!Nara Fruit

Picture:  !Nara husk in the dunes
A cliché of deserts; the dying man, with scorched lips, begging for a drop of water. In some ways this is just what a lot of wildlife do on a daily basis in the desert...every bit of their physiology and behavior is focused on getting, and loosing less water.  They may go for months, in some cases, years, without drinking.

There are many ways that animals in the Namib deal with this problem...it's a subject for a whole book on it's own, rather than one little blog post.

But along much of the margin of the Namib Sand Sea, there is a one plant that does one special thing.  The !Nara Acanthosicyos horridos.

[The ! is a click before the word.]

In the heart of the dry season (which you could call our spring,) when the grass is all dead, the bushes are dry, summer is coming...just at this time, this plant does something amazing.  It produces a large fruit.  Not just one, I was once told by Conny Berry (a well known Namibian biologist, known amongst other things for the field guide to Etosha's plants) each of the large !Naras produce over 100 fruit in the fruiting season.

Everything eats it.  The plants grow in sandy ground, usually on the margins of the dunes where the edge of the dune is near some dry river bed.  But, at times, these plants are found right within the dune field itself.  They derive their moisture from a huge root system, and the plants themselves become very large, creating hammock dunes. 

Oryx, the large antelpe found in the Namib Desert, make a lot of use of these fruit.  They will beat their way into a bush (the bushes are harsh, with lots of thorns on the stems.)  When they get near the fruit, they still have the problem of retreaving the fruit with their horns.  This is done by thrashing at it, and I am sure that a lot are lost to this exercise.  Oryx at Sossusvlei, especially in the dry years, chew on the roots.  They don't seem to eat them, they just dig them up, and have a nice chew...most likely to get at the moisture in the roots.

Springbok - a much smaller antelope, do it in a much more civilized manner.  I have never seen springbok thrashing at a !Nara bush that I can remember.  But they are just about the first to be interested in the whole fruiting process.  They start by eating the flowers, long before any fruit show up.  Oryx don't bother.  The Springbok go for the easier stuff all the time.

Ostrich go for the fruit as well, and if you ever have the chance to watch Ostrich trying to get at the fruit, without hands, horns or hoofs...its funny.

If the fruit is too deep in the bush, it is the Gerbils and mice that do the job of breaking into the skin.  Then everything else comes and has a go.  Lizards seem to go for it, many different beetles.  Birds, especially Cape Sparrows, seem to love the inside.  Stripped mice will keep eating the hard skin for a long time after the fruit itself is gone.

Still today there are some people who harvest these fruit.  The Topnar people, who live on the northern margin of the Namib Sand Sea still collect and eat these fruit.

It is very likely that Sossus, the origional name for Sossusvlei, was a bushman word.  And why would these indigionous people have visited that area, so deep in the desert.  They were also interested in the !Nara fruit.

The Nara on Namibweb, Wikipedia, and an image on Digitaljournal.
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Meiring Borcherds said...

very interesting vern...
thank you

Anna Nida said...

This website is very interesting and I am sure one will be impressed when he reads this..thanks..

Namib Naturalist said...

Thanks Anna.

Miayo said...

Somebody knows how I could get nara´s seeds?
I will apreciatte a lot