We spent the morning doing a spot of shopping and sightseeing in Taltal. I took many digital images, so that I could show the changes and progress to my companions from previous Copiapoathons and to capture the current look and feel of the town so that I can use it as a basis for comparison for future visits.
After lunch, the cacti and the desert called again and we decided to go and have another look at in the Quebrada los Zaniones (S289), to the east of Cifuncho and to the south of Taltal. We had been here twice before this week – S260 (10 October) and S275 (13 October) and on previous trips (S052 and S070 in 2001 and S128 in 2003). There are two different Copiapoa here – C. columna-alba with plenty of flowers and fruits in 2001 and 2003 and a plant that forms large mounds of small, tight heads that on those earlier visits had not been in flower and that we had identified as C. desertorum. These days, this is regarded to be synonymous with (or at most a form of) C. rupestris. C. rubriflora also comes from the area between Cifuncho and Taltal and again has been lumped in with C.rupestris. To add to the confusion, I gather that all three taxa are to be moved to synonymy under C. taltalensis, an earlier name described by Werdermann.
Earlier in the week, we had seen these plants in bud and in flower and they had looked pinkish to red. So why am I so fascinated by these plants? Because Copiapoa have yellow flowers, although their buds often have a red appearance before the flower has fully developed. So Copiapoa have the ability to produce red pigmentation in their flowers. From my observations of plants in cultivation in the UK, I noted that the degree to which this pigmentation is present can vary from plant, irrespective of what species it belongs to and can also vary from flower to flower on the same plant between different times of the year. The depth of the (pinkish) red colour also seems to vary during the duration that the flowers are open. So, if the pinkish-red flower colour is not limited to a single species, what plant did Ritter use this name for and where did it grow?
This is not the place to discuss this issue in any detail, so I’ll cover it in a separate message at some time in the near future.
Having taken pictures of all the plants on which we could find buds and or flowers (and also having checked them in vain for seed), we decided to take a look at Cifuncho and to follow the track that leads north along the bay to S290, marked on our topo-maps as Punta Garcia at Bahia Lavata. Here we found C. rupestris, but as there were no buds or flowers, we could not exclude the possibility that these might have ‘rubriflora‘.
Next we followed a track to the south-east of Cifuncho but this came to a halt where, it seemed quite some years ago, a landslide had blocked off the valley (S291). We looked around for cacti, but only found a couple of ‘lost’ C. columna-alba and a few individual Eriosyce rodentiophila.
That evening we enjoyed our last meal in Club Taltal and looked forward to the next day, when we would drive to Copiapó and meet up with some Dutch friends, Bart and Marijke Hensel. So we were a little surprised that they walked through the door at Club Taltal as we were tucking into our deserts.