Words & photos by Annelien Robberts
On a recent trip to Wolwedans I found myself in awe of the thriving desert life. It hasn’t rained here in the last five years, but that doesn’t mean that this part of the world has come to a standstill. Au contraire. We discovered life, and more significantly, growth in the desert. Inspired by the acacia forest we came across I dug up some interesting facts about the hardy camel-thorn tree. My motto for 2018 is “Be as tough as a camel-thorn.” Here is why:
Intelligence is a camel-thorn’s secret weapon
Namibia’s beloved camel-thorn trees might seem harmless, and on top of that delicious, to a hungry desert-dweller, but they are very clever. As soon as animals start munching on the leaves, the tree goes into self-defence mode by secreting a sharp garlic-like odour that turns animals off. Disclaimer: do not try to secrete any odd smelling substances, but never underestimate intelligence, even if it is simply to know when to hold your tongue or when you need “me-time”.
It is not just a case of “every tree for itself”; it is about community
The tree that is under attack warns other trees against the enemy so that they can prepare themselves against the onslaught. Take care of yourself, but do not forget to be useful to those around you too.
Camel-thorns grow despite, or even because of tough circumstances
These trees are widespread over the country and can be found in the Namib Desert. Not only do they survive in the toughest of circumstances, but they actually thrive. They don’t use circumstances as an excuse. How does the German song go? Hart wie Kameldornholz ist uuuunser Land (our country is as tough as camel-thorn wood). Who wants to be as tough as nails when you can be as tough as a camel-thorn?
Camel-thorns don’t need a big crowd to thrive
A wide-open plain in the NamibRand Nature Reserve boasts a forest of camel-thorns, but not in the usual sense of a “forest”. There is nothing “dense”, “dark” or “green” about this forest – it is a red and brownish dune-coloured canvas speckled with acacias. But they still grow. Who you are when you are alone is the best reflection of the real you, as opposed to who you are in public. Even if nobody sees the good things you do, do them anyway.
Make time to listen
The trees have ears. These trees acquired their scientific name acacia erioloba due to the seedpods that are in the shape of a human earlobe. Plus I can only imagine the mind-blowing stories that the trees can tell of humans and even animals passing by. Be a listening ear to those who need someone to talk to.
These trees offer shelter to many small animals and insects. Live the kind of life where you are helping others.
Find your roots
The tree’s taproot can grow up to 60 m, allowing access to deep groundwater sources. Find something to live for and be firmly rooted. Don’t be the plastic bag that gets stuck in other trees’ branches.