Pachypodium namaquanum, more commonly known as elephant’s trunk, clubfoot, halfman or halfmens is a succulent plant that can sometimes look like a tree when fully grown. The name halfmens is an Afrikaan word meaning semi-human, which came from the fact that from a distance the plants look like people walking up a slope. This spiny cactus-like plant which can reach up to 4 m tall can also attain an unmistakable bottle-like appearance. The flower,s which appear from July to September, are red on the inside and yellow-green on the outside. The crinkled leaves found at the top are velvety to the touch. Fruits are horn-like and brown in color. Halfmens are found in dry rocky deserts at altitudes from 300-900 m above sea level. It can live up to more than a hundred years old. The name Pachypodium is a Greek word meaning 'thick foot', an allusion to its swollen base, while namaquanum is a reference to Namaqualand, an arid region in South Africa.
The tree is leafless during most time of the year, giving it an appearance as if its roots are sticking up in the air thus one of its common name—the upside-down tree. The humongous white flowers last only a day and are pollinated by fruit bats. The fruit, called monkey-bread is a large, egg-shaped capsule covered with grayish green to yellowish brown hairs. It has a hard, woody outer shell with a dry, powdery substance rich in vitamin C which when soaked in water provide a refreshing drink that resembles lemonade thus giving another one of its common name—lemonade tree. This drink is also used to treat fever and other common ailments. The cork-like bark is fire resistant and is used to make cloth and rope. The leaves are used for condiments and medicines.
The tree is capable of storing hundreds of liters of water, which is tapped during dry periods. Mature trees are frequently hollow, providing living space for animals and humans. Trees are even used as houses, prisons, pubs and barns.
Its broad trunk, which can measure up to 15 meters in diameter doesn’t have annual growth rings. Its age can only be measured through radio carbon dating which found that baobabs can be over 2,000 years old.
The name Adansonia was named in remembrance to French naturalist Michel Adanson; the species digitata, meaning hand-like, refers to the shape of the leaves. Other nicknames include cream of tartar tree, bottle tree and even dead-rat tree, from the fact that it’s woody seed pods with furry coating look like rats hanging by their tails. Adansonia has six species in Madagascar and one each in mainland Africa and Australia. The biggest species is the digitata or the African Baobab.
See images of a Baobab toilet and a Baobab pub.
This plant is one of the few things on earth that can be truly called one of a kind. It consists only of two leaves and a stem base with roots. Both leaves that grow from opposite sides of the stem will continue to grow and never drops off and instead gets brown by the sun and torn by the wind which will eventually look like lots of individual leaves. The stem gets thicker rather than higher although it can grow up to six feet high and 24 feet wide. At the age of 20, cone-like flowers appear. The female plant produces up to 100 flowers in a season, while the male produces an abundance of pollen. Its lifespan is estimated to reach 2000 years.
Welwitschia mirabilis was discovered by botanist, explorer and medical doctor, Friedrich Welwitsch, in 1860 in the Namib Desert. He wanted to name it Tumboa, its native Angolan name but the plant was still named in his honor. The species mirabilis means "marvelous" or "wonderful" in Latin. This plant is considered a living fossil and Charles Darwin was reported to have described it as “the platypus of the plant kingdom.”
Click here to see one of the biggest Welwitschia caught on camera.
*First published on Scienceray.
*Also published on the NamibiaTourism website