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This is a "very rare" plant in the wild and I have had trouble finding it. The original specimen was collected "near*** Olifantsbad" by C.P. Thunberg. Perhaps this is the same as the "Olyfant's hot bath" mentioned in his only book "Travels at the Cape of Good Hope 1772-75", which he visited on 30th December 1773 with Masson. Modern notes suggest that this is situated 4km east of the southern entrance to Tooverwater/Toorwater Poort, E. of Oudtshoorn.

Tölken (1985) gives the distribution for A. mamillaris as "from the eastern parts of the Little Karoo, east of Calitzdorp, on lower gravelly slopes". However, few Herbarium specimens exist and Tölken cites only two vouchers. These have the imprecise locality of "Calitzdorp". Only Liebenberg 6159 (illustrated on the previous web page) has more precise directions: "W. Calitzdorp on the Ladismith road". A search in a NW. direction up the Gamka River to Matjiesvlei in 1998 revealed only slightly narrower leaved, rosette-like forms of A. triflorus.

The Succulenta 2003 Convention in Sept./Oct. 2003 was held at the little town of Calitzdorp and I took the opportunity to ask if locals had seen Adromischus plants like A. mamillaris. Everyone knew the abundant A. triflorus, but no-one positively remembered seeing terete leaved plants resembling A. mamillaris. Quick visits to the surrounding low lying areas verified that only A. triflorus was present on the shales and gravels.

By the end of the Convention, the obvious place left to search was on the big mountains directly W. of Calitzdorp. The Gamka River has carved a deep gorge through the acidic sandstones of the Table Mountain Group, Baviaanskloof and Skurweberg Formations. With Dr Peter Bruyns, we climbed up to the steepest faces in a side gully.

Encountering succulents for the first time is always the most enjoyable part of any trip and this mountain provided several species new to me. Small bushes with upright glaucous blue stems and leaves were Senecio muirii. Untidy, fat-stemmed bushes with tufted, cylindrical leaves at the ends were probably S. ficoides. A still unidentified Crassula and a patch of the lovely orange bulb, Tritonia watermeyteri, also kept me busy with the camera. Then Peter called me up to see a rare Stapeliad: stems of Tromotriche choanantha were looping downwards - growing into darker places to root and shoot outwards again. Numerous other succulents were noted.

What about the Adromischus? Even at relatively low levels on the mountainside, the A. triflorus plants had elongated, decumbent stems. As we climbed higher, the leaves became narrower and the terminal horny margin less broad. I never made it to the top that afternoon, but a cutting Peter brought down was a good match for A. mamillaris. He also found a relatively broad-leaved form of Haworthia blackburniae.

Tölken (1985) states the A. mamillaris is "a very rare species which is not considered to be merely a narrow-leaved form of the variable A. triflorus as it does not produce the typical curved buds". However, the voucher Herre in SUG 5403 (BOL!) does have curved buds and in my experience, curved flower buds are not always present in the widespread A. triflorus. Thus, if Liebenberg 6159 is indeed A. mamillaris, there is little reason to keep it as separate species. However, the type specimen needs to be checked, since it is worrying that A. inamoenus does have straight buds.

Adromischus mamillaris triflorus

Adromischus mamillaris triflorus
A. mamillaris/triflorus intermediates, W. Calitzdorp.

Senecio muiriiTromotriche choanantha
Left:Senecio muirii, Right:Tromotriche choanantha

Tritonia watermeyeri
Tritonia watermeyeri

*** Thunberg & Masson's Perilous Visit to Calitzdorp

"Near" is a shorter distance nowadays than in the eighteenth century! Few places in South Africa had names then. Four days after visiting the Olyfant's hot bath, Thunberg reported the following adventure, which probably took him into what is now the Calitzdorp area. I wonder if this is actually when he collected his A. mamillaris specimen?

Peter & I easily drove back to a hotel for the night. Travelling was not so easy in 1773 ...

