We started the day with a ‘cool’ 15 C and with a light drizzle.
Marlon had found that the owner of the restaurant opposite the Hotel Palace Diamantina, Joao Borges Carneira, is able and willing to show us a few good cactus sites. In best fisherman’s style he told us of a location where there are ‘short but fat cacti, up to 30 cm tall and almost as wide’.
Before setting off, we went into town to buy some provisions. Keith & I were taken by Joao to a small house where two young men, up to their arms in printing ink, were setting the type for the local monthly news paper. Joao tells the chaps who and what we were and they promise to write a small article about our visit in the next issue!
[PS: After Brian dropped us off at Salvador at the end of the trip, he passed through Morro do Chapeu again (with his new, Australian, travel companion, Nola, who wanted to go to Sucre, Bolivia the scenic way) and picked up a copy of the newspaper which indeed reported the visit by the two prominent botanists from Kew Gardens in London, Keith Grantham and Paul Klaassen! Just goes to show, don’t believe everything that your read!]
We missed seeing Melo’s growing on the roofs of houses that Marlon had reported seeing while Keith & Paul were at the printers.
We set off and turn onto the BA 426, sign posted for Jacobina. After some 8 miles we stopped (S0334) and took a walk through fairly dense low shrubbery off to the right of the road. The large cactus mentioned my Joao turns out to be Melocactus cremnophilus, a form of Melocactus ernestii (according to Taylor) or M. oreas (according to Pierre Braun)
The form of Tacinga inamoena encountered here is the larger, more robust form that we found at most of the locations that we have visited to date. In the large form, the mature, ripe fruits fall off easily, where as in the small form they remain on the pad.
Joao informed us that we had driven too far, so we turned around to arrive at S0335, opposite the entrance to Fazienda Catandova and again walked into the shrubbery.
In this place we saw what we believe to be an hybrid swarm between M. zehntneri and M. concinnus. This is also reported by Taylor in his Melocactus monograph. Hybrid swarms are really confusing… Which is the ‘good’ species and the hybrids?
In the case of M. albicephalus (M. erythracanthus x M. glaucescens) it was easier, but in this M. zehntneri x M. concinnus population it was difficult to tell the plants apart – probably all the plants are hybrids, with varying characteristics from one parent or from the other!
We took the BA 142 South out of Morro do Chapéu and head for a hill with a radiomast on top, turning right on to a dirt track.to arrive at the foot of the hill. (S0336)
The town’s name comes from this hill (Morro do Chapéu means ‘Hill of the Hat’ – to the locals, this hill looks like a hat – or is it the clouds that shroud the hill-top early in the morning that form the ‘Hat’ on top of the mountain? This seems to be how the plants obtain their moisture during the dry season: the dark humus rich soil was warm and dripping with water when squeezed. The Cacti did not seem to mind!
The dirt track climbed and came to an end at km 562.5 at the site of a power station. Steps took us to the top of the hill to the radio mast (still S0336). The view of a hillside full of cacti below us was impressive. The site was windswept and the black soil between the rocks was soaking wet.
Joao explained that Morro do Chapeu spends months at the time under a solid cloud layer that often shrouds this hilltop, although there is not much actual rainfall.
NB: Plotting the GPS reading on to the map casts some doubt over one or the other. There is no road south of Morro do Chapeu that would allow us to turn off to the right to arrive at this location, BUT the date on the map is September 1950 and I guess that some new roads were built since.
We made several more stops as we drove along the dirt track back to the main road. Joao wanted to show us a ‘crater’. We turned left off the main road through a gate marked Buraco do Possidonio and followed a dirt track to the end where we found vultures feeding on the carcass of a cow, reminding us that this area is still inhabited by jaguar and wolf. We park the car (S0337) at what became known as ‘the Meteorite Stop’, although other sources suggest that the 60 m deep hole is the result of an earthquake rather than of a meteorite impact. The area is renowned for its caves and cave diving is a major source of tourism for the area. Pilosocereus glaucochrous grows here and has more and much longer central spines. There is another thin stemmed cactus that Brian IDed as an Arrojadoa while PK believes that it is a Leocereus. The quality of the slides taken does little to help to decide the right name, but does not show a ring cephalium.
Joao seemed surprised that we were not more impressed by this hole in the ground – other tourists in the past had been – but Marlon explains that we are interested in seeing plant, not caves. He directs us back to Morro do Chapéu from where we took the BA052, heading west before taking a turn south towards Cafarnaum on the BA052. We turned west again and bump along a dirt track until we stop (S0338). Joao warned us to be very quiet as we walked along the base of a rocky outcrop and pointed at various caves which he tells us are inhabited by the infamous South American Killer Bees. The bees are apparently quickly angered by loud noise and chemical smells, which is why we left the car behind and I was not allowed to light up any cigarettes. At the entrance of one of the caves, Joao showed us some prehistoric rock paintings, but by now (after 16:00 hrs) it is already too late for good photographic light – flash is not an option as this too might anger the bees. [PS: wish I had one of my digital cameras along, which would have easily handled the light conditions, but a conventional slide film camera loaded with ISO 100 film brought with it a number of limitations!]
I did manage to get some pictures of Pilosocereus gounellei ssp zehntneri growing on the rocks above the cave.
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