The area around Pedra Azul features huge granite domes, hundreds of meters high, that can rise straight out of the surrounding countryside and that make very photogenic subjects. In between are forested areas and green meadows where herds of Brahman cattle graze. In between these forests and meadows are open rocky clearings where nothing will grow to harvest or graze on. These rock sheets are where members of the Buiningia group in the genus Coleocephalocereus grow. They have green to yellow flowers that gave them their specific name: aureus. The last few days we had seen populations where stems reached to 100 cm (c. 3 ft) in height. Here they averaged out at 60 cm (2ft) for the tallest plants.
Marlon had again provided us with instructions of how to reach some of these populations but sadly time changes things. The track that he recommended was possibly the same one that we had followed in 1999 to a Fazienda where we had stayed the night. The next morning the owner showed us a wonderful location of these plants, but the additional feature was the huge number of other cactus genera and species that could be found here.
This time the track was overgrown and after about 1 km a farmer was putting up a barbed wire fence across it. Again language should have been a problem but was not, as talking with hands and feet I managed to ask him if we could pass to see cacti growing on rocks. He nodded his approval and cleared his tools and barbed wire off the track. One km farther along we were forced to turn around. The track was covered in cut down shrubs – the spiny kind – and once we had cleared that it became too steep and uneven with wheels spinning on the wet grass after last night’s rain. The area looked to offer so many alternatives that are easier to reach that we cut our losses and turned around. The farmer again cleared his tools out of the way. The smile on his face told us that he had expected this outcome but could not make us understand.
Earlier we had spotted the ideal Buiningia rock right along the main road leading from BR 116 into town and we returned here for a look around (S1560). Tacinga inamoena was the first cactus to be spotted for a ‘for the record’ picture. They were soon joined by Melocactus ernestii (s.n. Melocactus azulensis) as we looked among the vegetation that had washed – as plants or as seed – from the smooth rock surface higher up. We found a couple of plants with a double cephalium and one with a triple! Always guaranteed to go down well in presentations. We also found a Bromeliad, recorded as Orthophytum sp. and of course C. aureus. Some of the plants had spines up to 7cm in length!
To add extra interest we were being observed by a couple of small owls – not sure if they were young or adults.
For our second stop we moved to the other side of the town to look for a location where Pilosocereus azulensis had previously been recorded in very small numbers. When we arrived at the appropriate coordinates we found no obvious cacti and the area did not look promising for a look around. Two motorists racing down the hill nearly crashed into our car, parked on the edge of a wide dirt track.
We drove down this track until we met a ‘cross track’ and took the left turn. Soon the track opened up to a gentle sloping granite hillside, bare of vegetation except for thousands of C. aureus. Although I had just taken nearly 100 images at the previous stop, here ( S1561), I managed another 148 images here. It was remarkable that here there were no Melocactus found, unlike all the previous finds. At the edge of this large area there were a few Pilosocereus multicostatus but no ‘blue’ Pilosos. It was a wonderful therapeutic site to try to improve on images of these plants already taken. Behind us was the dramatic scenery of the colossal rocks, to one side the daily thunderstorm was darkening the sky while the other side offered white fluffy clouds against a blue sky. The ninety minutes here were pure self indulgence in a peaceful setting.
S1562 was back to the main track to Almenara and straight across to the other track at these ‘cross-tracks’. As we drove on, through a herd of white Brahman cattle, we felt that we were getting farther and farther away from potential cactus sites, so turned around and at the base of one of the granite domes made our last stop of the day. There were comparatively few C. aureus plants here (only about a dozen spotted) but then the rumble of thunder was getting closer and we had satisfied our appetite for cactus photography and decided to return to our Pousada, but not before snapping the other species here: Tacinga inamoena, T. werneri, Brazilicereus phaeacanthus, P. multicostatus and possibly one hacked stem, regenerating of P. azulensis.
Another excellent day, finished off with a Pizza and a couple of beers.