"We let our [waggon] drivers and Hottentots go on with the vehicles through Hartequas [Attaquas] Kloof ...; and I, with my English fellow-traveller [Masson], determined to go on horseback over the dry Carro, which lay to the right, and afterwards proceed through Platte Kloof. But this expedition did not end very fortunately; for, as in this level plain which is seldom visited by travellers, there were no tracks to follow, we missed our road, and the longer we travelled the farther we went astray, so that at last we could not even find our way back again. We rode on however, as fast as our horses could go, and the sun began to go down without our having perceived the least trace of a house or farm. At length the sun being set, and no hopes left, we retired a little way back to a valley, where there was a small brook, with a few trees on its borders; and in this brook, there was still some water."

Gamka River side gorge
Inside the sandstone gorge.

"Here we thought it advisable to take up our lodging for the night. Accordingly we unsaddled our horses, and tied them up, with the halter round one of their legs, that they should not run away; and then, by means of our guns, we made a large fire of canna bushes (Salsola aphylla). After this, we lay down near the fire, with the saddles under our heads; but could not get a wink of sleep, on account of an intolerable sensation of cold, which, though not so very intense in itself, yet, by reason of the burning heat we had endured in the daytime, was severely felt by us, and forced us to rise several times in the course of an hour, in order to mend the fire, and warm ourselves all over. We had derived this advantage from our guns, that we could always make a fire; but we had no hopes of finding any thing in this plain to shoot, by which we might satisfy the cravings of our stomachs. I had therefore taken the precaution to put into my shooting-bag a few biscuits and pieces of sugar-candy, which were extremely welcome to us at this juncture."

"As soon as it was morning, we looked about us for our horses, but found that they were vanished, which did not a little add to our concern, situated as we were in a desart, where our fate was uncertain. After having searched the valley all around, we went up upon the heights, and behind these we at last found our horses, which without doubt were upon the point of going farther, to look out for better fodder. Having saddled them, we directed our course obliquely towards the mountains, where we arrived towards evening, at the house of a farmer, who was so poor as scarcely to be master of any thing more than the roof over his head. Here we took up our night's lodging, and afterwards made our way to Hartequas Kloof, where we met with our people and our vehicles."

The Scot, Francis Masson's account of this incident (both written up years later) is scarcely recognisable as the same:

"We again parted with our waggons, in order to examine a large tract of Carro, where it was improper to take our oxen on account of the scarcity of water. Late in the afternoon we came to a peasant's house, who informed us, he had a neighbour about four hours ride from his place, by whom we should be kindly received, and who would further direct us on our journey. After having put us in the road, and given us some directions, he parted with us, and we pursued our journey till sun-set, but found no habitation. We therefore concluded, that we had certainly lost our way, and returned some miles back, where we found a road which branched off another way. In this path we continued till one o'clock in the morning, having got into a dismal valley, inclosed on each side with rugged precipices: at last we found ourselves in the middle of a thicket of thorn trees (Mimosa nilotica) where we unsaddled our horses and kindled a fire. We passed the night with little comfort, having eaten nothing all that day; but to our great satisfaction we heard the murmuring of a stream, which we went in search of, and found good water: our concern, however, was still great for our poor horses that had nothing to eat. We spent the night in gathering wood and keeping our fire up till day-light, when I climbed up a high precipice, and viewed the country. Here I collected several curious plants (Geranium spinosum, Stapelia euphorbioides); and upon my return, we mounted our horses, and directed our course towards the high mountains, where we expected to find some relief, but were disappointed; for after being parched up with insupportable heat, we met not with a drop of water to quench our thirst during the whole day's journey. But towards the evening we happily discovered a house, where we were kindly entertained, and the next morning overtook our waggons in Hartwig's [Attaquas] Kloof, but our oxen were in a bad state, and one of them was quite unfit for service."

Some correspondence between Masson and Banks is available on-line from the State Library of New South Wales.

Calitzdorp view
View to NE: the Gamka River and Calitzdorp are visible. A major fault line running E-W. can clearly be seen with darker, older rocks beyond, including the Swartberg in the far distance.

Last Updated: Mar 2004
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© 2004 Derek Tribble, London, UK