which is why some refer to the succulent as the Noordpool.
The Pachypodium namaquanum,as botanists call it, is extremely slow growing, gaining a modest 0.5 to 1.5 centimeters in height each year. Some of the bigger plants can age to more than a hundred years, reaching heights of 4 or 5 metres, although on average they tend to be about 2 metres tall, flowering from July to September.
The Halfmens contains poisonous alkaloids and its sap was traditionally used for arrow poison.
It is said that when the spines on the Halfmens' stem are stroked, the plant produces a series of clicking sounds that supposedly mimics the clicks of the Nama language (one of South Africa's earliest known people from the Northern Cape region of Namaqualand.
Visiting the Richtersveld with its abundant wildlife, desolate landscapes and enigmatic flora is a must for any nature enthusiast, and an encounter with the Halfmens is a definite highlight on any flora fundi's life list.