What is the name of this plant?  How could a plant with such green leaves live in an arid place like the Messum Crater where average precipitation rates can be lower than 30 mm a year. What kind of grit does it take to survive and thrive in in the heart of the desert?  I’m going to show you 8 plants we encountered in the Messum Crater and describe how I experienced them as rooted souls.   This post includes photos from two trips I made to the Crater with Frikkie. It was a windy day in 2015 when Heather took a photo of Frikkie and me with this tall plant.  I have spent hours  on the internet trying to find out its name to no avail. Anyone out there recognize this plant? (Heather’s photo) 


I have decided to call it Green Angel Grows a Golden Trumpet with Purple Striped Tongue.  One thing for certain is that, given these lush leaves,  there is water underground here.  Look also at the thick stems on the leaves, strong and flexible drawing up water from the roots embedded and reaching deep under the sandy, rocky soil.  


This bush I am calling Cloud Catcher.  It looks as though the wind blew a  cloud of sunrise through its thorny branches and snatches snagged on the dry branches and here they are fluttering in the breeze.  I assure you that the rest of the plants we will meet I can identify for you, although I enjoy making up names for them.


I believe these are members of the mesembryanthe family. The plant is a succulent and the long Latin name means blooming in mid-day.  Look at the leaves, sturdy little water towers.  Growing out from under this large rock, the relative shade and early morning moisture account for its ability to survive as well as its ability to close its blossoms at night and during adverse conditions.


Aloe plants surprise you growing right out of the crevices between rocks where you would least expect to see a plant .  Like candles they are lit up with sunlight throughout the day.






This one is full of flowers the coral pink of sunrise.


I love this photo.  Well aware as I am that plants do not have the same consciousnesses as humans do, I maintain they have a presence and an ancient intelligence about adaptation accompanied by a fierce will to live, even though it means clinging to bare rock with filaments of root.  Intelligence can be expressed in various ways.  It’s not restricted to organisms having brains. However, I  have only human words to describe this aloe and the words I choose  are courage, dignity, beauty, endless hope.  Rooted soul.


Here is a robust fellow by the Latin name of euphoria virosa. Its common name is Gifboom which means poison plant. Here it is sprouting seed pods.


You might not want to get too close to this well armored desert warrior as it secretes a milky white poison or so Frikkie claims!  Not to be used for half and half in your morning coffee.  The Bushmen use the poison on the tips of their arrows when they are hunting.  Warrior Soul.


We saw Gifboom frequently and they are the only plant looking like a cactus I can remember seeing in the Messum Crater. I saw many thorny bushes and succulents like aloe.  I probably should return to Namibia soon so I can locate another type of cactus.  Yes!


This is a tsamma, or desert watermelon.  It smells deliciously like familiar red fleshed watermelons, but the taste of the tsamma is very bitter as I discovered.  The primary purpose of the melon, of course, is to provide a protection for the seeds which  are pocketed in the melon’s moist flesh.  In the Messum Crater, antelope such as the oryx are happy to find a tsamma.  Such a wet feast is a luxury in the desert.  And the oryx helps spread the tsamma seed excreted in its dung.


The tsamma melon vine stretches across the desert like a string of  pallid balloons, pale sun rinds full of water in a web of seed and fiber – the earth’s complex survival response to  the sun’s heat and light.  Gift of Soul.


Frikkie tells his adventurous tourists that he feeds the tsamma melon to a special desert inhabitant….


one of the Messum Crater rock dragons!  It takes him a long time to eat it, and he spits out the rind.


Against one of the steep walls of the Crater you will find an abundance of lichens.


Lichens come in a variety of colors.  I could spend whole days studying their beauty.  On either side of the road leading into the Messum Crater there are fields and fields of lichens.  Their role is to stabilize the upper layer of the soil and they are important to the ecosystem of the deserts in Namibia.


Lichens grow very slowly, about 1 mm a year. When humans ride quad-bikes across the lichen fields they destroy one hectare of the lichens.  One four wheel drive vehicle wipes out an entire hectare of lichens every ten km it travels.  Once they are destroyed it takes them at least 100 years to regrow. I am continually in awe of the immense deliberation and infinite detail evident in the earth’s development of itself over eons and eons, millions and billions of years – and how, at every level, the web of collaboration is actively visible.  Lichens:  a partnership of algae and fungi.  Soul Work.


So how does the algae part of the partnership come alive to take in sunlight?  The little leaves have the remarkable ability to stay alive and go dormant and dry in the absence of water.  They can survive up to 9 months without water.  So what happens when Frikkie sprinkles water on them?


The leaves come alive!  This is the same rock as the photo above.  It takes less than  5 minutes for the leaves to “wake up.”  You can watch them unfurl. 


