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The Quiver Tree - Symbol of the South

Avatar of inke inke - 12. August 2016 - Discover Namibia

The branches of a quiver tree repeatedly divide in the shape of the letter Y.

As guests explore the Canyon Village they will come across clusters of curiously beautiful quiver trees along the way, thanks to a project launched by the Gondwana Collection that aims to preserve these extraordinary but rapidly declining trees. The quiver tree is one of Namibia’s national plants and is widely regarded as a symbol of the south. 

The fascinating trees were named by Simon van der Stel in 1685 after he was told that the San (Bushmen) used the branches to make quivers for their arrows. The scientific name is Aloe dichotoma, which is Greek for “forked”. These unusual-looking trees can reach heights anywhere between three and nine metres and only bloom once they are between 20 and 30 years old. Quiver trees are endemic to the Nama Karoo in the south of Namibia and along the Great Escarpment in the west. They have successfully adapted to the fluctuating annual rainfall in these areas and commonly occur on the slopes or tops of hills and scattered on rocky plains.

The tree’s stem and branches consist of a spongy fibre that can store large quantities of water over long periods of time. Their leaves have a smooth and waxy surface that prevents moisture from evaporating. A vertical stem protects the tree from direct sunlight during the hottest hours of the day and the yellowish bark and thin layer of white powder on the branches reflect most of the sunlight away from the tree. The rough and scaly bark is thought to be an additional and remarkable internal cooling adaptation to cope with the harsh surroundings. 

Quiver trees were declared to be endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in 2010. This is primarily due to climate change and the increasing heat and decreasing rainfall in southern Namibia. The trees grow in generations with each generation potentially reaching between 100 and 120 years. The younger trees however need to get sufficient water for several consecutive years in order for them to mature successfully. With the long periods of drought that have recently plagued the region there has been little opportunity for young trees to become established. Subsequently, as the older trees are dying out and with younger trees not growing optimally, their numbers have decreased. 

Gondwana’s Quiver Tree Project is an important initiative aimed at enhancing our understanding of the trees, their successful monitoring and ultimately to ensure their sustainability. Progress made to date on the Quiver Tree Project in conjunction with a nursery that has been developed within the Gondwana Canyon Park has given reason to be hopeful that with continued attention and effort more mature trees will be reintroduced into the wild. Canyon Village is dotted with these fascinating trees thanks to this project.

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