The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld National Park is a very good example of one of the most interesting mega-ecosystems of the world, the succulent Karoo.
There is no desert flora on our planet, possessing similar species richness and individuality of flora. On a surface area of one square kilometre more than 360 plant species of flowering plants (angiosperms) are found at a site with an average rainfall of only 68 mm per year.
The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld includes two floristic kingdoms. A magnificent variety of dwarf shrubs with water-storing leaves, belongs to the succulent Karoo region of the Greater Cape Flora, while its western portion forms part of the East Gariep Centre, the most important centre of the Nama Karoo Region. The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld is divided into two portions belonging to two major climatical systems, the temperate winter rainfall region with its high air humidity, and the inland region with higher temperatures and important summer rains and low humidity, respectively. Both units are closely placed against each other, separated by a narrow transition zone of about 10 to 20 km.
One outstanding example of such unique life forms is the psammophorous plants, i.e. plant species that are fixing a layer of sand to their surface in order to build a protective shelter against the force of sand storms and the related sand blasting.
The |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld is widely reckoned as one of the world’s richest succulent areas. It is estimated that 50 generas out of a total of 160 from the Mesembryanthemaceae family occur here.
A number of endemic plant species only occur in small colonies on the highest peaks. About 30% of the total floristic composition is endemic to the park.
There are four main landscape units: the Orange River and adjacent floodplains; gentle undulating plains (distributed in the summer/all year round rainfall area); rolling hills; and rugged mountains.
Two trees are particularly associated with the |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld: the bastard quiver tree (Kiewiet April 2001) and the half-mens (half-human), Pachypodium namaquanum. The half-mens is a succulent with an unbranched, cylindric stem, 1.5 to 2.5 m, and sometimes up to 4 m, in height. Near the top, it has a tuft of branches, which lean northwards at an angle of 20 – 30 degrees. The Namas revere the human-like trees as the embodiment of their ancestors, half human, half plant, mourning for their ancient Namibian home.
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