Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for November 6, 2009

Friday, 6 November 2009 – Around São Joaquim

We finally had a relatively relaxed day, away by around 9 a.m. and back by 4 p.m. The aim was to find as many Parodia haselbergii ssp graessneri (to give them their full name, P. graessneri for short) in habitat. We had found a circuit of dirt tracks that would take us through the Araucaria covered hills (up to 1,250 m altitude yesterday). In this scenery we would occasionally see the high steep cliffs that are the preferred location for our target plant.

This turned out a more challenging task than first imagined, after yesterday’s spell of good luck. Murphy’s Law was at work which meant that although we could see some magnificent cliffs, they would have the wrong aspect (our plants prefer north facing cliffs, where, at midday, they can bake in the sun) or they would be on the other side of a valley, with a wide, fast flowing river between us, too far away even to confirm their presence through binoculars or zoom lenses.

On occasions we found that the track that we had driven on had run along the edge of such a cliff, but that we had been blissfully unaware of this as dense vegetation, perhaps only a meter deep, had kept us from seeing the opportunity. Occasionally we went back to such a spot but only found more and more P. linkii, providing only useful additional dots on the distribution map for this species. Never mind, we took the opportunity to try to improve on our linkii pictures,

S1497 was therefore for general scenery along the track, including a reasonably sized tarantula spider that refused to pose on Cliff’s hand. Should provide some useful video though.

At S1498 we barely had time to climb some 40 m above the road before two farmers on horseback commandeered us down, wanting to know what we were up to. Marlon explained, but they remained suspicious, perhaps because of our out-of-state plates on the car. They did tell us that the previous evening and through the night there had been heavy rains which explained the puddles that at times made the track a slippery mud bath. We also learned that Santa Catarina was the State of the Apple with orchards on the hillside where ever the slope would allow. This in turn explained why occasionally we would quickly close our windows as clouds of pesticide, fungicide and other nasties were being sprayed on the fruit trees. Wonder if they’ll hit the supermarket shelves as ‘organic produce’ at a premium price. Wonder if they still use DDT out here, or other chemicals that work but have long been banned in Europe.

Pictures taken at S1499 include one of Marlon, flat on his belly at the cliff’s edge, carefully poking his nose over the edge in search of P. graessneri, while likely crushing a dozen plants of P.linkii in the process.  The plants seemed to be moving to the edge of the cliffs and some had even managed to find some sort of foothold (roothold?) on the vertical rock face.

S1500 is to show that P. linkii grows in the Araucaria forest as well as in open exposed rock faces. It’s flexibility in growing in a range of locations is a good reason why it is much more plentiful than P. graessneri. It also produced an amusing video clip of two beetles pushing a ball of mud (no, not dung) along the track.

We agreed to have a cooked lunch as our hotel does not seem to do this in the evening. Reaching tarmac at Bom Jardin da Serra (the Good Garden of the Hills) seemed a good place for yet another meat feast.

S1501 was a stop at a viewpoint along the road at the Rio do Rastro Eco Resort. A truly dramatic scene of the road zigzagging down into the valley. We had timed it well as within 15 minutes of our arrival the clouds closed in and we found ourselves in a mist. So instead the cameras were pointed at a family of ring tailed coati, as pushy as ever, taking biscuits and apples from the tourists. Not the diet that the doctor ordered, me thinks. Nice pics though, that should get a few oohs and aahs at talks. Should have used the camcorder as well. The altitude here was 1,422 m, as high as we had been during this trip.

As mentioned before, we returned to our hotel around 4 for downloading images and writing and sending out Diary reports. By 5 it was raining and with that the internet went down, so more patience all round is the solution for now.


Thursday, 5 November 2009 – Vacaria to São Joaquim

At breakfast I was surprised to hear Dutch spoken at another table where four elderly couples were having breakfast. A quick chat and I learned that it was a party of three sisters, a friend and their husbands on a tour of southern Brazil. I was amazed how well they spoke Portuguese.  That was because they had lived in Holambra #2, one of three Dutch colonies in Brazil, since 1953! The amazing thing was that they still spoke such good Dutch!

Why were we in Vacaria you may ask. When seeing Parodia haselbergii ssp graessneri in habitat a few days back, we had been slightly disappointed. These plants looked just like P haselbergii proper, with a different flower colour. In cultivation in Europe, we are used to seeing yellowish spined plants. Earlier, Franco had explained that the yellow spined form was common in southern Santa Catarina, the state to the north of Rio Grande do Sul. As I was keen the have the full set of pictures of the various forms we decided to cross the state border and take a look.

The only information we had was that the plants could be found in a triangular area with sides of some 15 km each. Quite an area. From what we had seen so far, our expectation was that they would grow on steep cliffs, inaccessible for close up photography. We arrived in the area round 2 p.m. having only made some brief roadside stops (S1491, S1492 and S1493) to photograph Parodia linkii in flower. Marlon tells us that the form here was formerly known as Notocactus megapotanicus .

We had now reached the designated area for our search for P graessneri and were looking for steep cliffs and signs pointing to waterfalls (usually associated with steep cliffs). S1494 was a disappointment, more a family play area with water ducts and the promise that a 2 km hike into the hills would lead to a waterfall. The owner showed us photographs of the area that had little potential for our cacti, so we moved on. We stopped along the track to take more pictures of the impressive Araucaria angustifolia. There were two huge trees in particular with a sign claiming that they were at least 400 years of age. Cliff had been looking for seed but now realises that he will never see any seedlings reach maturity.

S1495 promised a steep rock face with indigenous art work but delivered no cacti, except a Rhipsalis or Lepismium, an epiphytic cactus swinging from the rocks seen in one picture, blown up to full size. Not one for a talk, but one for the records.

We did better at the next waterfall stop (S1496), paid our R$3 each to get in and found a nice deep waterfall cascading at least 100 m down. On the wall from where it emerged (but again a good 100 m away, we believed that we could make out some golden spined globular cacti. We took a hundred or so pictures with the zoom lens set to it’s maximum 200 mm setting and were hopeful that back in the hotel we would be able to crop these further. And sure enough, back in the ‘computer dark room’ I was able to spot more than 25 plants of P. graessneri.

There were a couple of plants near the top, right alongside the edge of the deep ravine. We had to cross the river and then walk along the cliff’s edge to get to the pants. We asked the owner’s permission to cross to the other side of the river. ‘Not my land, not my problem’ came his reply.

Needless to say, we completed our mission, got some nice pictures of Mr Graessner’s Parodia and discovered a nice epiphytic cactus, Lepismium houlletianum, growing alongside.

Interestingly, the near by town where we are staying is somewhat of a winter sport centre with Hotel names including Snow Valley. So these plants are able to stand some pretty low temperatures, as suggested by the fact that they survived last winter in my frozen tunnel back in England.

We’ll spend some more time in the area tomorrow to check out stories by local people that this plant occurs plentifully here, also growing on more easily accessible flat locations and is collected by kids who eat them as sweets (after removing spines!). We’ll see…..