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Ricardo and Rudolf had confirmed that the coast road from Taltal to Cifuncho was now passable again – it had come to an abrupt stop for many years, round about the point where Copiapoa rupestris ‘rubiflora’ is reported to grow. I wanted to see this plant, as I was a little sceptical about a ‘red flowered’ Copiapoa.

If you have any flowering size Copiapoa in your collection, you’ll observe that the bud is red in colour, yet when the flower opens, it is yellow on the inside. When the flowers close up at night, they can give the impression of being reddish in colour, as the red of the outside of the petals comes through. Clearly, if Copiapoa have the ability to produce red pigmentation for some part of the petals, then the extent of the red pigmentation can vary from plant to plant.

Having taken several wrong turnings in Taltal to get onto ‘the coast road’ (track), we made a stop (S0154) to look for cacti. We fanned out and reported back some 10 minutes later – not a very promising stop, with only Cliff having found some (mostly dead) C. rupestris plants.

So on to S0155 where to the west of the track we had more luck, finding quite a number of C. rupestris but, alas, none in flower, so that the question: ‘How red are the flowers of Copiapoa rubriflora?’ will remain a mystery for me for a while longer.

As we continued our journey, the track turned inland and the leaning stems of Copiapoa columna-alba appeared on the scene, beautiful plants growing on dark soil (see my comments for S0128 on 10 June) and worthy of a quick stop (S0156) and a picture. Our GPS indicated that we were indeed not far from S0128 and we kept the GPS running as we drove on, to find that this track did indeed take us to and past this previous stop.

We turned east on the Taltal – Cifuncho road, hoping to pick up the track south to Esmeralda a bit further along. As we reached the road from Taltal to Ruta 5 we realised that we should have turned west instead and so had to take the long way to Esmeralda, and on into the Guanillos Valley, where we had a lunch appointment with Rudolf, Leo, Ingrid, Ricardo, Peque and Frankie. Despite our poor navigation we were only 15 minutes late.(S0157). Where do you point the camera first? Take your pick from: Copiapoa longistaminea, C. grandiflora, C. esmeraldana and C. laui with C. longistaminea the only taxon in flower this time – in May 2001 all four were in flower at the same time and Marlon was seen running about the place following a small black bee that in turn visited flowers on all of these Copiapoa, making it more than likely that one of more of these taxa are natural hybrids. A mauve flower among the rocks revealed a small Eriosyce sp. (more reading to do! Anyone able to suggest a name?)

A closer look at the new growth on the Eulychnia revealed the wonderful white felted areoles that indicate Eulychnia saint-pieana, a name that certainly deserves to be retained for the hobbyists, although the botanists see it as the more widespread Eulychnia breviflora that does not always have this attractive feature. Unfortunately there was no seed on these ceroids as all the fruit had been found first by a borer insect.

Rudolf showed us a clump of C. longistaminea that is also pictured (from 1994) on page 93 of ‘Copiapoa in their Environment’ and duly posed for pictures standing next to the plant, a copy of the book in hand. It takes a little bit of mental agility to recognise the scenery, as the picture in the book displays a mirror image of what we saw.
Even the small dead clump to the right in the picture is still exactly as it was nine years ago!

Eventually we had feasted enough and moved on, as we had another appointment – with the late Alan Craig. Alan and Gwen had been to Chile on many occasions and in particular had enjoyed visiting the Guanillos Valley. So when Alan died in 2001, Gwen and friends decided to put up a small memorial on the beach at the mouth of the valley. I had promised Brendan Burke (one of the friends) that we’d drop by and say hello and we were glad to be able to keep our promise (S0158).

We had arranged to meet Rudolf and Leo for a night’s camping at the mouth of the Guanillos Valley, but arrangements had been a little vague and a group of Chilean sea weed harvesters had already taken up the best spot. So Benjy and I decided to take us to ‘Secret Valley’ (S0074) where we had camped in 2001. You won’t find this name on any map, as it was one of those location names that are created spontaneously during a field trip, in this case by Attila and Rudolf during their 1994 trip. It is not so secret these days as the GPS details were published in their book.

When we arrived I was amazed to see that time had stood still since 2001. The remains of our campfire were still as we had left them. At that time, Leo had put a large stem of Copiapoa columna-alba (these grow here in large numbers) on to the camp fire and Rudolf had taken its core temperature (21 C as I remember) as it went on to the fire and again, at the end of the night when we scrambled into our tents (same core temperature – indicating either the plant’s amazing ability to protect this critical part of its anatomy from the heat of the sun, or that Rudolf needs to get a new thermometer …☺). The remains of the stem looked exactly the way we had left it two years earlier – without obvious signs of decay. Tents were put up, dead Eulychnia wood gathered and pictures taken of our plant-companions for the night. As we were lighting the fire, Rudolf and Leo arrived, having guessed that we would make for Secret Valley.

We enjoyed another great night, this time perhaps being a bit more careful during late night calls of nature, as meeting a small C. ahremephiana (at Botija) is one thing, but tripping over a 100 cm stem of C. columna-alba is quite another!


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