Conophytum calculus and other pebble or button plants, have adapted to survive the long, dry summers of the Namaqualand desert by reducing their leaves and stems to small round structures, minimising water loss. Their hard, rounded and smooth appearance creates an effective camouflage amongst the quartz stone fields where they are found.
The white quartz fields or ‘Knersvlakte’, are ideal habitats for many of Namaqualand’s dwarf succulents, as the quartz reflects sunlight and therefore creates a much cooler microclimate compared to the adjacent patches of darker sands and dolerite rocks.
In autumn, Conophytum calculus displays its colourful side and from the ‘button hole’ emerges a small yellow-orange flower. To experience the fully opened bloom however, a night visit is required, as these heavily scented flowers are nocturnal to attract moth pollinators.
Namaqualand is a large area extending along the west coast of Namibia and South Africa. Unbecoming of deserts, Namaqualand experiences reliable and widespread gentle winter rains which has allowed for the incredible and unparalleled diversity of miniature succulents and beautiful bulbs. Sadly though, this area has been heavily exploited for its mineral wealth. More than 65% of the Namaqua coastline has been mined and large tracks of the Knersvlakte where Conophytum calculus occurs have also been stripped for gypsum.
Making a gift of the button plant seed adoption will safeguard its future in the Millennium Seed Bank.
Thanks to Ernst van Jaarsveld for the photographs