The name, lichen, comes from a Greek word, leikhen which means lick. When these little leaf tongues are wet, they are soft and feathery.  Of course, Frikkie,can’t come and water the lichens every few days, so how do they get the moisture they need?  Rain provides some, but it is infrequent; some years there is no rain.  The moisture comes from early morning condensation and the fungi constantly filter minerals and whatever water there is in the soil to keep the enterprise humming.  Although slow growing, lichens can live for 100’s to 1,000’s of years and are one of the earth’s oldest organisms.    Soul Wisdom.


Frikkie introduced us to a very old Crater denizen – the Welwitchia Mirabilis – a stone age tree.  The first part of the name is after the Austrian naturalist Friedrich Welwitsch who happened upon this mirabilis (Latin for miracle) in Namibia in 1859.  There is an entire field of them in the Messum Crater.  The Namibian desert people, the Himba and Topnaar, have names for this tree also – 0nyanga and !kharos.  They also call it tumboa, meaning stump because of its short trunk.


View of part of the Welwitschia field in the Messum Crater.  These may be the strangest looking trees you have ever seen.  They are unique- there are no other living trees related to them.  They existed in Namibia 120 million years ago.


The ages of some of the trees existing today have been determined by carbon-14 dating.   They live hundreds of years; probably some of them are 1,000+ years old.  They have characteristics of gymnosperms (conifers) but also of angiosperms (having flowers, pollen transfer by insects, as well as a water conducting system – xylem vessels).  One of my poetic thoughts about them is that they are like a plant dreaming of itself as a tree.  All the elements are there – woody trunk, leaves – but the assembly appears to be still in progress – the dream is not finished yet.  I will tell you how this Dreaming Soul survives and draw your attention to its unique beauty.  (photo by Frikkie)


From now on in this post, I am going to use one of  Namibia’s names for this tree, tumboa, instead of the name of the Austrian visitor, Welwitsch.  This is a male tumboa.  The male produces pollen through tiny yellow flowers which grow on the narrow spindles you see here.  Insects carry the pollen to the female plants.


In this close-up you can see the pollen on the spindles.  It is  tiny bees and wasps which carry this pollen to the females.  It has been thought that a beetle…


this one, acted as cupid between the male and female tumboas, but according to Joh R. Henschel who wrote Welwitschia’s World, this beetle uses the tumboas as a lunch counter, feeding on developing seeds on the female cones.


The female tumboa has cones which hold seeds in winged cases.  It is not easy for the seeds to germinate – they can be infected by a fungus and/or not receive enough water to soak in.  They need up to 3 weeks in water to germinate and grow an initial root systems.  So to find a seedling is a rare occurrence. 


These are  tumboa seed cases.  They can be found at the base of the tumboa in soft drifts- parchment- like, dry and light – and they smell sweet like dried grass. 



Here you can see that these female cones have opened and released their seeds.   The tumboa has two methods for respiration and carbon uptake, depending on the weather.  It opens its pores (stomata) during the day to photosynthesize, but at times when water is scarce, it keeps its pores closed during the day  and open at night when the air is cool and moist.  It can also use carbon stored in older leaf parts.   How long did it take for this unique tree to develop these survival techniques in response to the varying availibility of water and light?  Soul both sensitive and resilient.


The tumboa has only two broad leaves which are the longest-lived leaves in the plant kingdom.  They live as long as the tree lives.  Over the years, the leaves get split and frayed which is why they seem to have many leaves.


Here is a younger tumboa.  You can see the basic two-leaf structure here.  Frikkie introduced me to this one, saying it has been carbon-14 dated as 72 years old, the same age as Frikkie and I as we stood here beside it in March, 2017.  Long after our respective bones have dissolved in the earth, this little tree may be well on its way to being 200 years old.  Long may it thrive!


Following the idea that the tumboa is dreaming itself into a tree,  you see here the woody trunk and the leaves which would grow from branches, however,  tumboa, means  stump  and the soul dream is desert-wise.   Being short makes the tumboa well adapted to desert life.  This tree has a complex network of roots stretching sideways as far as 3-15 meters away from the tree. These roots are connected to dense hair roots. Some of these hair roots grow toward the surface. They take in moisture at night from the soil. 


In the next few photos, I want to draw your attention to the beauty and spirituality of this tree, such as pictured above.  Weathered and worn, it makes manifest the origin of the English word for tree which dates back to the Indo-European word-root deru which means firm, solid, steadfast.  The English word endure contains deru.  To endure is to be a tree.  As Frikkie would say, “this tree has character!”  Enduring Soul.


The beauty is color, form, random scatter, hint of mystery within.


Much of the beauty here comes from unexpected correspondences…



 repetition and variation..  (Frikkie’s photo)


and what does the tumboa make of a sunrise? …


Soul Conversation….  There will be one more post is this series about the Messum Crater, Part III,  Soul on Fire.  You will meet another unique plant in Soul on Fire.  Stay tuned.