Rikus van Veldhuisen
It is not the most obvious choice to visit Zambia for seeing succulents in nature. For sure, there are advantages too to travel Zambia, like the friendly people, reasonable accommodations and of course the African sun. But the landscape is monotonous without high mountain ranges and deep valleys with sightseeing spots. Along the roads almost no nature survives and whole areas all the trees are cut for producing charcoal (Figure 1).
On top of that the number of succulents, occurring naturally in Zambia, is limited when compared to for instance South Africa or Madagascar and the localities where they grow are far apart and can only be reached by long and sometimes very bad roads. Even in the most remote regions the large trees are cut down and the expensive tropical wood is put on transport to the Far East (Figure 2). The lorries who transport the wood make the unpaved roads sometimes almost impossible to drive on (Figure 3). Whole areas, where in the past interesting collections were made, are now densely populated and totally built over like the Copperbelt.
Above reasons make that Zambia has not been visited by many lovers of succulent plants. But quite a few of the plants which are growing there are amongst the most rare and appealing ones. Also there are still places to be found where no or very few people from the western world ever have set foot and where new discoveries are waiting.
Enough reasons to travel Zambia and take the challenge.
End of November 2021 Bohuslav Uhlir, Petr Pavelka and undersigned took off for a three weeks trip to travel the north-west as well the north-east of Zambia. This proved quite a challenge as it meant there would be at least 6000 kilometre to be discarded. When having only good roads it is already a fair distance, but with parts taking 9 hours to travel 240 kilometre with the last half 7 hours, it is even more.
An extra challenge was of course the present pandemic. We were one hour in Zambia when we heard for the first time of the Omicron variety. Flights were rapidly delayed to half of January or completely cancelled. However our flight company seemed to keep on flying and we decided to stick to our plan. After a week we had to rebook our flights to a few days later, which thereafter was cancelled. With new tickets bought we in the end got home without much problems also because we all 3 were tested negative.
But to make the balance in the end, it was all more than worth. About half of the euphorbia growing in Zambia is growing near a waterfall and often also a species only at that one and single spot. Without exception we were the only visitors at these places like paradise. We saw Euphorbia speciosa (Figure 4) at Chisimba Falls (Figure 5), Euphorbia fanshawei (Figure 6), E. williamsonii (Figure 7) and Monadenium nervosum (Figure 8) at Ntumbachushi Falls, Monadenium hirsutum (Figure 9) and M. herbaceum Kundabwika Falls and Monadenium discoideum (Figure 10) at Nyambwezu Falls. Other enigmatic species we managed to find are Euphorbia mwinilunguensis (Figure 11), E. platyrrhiza (Figure 12) and Adenia erecta, just to name some of them.
Despite, or perhaps thanks to, this all we felt very privileged we were able to make this trip, some very few people from the western world ever did.