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Today, children in the Netherlands and Belgium celebrate St. Nicolaas / Sinterklaas day, when the children who were well behaved during the last year receive presents and those that have not been good are put into the bags that had brought the presents and are taken by Zwarte Pieten, the Saint’s Moorish helpers, back to the Saint’s homeland, Spain, as punishment. That was before kids enjoyed holidays in the many popular Spanish seaside resorts and before kids could recite their rights under the European Human Rights Act. Happy Sinterklaas Dag!

While yesterday had been a day of occasional showers, it had rained heavily during the night and turned into a day of rain and occasional dry-ish spells. Fortunately all stops planned for today were along the hardtop BR 367 between Itaobim and Itinga. We decided to first drive the full distance (31 km) to Itinga, where people were dodging from doorway to doorway to avoid getting too wet. On our way we had spotted the planned stops and looked for safe parking, plus noted a few other potential sites, weather and time permitting.

Our main goal today was to see Coleocephalocereus (Buiningii) purpureus. This plant has for a long time be regarded to come from just one location along the road that we were exploring. Marlon Machado had reported as long ago as 2003 that the owner of the property had begun to clear the vegetation from the upper part of the granite dome, using herbicide and fire. These granite domes, are often referred to as ‘inselbergs’ – island hills – because their vegetation can be quite different from the surrounding area.

Our first stop S1569 looked just right, so, despite the rain, we set out. The list of plants found was phenomenal, in alphabetical order: Arrojadoa penicillata, Brasilicereus phaeacanthus, Cereus jamacaru, Coleocephalocereus (Buiningia) purpureus, Lilies, Melocactus bahiensis ssp. amethystinus, Pereskia aureiflora, Pilosocereus floccosus ssp. quadricostatus, Pilosocereus magnificus, Pilosocereus X subsimilis, Tacinga braunii and Tacinga inamoena. C. purpureus was in flower, confirming its ID beyond doubt. We were some distance from the known locality, so we had extended the known distribution of the plant. We had gotten soaking wet in the process.

A short distance on we arrived at the known locality (S1570) and the difference was remarkable. Most of the large Ceiba jasminodorus had been brought down and had been left to rot for a number of years. Out of the decaying matter new cactus stems were sprouting, some Melocactus but mainly Brasilicereus phaeacanthus.

Pilosocereus magnificus looked anything but magnificent. The usually perfect azure blue stems had been badly marked and had not yet grown out of the damage. These plants like to use shrubs and trees as ‘nurseries’ to eventually reach a height that allows the tops of their stems to poke above the canopy. So when trees and shrubs were removed, they were damaged and then left exposed without their nursery protection.

Perhaps least affected was C. purpureus. By preferring to grow on the exposed granite flats, they had escaped the herbicide and fire that had destroyed so much else. Again, many of the plants were in flower. It seems that both aureus and purpureus are morning flowering, as today their flowers were as far open as we have seen to date – and this was the earliest in the day that we had seen them. Although closed at other sites, we had noticed large ants and small beetles trying to force the petals open, possibly to get at the pollen before competitors could do so.

The rain was still coming down and I decided to let my usual waist coat dry in the car. Instead I had put on a weatherproof (supposedly) jacket that was better suited to the UK climate. Within seconds I was wet again – this time from the sweat as this rain-protection was much too hot for Brazil in December!

When we had covered the distance from the road side car park to the first C. purpureus, the batteries on my main camera ran out. Where were the spares? In the car! Fortunately I had my little S10 pocket camera with me and I am very pleased with the results while at the same time recognising that it is worthwhile to lug the much heavier main camera around as there were a number of shots that I could not take.

Back at the hotel it was evident that I could have cleaned the lens more regularly, as raindrops had blurred some of the images. Still, with plenty of good sharp ones left to chose from, these blurred images will be proof of the conditions that we saw the plants under – very different from 1999!

A quick stop with more dark skies threatening was at a place where Marlon had told us we would find Pereskia aureiflora. We had missed the recent flowering and while the small fruits with wing-like ‘leaves’ looked very cute, there was no seed ready to collect.

Let’s hope that tomorrow is a brighter day! Although Ian pointed out that in the UK the weather usually clears up on Mondays, when he has to get back to work.

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