This is a continuation post from last week on my summit of Peak Boby. I stopped my first post at my breakfast break on day 2 in the Andringitra Mountains. I will now continue on with the second half of day two and include day three, which was spent around Camp Catta. This will be the post palm lovers will appreciate the most, as it introduces people to the true Ravenea glauca, which is currently not in cultivation.
The journey for the second half of day two involved an 8-mile hike down to camp #2. We skirted along some of the beautiful Andringitra Massif – the Yosemite of Madagascar.
I was expecting the formation below to be called “Face Rock” or something but my guide said it had no name. I thought it weird, considering every rock formation that resembles something has a name in Madagascar – or so it would have seemed.
It is in this area you run into large groupings of Aloe capitata. These closely resemble Aloe andringitrensis from my last blog post.
One of the few aloes species I would find on my trip that still had viable seed pods.
I have no clue how this Aloe capitata was growing so well in this eroded rock bowl. It had almost no substrate to grow in.
My two porters/cooks passing “Cowboy Hat Rock.” The second guy did the whole three-day trip with no shoes. That was actually his preference and not because he couldn’t afford any.
Not far from Cowboy Hat Rock my guide found two Jeweled Chameleons (Furcifer campani). Each showing off a different color.
The majority of the second half of the day was spent hiking on relatively flat terrain without much drop or gain in elevation. A large portion of this section of the hike was spent in what was called the “Moon Landscape” of Andringitra. A vast area of smoothly eroded rocky terrain with patches of vegetation.
There are no large trees in the moon landscape, just a few shrubby, stalwart ones.
I would find Medinilla throughout Madagascar. This one looks to be Medinilla papillosa and had beautiful flowers for such a weathered-looking plant.
There were many orchid species in Andringitra National Park. It was the wrong time to be in the park if you wanted to see these orchids in bloom, however. Some were extremely beautiful even without their blooms.
The moon landscape in Andringitra was also represented by many nice succulents. Lucky for me, some of them were in bloom. Like this Kalanchoe integrifolia var. flava.
Or this Kalanchoe tomentosa (Panda Plant).
Seeing Kalanchoe tomentosa in habitat made me appreciate the plant much more than I had back at home, where it is a common plant found for sale in most water-wise garden centers.
From just above this point the relatively flat hike begins its 1,500-foot drop into Camp #2, seen next to the river below. It was not long after I snapped this photo that I would run into one of my biggest surprises in Madagascar.
At 1,950 meters (6,350 feet according to Strava), I would run into my first Ravenea glauca just off the trail. You can see from the jacket that it was rather cool and windy at that elevation. Once this palm is brought into cultivation and given a chance to be tested, I believe it will prove to be the most cold-hardy palm out of Madagascar. Only Dypsis pumila (from the tropical north in the Marojejy Massif) and Dypsis decipiens (I saw it at 6,000 feet on Mount Ibity) are recorded at a higher elevations in Madagascar. In Andringitra, Ravenea glauca is found the Ishavato high altitude plateau.
As I continued down the trail I would see some of the most impressive palm scenery found anywhere in Madagascar. Ravenea glauca as far as the eye could see.
Ravenea glauca as we know it in cultivation comes from Isalo National Park. Isalo is about 200 kilometers by car from this location in Andringitra. Seeing these plants in habitat tells you right away that what is found in Andringitra is not the same palm found in Isalo, so something will have to change in the future with the nomenclature. What we do know is that when Perrier described Ravenea glauca back in 1913, those plants came from Andringitra – not Isalo. So these palms shown in this post are the true Ravenea glauca. A palm not known to be in cultivation at this time. What the Isalo Ravenea glauca becomes in the future is anyone’s guess.
The best way for me to describe these Ravenea glauca is that they look like a cross between the Isalo Ravenea glauca and a Ravenea xerophila. Just looking at them in habitat you can tell they will be slow growing once in cultivation.
Some Ravenea glauca were more “glaucous’ than others. This one was exceptionally blue.
Like the Isalo Ravenea glauca, these palms here had tomentum on the petioles and leaf bases.
Like Ravenea xerophila, they have an almost tap-like root system.
I was about a month too early to collect seed and bring this plant into cultivation. Ravenea is a dioecious genus, so you need a male and female plant to get viable seed.
Also found growing in this part of Andringitra were Aloe acutissima.
You would find Aloe acutissima growing right alongside Ravenea glauca.
