Rather like my notes for our explorations of Quebrada San Ramon, my stop numbers for Botija Valley (S0139 – S0142) are nothing more than points at the mouth, centre and end of the Valley, where concentrations of particular taxa are found.
S0139 was our campsite (at day time) and it was a delight to put your head out of the tent to be greeted by clumps of Copiapoa right in your face. In The Schulz & Kapitany book, these plants were called Copiapoa variispinata and although this name would be more than apt for a plant with a great variability in spine length and colour, it was suggested from various quarters (and agreed by the authors) that this name applied to a small member of the Humilis complex that grows at the mouth of the next valley south, the Izcugna Valley. This left the rather unusual and unsatisfactory position that there were now two undescribed possible species from the Botija Valley, as Rudolf and Attila also show pictures of a ‘Copiapoa sp. Botija’ in their book. The mystery remain how Ritter, otherwise apparently so thorough and keen to report new species, had ‘missed’ these two. Had he never been to Botija? He certainly had been to near by El Cobre and Blanco Encalada.
Nigel Taylor and Graham Charles resolved the problem by publishing descriptions for both as new species (Cactaceae Systematics Initiatives 13: 15, 2002) where the plants found at the mouth of the Valley were named Copiapoa ahremephiana. Further into the Quebrada some, mainly solitary, plants of Copiapoa atacamensis were found while about half way to the end of the valley (S0140), the other newly described species, Copiapoa decorticans was found. Note that these are newly described not newly found, as plant have been in circulation in Europe for a while, either under the name ‘sp. Botija’ or perhaps, for C. ahremephiana, labelled simply RMF 53 or Copiapoa rarrissima.
S0141 was at the end of the Valley, also known as ‘the T Junction’ as from here, one valley heads north while another runs south. The view approaching the T Junction is impressive as a fairly steep, hillside consisting of a dark coloured rock blocked our progress eastward. This hillside is literally covered by large clumps of Copiapoa solaris. In 2001 we were struck by how healthy these plants looked, particularly as we had only seen other stands where the majority of plants were dead and had probably been so for quite some years. This is another strange feature of the area, decay through rot, as we are used to see in GB just does not happen. Rudolf showed us some pictures taken in 1994 that
included some mounds of dead plants. Nine years later, the scenery, including the dead mounds, looks identical. With so much death in evidence, it’s easy to worry about the ability of the living plants to survive.
Having said that, it seemed to Benjy and I that the C. ahremephiana plants at the mouth of the valley did not look in such good shape as they had done in 2001. I cut one small stem (sure that it did not help the health of the plant!) and found that the tissue inside was orangey – yellow, under UK cultivation conditions a sure sign of a fungus with death eminent.
The C. decorticans plants by contrast looked a little happier than in 2001, or perhaps I just took more time as once again Angie & I decided to go at our own pace, rather than to follow the main party for a march up the Valley, just as in 2001.
I remember at the time, when suggestions for a name were bounded around that one person (was it Paul Hoxey?) suggested C. moribunda (excuse incorrect latinisation) as it seemed from the plants that we saw then, that its chances for survival in the wild were slim with no evidence of regeneration (seedlings, fruit or even flowers or flower remains) found. Later, an article in the excellent Cactus & Co indicated that high up the
hill the situation was more promising, with pictures of the plant in flower.
I looked at the steep, crumbly hill side, looked at Angie and walking on to the end of the valley to look for C. solaris seed proved the more convenient option.
Like C. ahremephiana earlier, the C. solaris at the other end of the valley too did not look as healthy as in 2001, with many (more?) clumps of dead plants. As mentioned earlier, these dead plants do not appear to rot, but rather seem to oxidise, turning first into a black wax like material before turning to grey ash, as though they had been burned..
On the way back in the car, Benjy and I chatted about how many possible ‘intermediates’ between the two new species and possibly C. atacamensis we had found. While we waited for the others to return, I went to take a look at the plants closer to the Ocean (S0142) before heading back towards Taltal.
We made one more stop (S0143) when the first (unusually small) Copiapoa haseltoniana appeared and ‘took tea’ (well Nescafe instant coffee actually) at the small shop and restaurant at Paposo, before arriving tired but happy back at
Caleta Hueso for the night.