Tuesday, 17 November – Diamantina to Monjolos and back
Cliff and I had said it before, but it deserves a mention here too. Unlike other places where we have travelled, including Rio Grande do Sul, the uninitiated could be excused to think that they were NOT in cactus country as they were driving along. No tall ceroids, no opuntioids along the road, nothing – either cultivated fields, open barren land or thick vegetation accompanied us along roads and tracks.
All the more worrying when the GPS would tell us that we should park the car for a cactus stop. Where? Why?
Today we took the track (MG-220) through Conselheiro Mata and turned round just before Mojolos. We had marked a few of the stops that we had intended to make on the way back. The first one (S1526) was for some strangler fig, a ficus that somehow had found somewhere to put its roots and was now rock climbing. Some ceroids were following its example. Pilosocereus floccosus had been remembered from Marlon’s pictures on the BCSS forum from the 2008 CSSA trip of Brazil. We were parked right below a bees or wasp nest and soon moved on.
S1527 was for a location that claimed to have Melocactus levitestatus. We found an abundance of Discocactus placentiformis, the form known as D. multicolorspina. We kept being surprised by huge (10 cm at rest) grasshoppers. So now tell me that they were locusts. Anyway, they made a mechanical noise as they flew away from us. I managed to capture two on images. But Melocactus? No!
As I stepped out from behind some shrubs I spotted a lady along the road. She appeared European rather than Brazilian so I asked if she spoke English. ‘Yes, A little.’ came the reply. It turned out that she was Swiss and that her husband was as mad about cacti as we were. He appeared a few seconds later, accompanied by a Brazilian guide / driver. We must have the same data, because he too was looking for Melocactus levitestatus. He was Thomas Wegelin, a Swiss geo-botanist from Zurich seeing Brazil on a sabbatical break and using Marlon’s CSSA trip Diary as a guide. Between us we could confirm that there were no Melocacti in the areas that we had looked.
Also here was Arthrocereus rondonianus. This time we found some show quality specimens, ready to flower tonight or having flowered last night – just our luck.
S1528 was for Cipocereus bradei, at least that’s what I believe the blue stemmed on top of the rocks were. I had seen these from close up in 1999 and knew that they look best from a distance. Whatever they were, they looked great here.
We now had a drive for some 40 km before reaching three Uebelmannia pectinifera ssp flavispina locations. Cliff noticed a number of thunderstorms building up behind us. They provided a nice cooling breeze, but we were aware that they could turn our track into a fast flowing river, so we treated them with respect, only allowing ourselves a limited amount of time at two stops for our Uebels, S1529 and S1530. Each time it took some time to find the first plant.
They tend to occupy just a small area. All around, the conditions seem identical but for what ever reason, they only grow where they do. As a result, it is important to walk to the exact GPS coordinates, which so far reliably has provided at least one plant each. You then had to scout around to find where the core of the population was to find a couple of dozen more plants. They looked great as they had done in ’99, but this time there had been a lot of recent rain, so we were able to photograph them on the edge of small flooded areas. At the first stop, many of the plants were in bud and / or in flower. Again, it was amazing to see how small the flowers were. We found some young plants, showing the juvenile spination that justifies the name ‘flavispina’ – yellow spined. On the other extreme were plants of 50 cm (20") tall. Again, I got the feeling that there were more plants per stop in 1999 than we saw this time. Why? Adverse conditions? Illegal collecting?
We were in rather a hurry at the second stop because the thunderstorms rumble came closer and closer. In my hurry I jumped off a rock and nearly landed on a coiled up snake. I don’t know who was more shocked. He decided to stay still, relying on his camouflage and me to make the next move. My next move was to fire of some shots with the camera before saying a polite farewell. I treaded a bit more wearily thereafter.
We never had any rain. It seemed to pass by to the north and east of us. May be tonight there will be a repeat of last night’s heavy rain and brief hail storm – at least according to Cliff – I slept as usual.