This is one of my favorite photos from my entire trip through Madagascar. It shows how beautiful aloes and palms can be together. It is finding scenes like this in nature that has given me the concept after which to model my garden. Just because you have a succulent garden or palm garden, it doesn’t mean you cannot fuse the two together and create a landscape with even more interest and appeal. I have found that palms, cycads, aloes, agaves, succulents and flowering trees/shrubs all work amazingly well together. Just as they do in nature. Thanks to the fact we can grow so many plants from different parts of the world in Southern California, I like to call this mixing in the landscape “California Fusion.” In the photo below you will find Ravenea glauca, Aloe capitata, along with orchids, moss, grasses and even trees.
Almost to the next flat area of the hike I see my second camp for the night. You will notice no rainfly on my blue rental tent below. That would end up leading to a freezing, wet sleep as the sky opened up on us all through the night. I basically slept in pools of water. It brought back bad memories of some rainy, cold nights I experienced while serving in the United States Marine Corps.
Prior to the rains coming, the scene from the campsite was gorgeous. I spent a few hours just staring up the hill at fields of Ravenea glauca shimmering their blueish undersides in the wind.
Dusk came quickly. I would sit and look at this view until it became too dark and the rain began. What an amazing thing to see these palms in habitat.
Because I couldn’t sleep at all the night before, I was already up early, tired and cranky. I was ready to get down the hill and to my bungalow at Camp Catta to catch a nap before starting my late afternoon hike. We were still at 5,200 feet and had to drop to 3,000 feet for the day. The views from this part of Andringitra National Park were extensive.
It was from here I also got my first glimpse at the famous Tsaranoro Massif towering over Camp Catta.
A common aloe found throughout the high plateau is Aloe macroclada. It is also one of the larger aloes.
As we approached the end of the three-day trek in Andringitra National Park we began to see signs of civilization, with houses scattered throughout the valley. This is farmland. When my guides and porters don’t have any clients, they are farming. Speaking of my Andringitra National Park guide and the two porters, they actually had to walk the whole route back to their homes in Namoly. That is a 6-hour hike back. That seemed crazy to me. To them it was just another day at the office.
After a long, boring walk on a dirt road, we finally reached Camp Catta, where my cold shower and bungalow awaited me. The camp is an adventure sport draw for people from around the world. Along with hiking, you can climb, base jump and even paraglide.
Just after reaching Camp Catta, I spotted this Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti).
After a quick shower, a nap and, a change of clothes, I was ready to explore the hills above Camp Catta. I knew that there were Ravenea glauca in this area, but the main reason for my wanting to trek into the hills again was for the chance to see Dypsis albofarinosa in habitat.
Dypsis albofarinosa has an interesting history. For many years after it was first introduced into cultivation in the late ’80s, the palm was known as “the white powder Dypsis” or Dypsis ‘White Petiole.’ It wasn’t until 2003 that it was officially described as Dypsis albofarinosa. The name comes from the famously covered crown shaft which is covered with a powdery white indument. The problem was the palm was described from a type specimen growing in the garden of Jeff Marcus in Hawaii. No one knew where in Madagascar this palm grew in habitat at the time. Years after Dypsis albofarinosa was described, it would finally be found and it was in Andringitra and Camp Catta where it would be located.
I could only find Dypsis albofarinosa growing in seasonal or dry stream beds. These palms below were quite old and had grown through the canopy.
The Tsaranoro Massif with its massive granite domes is impressive. The massif is divided into Karambony (500 meters) and Tsaranoro Be (800 meters). Both are rapidly becoming climbing meccas for adventurists around the world. The black, orange and green colored cliff below is the Karambony Tower. If I recall correctly, the toughest route up is coincidently called “Tough Enough.“ It is a 380-meter, 11-pitch, 5.14b climb. Some guy actually free climbed it. And to think I was impressed with the 5.10a, single pitch route I conquered at my indoor gym.
It is at Camp Catta that you can find the second area around Andringitra where Ravenea glauca grows. So if you don’t have the time to hike into Andringitra, you can do the much easier hike at Camp Catta to see Ravenea glauca. Ravenea glauca does not grow to anywhere near the extent we found in Andringitra National Park, but the sight is impressive nonetheless. I ended up getting soaked from being hit with a fast-moving storm that just came out of nowhere. Lightning was striking all around the Tsaranoro Massif as well. It was the only time in Madagascar that I felt my safety was at risk.
Chameleon Rock is a popular hike in Camp Catta. In the picture below, how many chameleons can you find?
I was getting cold from being drenched in the rain, plus the trail was too muddy, so I ended up passing on the hike up to Chameleon Rock, which is found just across a ravine from the Tsaranoro Massif. Frankly, after four solid days in a row of trekking, I was ready for the day of rest I would get the following day.
As I made my way back to my bungalow at Camp Catta, the rain stopped and the sun began to poke its head out from the clouds. There could have been no better way for Andringitra to say goodbye to me than presenting me with this double rainbow just below Chameleon Rock. What a way to end my adventure in Andringitra.