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The name Domeyko has intrigued me each time that I see it on maps during trip planning or reviews and as I see the signs to the village as we speed past in on our way north or south. This intrigue is probably caused by the name Copiapoa domeykoensis on a label of one of the Copiapoa coquimbana in my collection – not a very dynamic or attractive plant, but a Copiapoa none the less.

In 2001, at the start of our trip, we had actually stopped in the village to buy some bananas. We were still naive enough to believe that we’d find plants of C. domeykoensis near the name plate where the track entered the village. Since then I have learned how widespread the name Domeyko is. In addition to this village (population 936 according to recent statistics) there is also the Cordillera de Domeyko that could be described as the Chilean foothills to the Andes in Northern Chile.

A close look at the map near Domeyko also draws attention to another Chilean (or rather South American?) feature, that of the same geographical names cropping up time and time again, so confusing to those relying on type locality information to assist in determining the true identity of a plant.

When driving north past Domeyko, it is usually the lure of other, better known and arguably more dynamic Copiapoa locations laying in wait, that prevents a longer stay in the area. But on the return leg south, there is often a couple of hours spare time and this otherwise boring stretch of Ruta 5 sets the mind to thinking of ways to fill this time. In 2003, it was a photo stop to take pictures of peppers or tomatoes lying in the sun to dry, followed by a brief exploratory trip to the west, turning off Ruta 5 at Trapiche (S202), along the Quebrada do los Choros where we found some wonderful C. coquimbana (S203).

This time I had looked at the Ritter’s original description for C. domeykoensis, or rather his C. pseudocoquimbana var. domeykoensis and had learned that this grows 18 km south west of Domeyko. Ritter preferred his epithet pseudocoquimbana to the rather brief and much older description (1886) for Echinocactus coquimbana and so opened up another chapter of Copiapoa intrigue (a.k.a. ‘another can of worms’) that is worthy of a full chapter in a book on Copiapoa (Rudolf, please note!) rather than a few lines here. Ritter quotes FR 1091 as the type and Englera 16 – the bible for Ritter Freaks – indicates that the plant was collected from 4 locations, 18 km south west-, 16.5 km west-, 20 km west- and 18 km west of Domeyko respectively, all sold and presented as FR 1091!

And so we turned west at Domeyko, and followed Ritter’s trail, driving along the Quebrada Chañaral (giving rise to Ritter’s C. pseudocoquimbana var chaniarensis) and Quebrada Carrizalillo (depending on which map you use) to Carrizalillo, a village situated on the plain that lies at the mouth of this Quebrada) and stopped at km 16.5 (S314) and again at km 29.2 (S315) and took pictures of the Copiapoa growing alongside the track, the most likely ancestors of C. pseudocoquimbana var. domeykoensis or perhaps the very plants on which his description was based.

As the valley widens out into a broad plain, we took numerous pictures of the Desierto Florido and of the round-up of donkeys by local farmers on horseback – the nearest that I’ll get to witnessing the sort of North American wild west scenes that first attracted me to the plants that appeared as unpaid extras in the cast of ‘Cowboy films’.

We made two more cactus stops (S316 and S317) on the track from Carrizalillo to Caleta Chañaral, where we found the most attractive individual Eulychnia that I’d ever seen, as well as lots more C. pseudocoquimbana – probably accounting for all the Ritter varieties at his splitting peak. At S317 there were several large clumps displaying enough body and spine variability to account for all of them! Some even reminded me of C. echinoides, but that’s another story.

Time passes too quickly when you are enjoying yourself and I realised that the track from Carrizalillo to Trapiche was easier to find on the map than in real life, so that returning the way we had come would be a longer drive, but a better, safer option.

It had the added benefit of passing the ‘donkey derby’ again, know in full flow and a real bonus for future talks, as it will add some variety to the hundreds of pictures of Copiapoa 🙂

The last stop of the day was along Ruta 5, just past Los Hornos (S318) – the stop that  I use to gauge seasonal / climatic trends, comparing scenery from the start and end of  each trip. My conclusion was that flowering had peaked. No doubt Graham Charles, doing this trips a few weeks behind us, will tell me different. No doubt we’ll have to get together and compare pictures over a few bottles of wine. It’s a hard life!

We stayed the night in Guanaqueros.


S317: Variability in C. coquimbana

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