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The first stop of the day, S1119, was the cactus garden and nursery Chirau Mita, run by Patricia Granillo and Sebastian Carod, in Chilecito. We had visited here on 12 October 2005. This time (Boxing Day) nobody was home, so after taking a few pictures over the fence, as proof that we had been here, we moved on. More info on their website (http://www.chiraumita.com.ar),

address:
Cactus Chirau Mita
Ruta Provincial Nº 12
(5300) La Rioja – La Rioja
Tel: +54 (3825) 42-4531

Today was going to be a driving day, 436 km on what looked on the map to be fast roads with a few short stretches winding through the mountains to get from one boring valley to another. Boring or not – they provided the fastest way of getting between two places. I had counted on an average speed of around 100 km. p. h., ignoring stops, but I had not counted on the numerous arroyos that would cross the road that were either in full stream, only an inch or two deep, but still required the car to be slowed down to check that there were no nasty surprises in store; or which had been flooded, but had now dried up, leaving an inch or two of wet mud to slow you down. Just as you had changed up to 4th gear (out of 5) it was time to slow down again for the next crossing.

Our database of cactus location showed a baffling number of possibilities, but we decided to focus on Eriosyce – after all, Juan is webmaster of http://www.eriosyce.info that so far had ignored the Argentinean taxa. A bit of analysis showed that there were three ‘clusters’ of Eriosyce centred on the capital, San Juan: one to the north, where we came from, one to the west and another to the east. We’ll forget about names for the moment. When you have a database of 7003 entries, just for records with GPS data from Argentina, it becomes clear that many people have visited identical sites but report seeing entirely different taxa, or rather, naming the same plant in a number of different ways. Some may be ‘right’, some use ‘old splitter names’, some use combinations already superseded by other names and some are just plain ‘wrong’.

We made a total of ten stops, but on a driving day like today, these were brief and more geared to our need to stretch legs or stunning scenery, than to the pure exploration of cacti. Each time, I’d take at least one image of all the cacti & other succulents spotted, just for the record. Rather than give you a boring list of ten stops with the same old names appearing over and over again, I’ll summarise matters by saying that in the flat river valleys, we saw lots of Tephrocactus, which were fairly stable in appearance where ever we stopped, but showed some variation at different stops with some 50 km or more between stops. They were all of the T. alexanderi type. In some places they were in flower, but only, say, 1 plant out of 1,000, so hardly a mass flowering event; while at another stop there were no flowers to be seen at all. We (mainly Juan) spotted a few Gymnocalycium that all looked of the ‘boring’ type, and that are sure to have some wonderful names according to the splitters, or are considered to belong to only one species, if you are a lumper. There were no flowers here.

The last two stops (S1127 & S1128) were two odd balls from the northern cluster, in a different Sierra to the main cluster that we hope to see tomorrow. Names used for these plants include E. villicumensis and E. vertongenii and supposed intermediates between the two. We were fortunate to find two plants in flower and a few in fruit from which we collected what looks like viable seed.

By tomorrow we hope to have seen the core northern population and the ones in the east and west, but to some extent, this may depend on the weather. As we went out to dinner tonight we were caught in one of those glorious thunderstorms that seem to be regular in this part of the world.

We’ll check tomorrow’s TV forecast to see which areas can expect rain when and try to schedule the order of the day accordingly.

PS: now back in the UK I’ll add the plant names to a full stop list:

S1119 – Stephan’s nursery at Chilecito – no body home.

S1120 – Deuterocohnia (Abromeitiella) brevifolia, Echinopsis (Trichocereus) huascha, E. terscheckii, Gymnocalycium saglione

S1121 – Echinopsis (Lobivia) sp. (thionantha?), Tephrocactus alexanderi.

S1122 – Echinopsis leucantha, Tephrocactus aoracanthus

S1123 – Echinopsis (Trichocereus) huascha (?), Opuntia sulphurea

S1124 – Cereus aethiops, Echinopsis leucantha, Gymnocalycium sp., Tephrocactus aoracanthus

S1125 – Tephrocactus aoracanthus

S1126 – Tephrocactus aoracanthus

S1127 – Echinopsis (Trichocereus) huascha (?) or E. strigonus (?), E. leucantha, Eriosyce villicumensis (E. vertongenii). Tephrocactus aorocanthus, Opuntia sp.

S1128 – Echinopsis leucantha, Eriosyce villicumensis (E. vertongenii), Tephrocactus aorocanthus.

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