Traveling in the deep south of Madagascar to Beza and its thorny forest

June 22, 2013 

I leave the paved road to Toliara and take the detour to the deep south, saying goodbye to the asphalt and beginning a long adventurous journey on dusky tracks often in poor condition. The trees are gradually replaced by large lower bushes and the prickly pears and Alluaudia, a rare endemic plant that can not be found anywhere else in the world appear. I visit the park Beza with its population of white lemurs, nocturnal lemurs and ring-tailed lemurs.

South Madagascar Southern Madagascar
The journey continues in Madagascar, leaving civilization (and the paved road) behind, and entering what is locally called the "deep south".
Hut in Madagascar
The architecture of the buildings radically changes and the houses inhabited by farmers and ranchers become much smaller and more humble.
Mahafaly grave
Mahafaly graves Mahafaly
This region of southern Madagascar is inhabited by the tribe of Mahafaly, people with a very strong cult of the dead which involves expensive funerals, with the sacrifice of zebu, and construction of tombs decorated and furnished with pride. Many people work and accumulate wealth (mainly zebu), only to be able to afford a worthy funeral and a beautiful tomb (in our culture it is a bit 'different: we usually get into debt with a thirty-year mortgage in order to buy a house and once that the house has been paid, it is time to move into the grave ... I wonder what these people, living in modest mud huts ,think of us,).
Pachypodium Pachypodium lamerei
Young Pachypodium lamerei
The vegetation is gradually replaced by what is called "thorny forest", mainly composed of succulent xerophyte plants like Pachypodium lamerei, shown in the photos here in the still young form.
The top of the stem of a Pachypodium lamerei, a succulent plant quite widespread in this region of Madagascar and often bred in our apartments for ornamental purposes.
Adult Pachypodium lamerei

Photo of a Pachypodium lamerei. A Pachypodium lamerei in its adult form, when the stem completely loses all plugs and thickens to form water reserves.
Track in Madagascar
The track becomes increasingly bumpy and dusty. The dust raised by wind and rare vehicles is deposited on the poor plants on the sides of the road.
Alluaudie Alluaudia
Nearly suddenly, the landscape is filled with wonderful Alluaudia, a xerophytic plant (able to live in the dry) belonging to the family of Didieraceae, endemic to Madagascar and not found in any other part of the world (except the collections of a few enthusiasts).
Alluaudia procera

The genus Alluaudia includes six species, but the most common in this area of Madagascar, are the Alluaudia procera and Alluaudia ascendens. The leaves are attached directly to the stems and the branches, near the thorns

Generally, the Alluaudia consists in a big thorny trunk, sometimes provided with leaves up to the base (especially in Alluaudia procera), which branches at the top.
Xerophiytic plants
Paradise of succulent plants: the most careful will notice in this picture a mix between Alluaudia and Pachypodium, confused by a dense network of branches of other thorny plants.
From a scientific point of view, the Alluaudia, like all plants of the family Didieraceae, are very interesting in that they demonstrate very effectively the theory of "convergent evolution" according to which two genetically different organism, produce similar mechanisms of protection from challenges if subjected to the same conditions, although geographically far apart. It is just the case of Cactaceae endemic in the Americas and other xerophytic plants endemic to Madagascar. In addition, almost Didieraceae act as a link between the real "succulents" and the xerophytic plants in general, as the Didieraceae have evolved defense systems against drought like thorns and CAM metabolism. However apart from the Alluaudia Dumosa or the leaves of the other species, they don’t have particularly succulent tissues so as to store large quantities of water (perhaps because the conditions in this region of Madagascar are not as severe as, for example, those of the highlands of Mexico or Bolivia).
An Alluaudia procera stands out the sky.
Locally the Alluaudia is called " squid tree " as it seems, indeed, a giant squid put upside down.
Wood of Alluaudia
Sacrilege! The Alluaudia are plants classified as "threatened" because of their distribution area limited to a few hills of southern Madagascar and they are therefore protected by international laws that relate to the collection in nature and also export to collectors (CITES). So it’s a pity to see an adult cut only down because the trunk is used for building purposes (as explained before, in contrast to the succulent plants themselves, are not particularly spongy tissue and then the wood is, unfortunately, of sufficient quality - - nobody will ever cut down for example, an Aloe or a Pachypodium).
Campsite in Beza in Madagascar
I reach the national park Beza in south-western Madagascar, where I am staying at the campground, which however, offers a few cabins to sleep one night without having to put up the tent.
A young specimen of Pachypodium lamerei.
sportive Lepilemure
Lemure notturno

The national park is home to Beza in a small protected area, various lemurs, including the nocturnal sportive Lepilemure which, after dawn, takes refuge in cracks or cavities in tree trunks.

Alluaudia humbertii
I watch a Alluaudia that I had not seen it yet, probably the rarest Alluaudia humbertii.
ring-tailed lemur Lemur catta
In the national park in southern Madagascar Beza, I still encounter numerous ring-tailed lemurs.
White Lemur

There is also the less common sifaka, or white lemur.
Tree of Alluaudia
Photos of Alluaudia. The trip down the tracks of southern Madagascar continues between real trees of Alluaudia.

I find a small hill for a panoramic view of the underlying spiny forest, where there are dozens of Alluaudia.
Alluaudia Forest
Alluaudia ascendens
Photo of Alluaudia. Sometimes Alluaudia ascendens and Alluaudia procera form real mini forests.
Photo Alluaudia procera and photo Alluaudia ascendens. The track winds through Alluaudia and other trees in their winter dress.

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English translation by Lorena Anzani.