Monday, 16 November – Diamantina to Inhai and back
Yesterday’s disappointing day (although only in terms of Uebelmannia seen) was still fresh in our minds. I therefore suggested a change of plan and selected a road with at least two dead certain populations of Uebelmannia. We decided to go to the farthest away one first, just before Boa Vista, three km before the village of Inhai, that became famous after Rudolf and Marlon used the term ‘Inhai population’ for a form of Uebelmannia pectinifera in their book. Just as in 1999 we drove past the site, noting it for our way back and headed for a small bar at the far corner of the triangular square. The place had had a lick of paint since then. It was like stepping back in time, a bit eerie. After two small Colas each – partly frozen in the freezer, just like the beers had been in ’99.
But we had already made an impromptu stop (S1523) before arriving at Inhai. Cliff spotted a Discocactus in some snow white quartz sand by the side of the road. We had nearly forgotten about this genus that shares his area with Uebelmannia as globular cacti of interest. I believe that they were D. placentiformis, but not sure what syn. was used for this population.
Having had our Colas in Inhai, it was not long before we were at the bridge labelled Rio Caite Mirim (S1524). Again, an eerie moment: I could see Brian Bates with his paper bag full of C. minensis fruits laughing, he had eaten twice as many fruits as he had collected for seed. And I could hear Keith getting excited about the ‘interesting’ stick Euphorbia, E. sipolisii, about which we gave him so much stick if you pardon the pun. I promised Cliff plenty of Uebelmannia here.
But what had gone wrong? We looked and looked but no Uebels to be seen. Were we struck with selective blindness? Had all Uebels become invisible? Perhaps higher up on the rocks? Yes, eventually Cliff found the first plant and then there was no stopping them, singles, groups, big ones, little ones, but none in flower. Also worth a mention were the two ceroids: Cipocereus minensis and a denser spined plant that seemed to want to form a pseudocephalium, Arthrocereus rondonianus (?) I’ll include pictures in today’s gallery and perhaps Marlon can confirm names. The Veloziaceae, the plants that often look so much like Yucca in the US and Mexico, were also around, many species, some in flower, as well as an orchid, Laelia rupestris, in flower, growing through the stick Euphorbia, somewhat enhancing that plant’s appeal.
We noted that unlike in so many other cactus habitats we had seen, there were no opuntioids to be seen. We’d see them farther north as the Tacinga would start to appear.
On to the next stop (S1525) was another stop that was fondly remembered from 1999. It was at a long bridge across the Rio Jequitinhonha. In ’99 I remember that we had parked the car before crossing the bridge and had looked at this well known HU (Horst/ Uebelmann) collection number site (notes at home will tell me the HU number).
For the non-cactologists, HU refers to Horst & Uebelmann. Werner Uebelmann is a long retired racing driver in Switzerland who had / has a cactus nursery there. He sponsored cactus exploration trips in the late 60s / early 70s by the late Leopoldo Horst, the gentleman whose son, Kurt Ingo, now runs the Horst cactus nursery in Imigrante, Rio Grande do Sul that we visited a few weeks ago. The other person on these exploration trips was the late Albert Buining, chairman of the Dutch / Belgian Cactus Society Succulenta. Buining would describe any new plants that they discovered. Horst would get a bonus for every new species discovered.
This was the hey-day of taxonomic ‘splitting’. Any small feature that differed from a known species justified a new name. In that climate, with the prospect of financial reward, it was easy to create new species. This is not a criticism, merely an explanation of how things were in those days and an observation that things have changed (certainly in the English speaking cactus communities) to a ‘lumping’ approach where people respect similarities and rank them higher than small differences. As a result, many of the Buining names have been merged under the earliest name. Even so, he described the Genus Uebelmannia in 1967 and, at the time, its appearance, quite unusual among cacti, caused quite a stir.
In those days, it was legal to collect and export cacti commercially, with Europe, the US and Japan as the main customers. As the number of plants in habitat was often limited, there was a distinct danger that plants, already living on the edge by challenges presented by their habitat, would become extinct in nature. Laws were passed, both in the countries where cacti grow naturally and internationally by laws that aim to control the trade of endangered species across boundaries (governed by CITES).
Anyway, as usual, I digress. I had fond memories of this stop from ’99. We parked the car before crossing the bridge and, while searching for the Uebelmannia, saw a sizeable truck drive across the bridge to give us the confidence that it would carry our weight. This time, on our way to Inhai, there was a Toyota Hilux pick-up with load waiting to enter the bridge. One of its occupants was making an inspection, especially at the end of the bridge where various bits of woods had been arranged waiting to be put into the jigsaw puzzle. The two occupants had a brief chat, smiled at us and gave us the thumbs up, then crossed without incident. I filmed their crossing, followed by that of our car with Cliff driving. It did seem that this bridge was in need of some urgent repairs!
On our way back, 2 Colas later, we found the bridge with full repairs in progress. There were two cars wanting to come our way, with their occupants giving useful advice (?) to the workmen. We just parked the car, said hello and walked across for our plod in search of Uebelmannia. We found only four! With the distraction provided by the bridge works I had left the GPS and my hat in the car. I can not be 100% certain that we had the exact right spot along the river.
From memory (10 years + 6 months ago), we parked our car in a bend immediately after the bridge and then crossed a barbed wire fence to follow a foot path along the river for some 200 m, then, some 10 m from the river, there was a clearing with a rocky cliff rising, in front of which were the Uebelmannia. growing in the dappled shade of trees between the dried leaves of the trees. We walked along much more than the 200 m, without me recognising the spot, until I was quite sure that we were seeing beaches and side gullies that we had not seen in ’99. It was bl**dy hot and Cliff was overheating. Common sense said to take as many relevant pics as possible with the camera’s GPS switched on and compare them with GPS readings from previous visits.
We found a total of four Uebelmannia pectinifera. There had been lots more in ’99, although with a self imposed limit of one roll of film (36 slides) per day, that might have been a distorted memory-recall. The logical conclusion was that we had missed the ‘clearing’ that perhaps had become overgrown. A worse thought was that perhaps the plants from this famous location had all been collected by hobbyists, each just taking one each to take home where the plants would almost certainly have died by now. Taking pictures home is by far the best strategy for the species survival. Mind sets need to be changed. Despite the lack of Uebelmannia found, I still managed 45 images at this stop, scenery, bridge repair work and other plants in flower. How fortunate we are to make these trips with today’s technology.
Still, we found an Epiphyllum, E. phyllanthus, in the forest that was new for me from here and of course recorded photographic evidence of all the other cacti (Cipocereus minensis, Pilosocereus floccosus and Cereus jamacaru) that we found.
We are booked in for at least five more nights at our Hotel and could stay longer if need be, so no worries (yet).