A the story goes, a solitary red hartebeest was travelling into the Erongo Mountains, on behalf of Grandfather Mantis. It knew, for Grandfather Mantis had told him so, this was not a good place to be. No open water, no dry grass left in the crevices, nothing to search for but pebbles and boulders and starry nights.
The red hartebeest though had a particular task to fulfill and did not mind. It had been chosen for it was keen-eyed and none but itself would be able to find those special pebbles Grandfather Mantis wanted to hide from the All-Devourer. So it climbed up the hills and hid them all – there weren’t many left – using its worn hooves.
A few thousand miles away, lost on the shelves of a DIY – store, a few two-inch-pots with flowering pebbles await customers to spend an euro as reward for a yellow coloured daisy flower. While most customers don’t even notice them, the few that do hardly believe their eyes: these brightly flowering plants seem to be Lithops werneri, considered extinct in the wild for years and re-discovered only in 2012, while trying to re-establish some seedlings bred in captivity.
How on earth did these beefy-bred Lithops werneri find their way to a DIY – store in Spain?
I bought one pot only and noticed that these flowers open even wider after sunset, closing about 8:00pm, so very little time for eventual pollinators to find the flowers which – not surprisingly, really – have a strong honey scent. Not sure if I had purchased an highly unlikely rarity or just an unidentifiable variety or even an hybrid of Lithops pseudotruncatella, I needed further advice. First choice is always one of the authorities on Lithops, Steven Hammer.
Most characteristics however, do coincide. The obvious and striking difference is the size of the plant (“bodies the size of a pea” according to Werner Triebner, after whom this species is named), the lack of clear rubrications (which may change if sitting in the sun, as they now are) and the size of the flowers. Letting aside that highly unprobable circumstance that Lithops werneri shows itself up at a department store chain, provided by local nurseries, the obvious beefy appearence of these plants is a common trait most succulent plants show when raised for mass production. Though the terms ‘mass production’ and ‘Lithops werneri‘ seem contradictory: its nearly impossible to obtain large numbers of seeds of this species.
But who am I to disagree, I’ve not only surrendered already to the beauty of the deep yellow daisy flowers, I’ve bought all pots left … Five flowers opened a few days long every late afternoon for two to three hours, time enough for some photographs and some busy paintbrush. With the help of funny little bees up to the work, too, I hope for seed capsules; raising the seed will give further evidence of the species.
It seems the red hartebeest has done its best to guard this flowering pebble for the First People. A piece of magic could certainly be involved, as the several hundreds of tiny Lithops werneri collected and exported by Triebner himself in the early 50s, and all the collectors after him have not yet extermined this taxon. Maybe we have to thank Naureen Cole that little werneri has somehow managed to survive and even enter the wholesale market of unlabelled Lithops. But this will be an other story.