Okay! I know that I’ve got the expression wrong and that it should be the famous phrase “Shiver me timbers” as exclaimed by Long John Silver, the pirate in Robert Louis Stevenson’s book Treasure Island, but I thought it was quite a fitting heading for my blog about quiver trees in Namibia.
Quiver trees are so unusual that they do cause one to call out in an exclamation of surprise and pleasure, so do forgive me for my moment of poetic license.
Actually, apart from my incorrect exclamation, there is another error in the paragraph above in that quiver trees are not really trees at all, but are members of the aloe family. Their scientific name is Aloe dichotoma Masson – dichotoma referring to their forked branches. This close up photo of the leaves dispels any doubt that they are aloe plants.
However, for the sake of this blog I will call them trees as that’s exactly what they look like. In Afrikaans they are known as “kokerbome” (koker meaning quiver and bome meaning trees). And they are known as quiver trees because the San Bushmen used to carve their arrow quivers from the soft, pulpy branches.
These remarkable trees are found in the dry and arid areas of Namibia and the Northern Cape of South Africa as they prefer rocky or hard terrain for their shallow root systems. They store water in their stems, leaves or roots to enable them to survive for months without rain. You can see from the various photos in this blog which of the trees has received the most water. Those that receive little or none are very ‘lean’, whilst the others are positively bloated!
The stems of quiver trees are decorated with golden brown flaky scales and beautiful vertical patterns which make them very photogenic.
Quiver trees can grow up to nine meters tall. They bear spiky yellow flowers during the winter months of June/July, but not before they are at least twenty years old. The trees produce a fine white powder that acts as a sunscreen by reflecting the harsh desert sunlight.
Seen standing alone in a vast barren landscape, they have an almost eerie appearance, but to me they represent the desert that I love so much. They are usually seen individually, dotted here and there on open plains or hillsides, but there are a couple of quiver tree forests that are well worth visiting. The famous quiver tree forest in Namibia is near Keetmanshoop down in the south of the country, and there is another beautiful one on the short-cut between the Onseepkans border post and Kakamas in the Northern Cape.
I’m not the only one who loves these trees – they are often home to sociable weavers that build enormous nests in their secure branches. So watch out for these fascinating trees on your next visit to Namibia – they definitely deserve a place on your list of things to see.