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Archive for November 12, 2009

Thursday, 12 November 2009 – Hotel Intercity, Porto Alegre

We have no car and the hotel is in one of these airport areas of town that has nothing to offer on foot for sight seeing. We don’t mind, as there is plenty of ‘trip admin’ to catch up on and we seem to have a stable and fast internet connection.

Now that the car has been returned, I can tell you that it covered 6,350 km (3,969 miles) between pick up and drop off.

I recorded 115 ‘Stops’, mainly habitat location where we took pictures of the cacti that grow there, but also some stops just to record that there were no cacti growing in nature here and some that just needed a reference for me to file my pictures under. I have 4,689 image files on my plug in hard drive taking up 33.4 GByte on my 500 GByte plug-in HD that was virtually empty when I left home. No panic there yet.

Rio Grande do Sul has added yet another dimension to my appreciation of how cacti survive in habitat. They continue to be plants that succeed in locations where there is less competition from other vegetation. There are also more epiphytic cacti here, plants that do not have their roots in the soil, but have their seed dispersed often by birds, who leave them on the mossy branches of trees where they find space to germinate and attach themselves to the bark of the tree. They are not parasites, as they do not feed from their host plant which is used, alongside Bromeliads, Orchids, ferns, mosses and lichens to keep out of harm’s way up in the air.

The state is the ninth largest in Brazil with an area of 281,748.538 km2 (108,783.719 sq mi) with a population (2006) of nearly 11 million people.

We’ve photographed many of the State’s wild flowers, some of which such as Begonia, Tradescantia, Sedum (non native), we grow on our window sills, while others such as Petunia, Sinningia, members of the family Verbenaceae and a range of Irises that are all popular garden plants in the UK and the rest of Europe. Not all of these are endemic and the climate is ideal for many plants from elsewhere in the world to find a niche in which they can thrive.

We saw unusual birds, lizards, spiders and butterflies and met a host of other insects that we did not necessarily see, but felt later, when their bites started to itch.

The past four weeks has opened up my eyes to the mass of names created – often by the German language cactologists that seem to have a different approach to naming new species, mainly after their friends and travel companions, than the more ‘lumper’ orientated approach used in the English speaking cactus communities. Marlon’s PhD work has enabled him to make a very detailed study of these plants, visiting many more locations than were possible (and reasonable) to fit into this trip. We saw most of the members of the Brasilicactus, Eriocactus, Notocactus and Wigginsia groups, once genera in their own right, but controversially according to some, now united in the genus Parodia.

Angie was able to see most if not all of the members of her favourite genus Frailea in habitat, cramped in the two weeks that she was able to be with us.

We saw the state’s small number of Gymnocalycium, mostly pulled down into the soil as protection against grazing cattle and fires as well as the epiphytic cacti mentioned earlier.

In contrast with southern Peru, where the majority of cacti are columnar ceroids, we only found Cereus hildmannianus widespread where it could.

We saw that agriculture has destroyed natural habitats in many places during the last century and that the increasing population of humans continues to put extra pressure on the land. Many areas still unspoilt during Marlon’s visits in 2005 and 2006 are now at risk of being lost due to the expansion of forestry with large managed pine and eucalyptus forests now covering areas that were once exposed arid locations ideal for cacti. The increase in human population has lead to the creation of many artificial lakes by dams that control the flow of water past their turbines and so generate electricity to meet the ever growing demand by industry and households.

We have found the people in hotels, restaurants and petrol stations friendly and unlike in some South American countries, never felt threatened. We drove through a fair number of surprisingly large cities with all the trimmings that we might expect in Europe and the US and as chaotic and therefore best avoided as big cities elsewhere. The Brazilian use of brightly coloured paint, especially when it comes to decorating their houses, reflects their happy sunny outlook on life. Yet some parts of the State had strong immigrant origins, mainly German and Italian and some Dutch. It seemed that these communities were slow to integrate as people who had been living in Brazil for 50 years or more still continued to speak their original native language between themselves. Not that strange, considering that I did the same with my parents and sister for more than 40 years since moving to the UK from Holland.

The food has been excellent, but not tremendously varied, with large quantities of meat as the main course, excellent for carnivores like myself, but I’ll be eating a lot more fish when I eventually get home.

As most of my travels are motivated by cacti, my current opinion is that I have enjoyed such an in depth introduction of the native cacti that I need not come back for a second visit, but can look for new (for me) habitats to explore.

Tomorrow we fly to Minas Gerais for a whole host of new cacti and experiences. (Fourth largest State, Area 586,528.29 km2 (226,459.84 sq mi), population 20 million (2nd highest state).

After four weeks in this state we fly on to Bahia, forth largest State with an area of 564,692 km2 (218,029 sq mi)

Just to give you an idea of the size of these states, the United Kingdom has a total area of 244,820 km2 (94,526 sq mi) and a population of 61 million, while the Netherlands is a mere 41,526 km2 (16,033 sq mi) but with a population of 16.5 million people – a lot more densely populated.