Last night again was one of lightning, thunder, and heavy rain. As usual, I slept well and heard about it in the morning.
The weather was bright; blue skies and fluffy clouds already building for tonight’s storms somewhere.
We decided to go to the ‘eastern cluster’ of Eriosyce, around Marayes. It was a good 150 km drive, but once we were out of San Juan, an average speeds of 100 km.p.h. meant that we made good time, so that we could allow ourselves a leg stretch (S1129) as we passed through an area where a Portulaca sp. was in full bloom with piercing magenta coloured flowers. It made a nice and different back drop for the Tephrocactus articulatus fa. papyracantha, but almost spineless (fa. inermis) and T. alexanderii fa nigrispina. Also photographed here was Cereus aethiops.
We drove past the Marayes turning and stopped soon afterwards S1130), west of the bridge across an almost dry river. Here we found Eriosyce bulbocalyx var. marayensis (syn. E. megliolii), Echinopsis (Trichocereus) huascha, E. leucantha, T. aleaxanderi, T. articulatus var papyracantus / inermis, and a single Gymnocalycium sp., most likely G. schickendantzii, or what ever it is called these days. I had gone to the north side of R141, but Juan & Cliff had just as much luck on the more hilly south side. Between us we should have enough seed of E. marayensis to supply various continents!
Next we drove passed the sign claiming that we were in Marayes and on until we saw the same sign from the other side. It seems that this dot on the map and cactus taxonomy consists of a radio mast and the remains of half a dozen houses, but seems no longer inhabited from what we saw.
A bit farther along we made another stop (S1131), feeling that we now knew what to look for, habitat wise. We were spot on. Low hills with most of the Eriosyce preferring the shoulder of the slope, with some growing farther down and onto the flat floor of the valley. Here we found another Portulaca sp. in flower, with smaller flowers than the one we found at S1129. There must have been a lot of rain in this area just recently as the Eriosyce, Opuntia and Tephrocactus were all full of water. One Tephro had cladodes that were 15 cm. long!!! There was also a Bromeliad here that will have to wait until I get home to consult Roberto Kieslings Flora of San Juan. Lots of large rosettes of leaves with razor sharp teeth along the edge and spikes of yellow flowers. The Gymnocalycium schickendantzii (?). was also here, with some quite tall specimens.
Yesterday we had visited two outliers of the northern cluster of Eriosyce villicumensis or P. vertongenii or intermediates between the two but the core of the population cluster seemed to be around Las Lomitas (obviously a different one from the one in Pan de Azucar in Chile) and Termas La Laja . We made three stops in this area, after again determining where we thought that the plats would grow and again, we were spot on.
S1132 was caused by Juan spotting a plant in flower. These plants looked like white waxed Copiapoa cinerea, but obviously there flowers and spination was quite different. Quite photogenic though as I snapped away 87 pictures at this stop, including some of Tephrocactus.
Too near to warrant a different stop number and again prompted by Juan spotting an Eriosyce in flower, Cliff reported excitedly to have been standing on ‘another cactus’ while taking the Eriosyce in flower picture. Juan and Cliff found some more, including one fruit that contained the tell tale wing like seeds of Pterocactus. Back at the hotel, on checking The Database, we found that Pterocactus megiolii is reported from here. As usual, once you ‘get your eye in’, it becomes easier to find a few more of the same, some in bud, but none with wide open flowers. Here both the Eriosyce and the Pterocactus grew on the flat floor of the valley / river bed. Here the Eriosyce looked a bit like Gymnocalycium spegazinni, in as much that they too became pancake-like in shape and in this case, with much shorter spines.
S1133 was another expanse of flat riverbed, as Juan thought that this would be ideal Ptero country – and it was, but also Eriosyce and Tephrocactus liked it. We estimate that the temperature was around 35 C and I found it unpleasant to be out in the heat too long, as my eyes had already been dried out by the air-conditioning in the car, so after snapping the evidence of what grew here, I’d get back to the cooler car. As well as the heat, there were the flies and mossies to content with.
S1134 was more of the same, but just to establish the extent of this population. We really could have stopped anywhere along this track and would have found the Eriosyce.
Hot and tired, but satisfies we returned to the hotel Alhambra, just off the Plaza in San Juan for a cold beer (Quilmes Negra) and a cool shower, while downloading images and charging umpteen batteries. Such is the life of a cactus explorer 🙂