Just another WordPress.com site

Archive for January 2, 2010

Sunday, 3 January – north of Umburanas

Despite last night’s spectacular thunderstorms – in the distance – we woke up to clear blue skies. Marlon had thought up three possible excursions for us, all fairly hard work, in terms of bumping along rough roads, varying in degree of difficulty by the distance to be covered on ‘very poor dirt’. Because the weather was good, we decided to go for the hardest of them all, to the location of Discocactus zehntneri var horstiorum. (S1655). These days this taxon is regarded as a synonym of D. zehntneri ssp boomianus from which it differs superficially by being much smaller with finer spination. I recommend ‘The Cacti of Eastern Brazil’ (2004) by Nigel Taylor & Daniela Zappi and the New Cactus Lexicon (2006) for the current thinking about the classification of the zehntneri group. Marlon has explained it to me twice, but without paper handy to write it all down, my memory being unreliable, I will make sure that by the time I do my 2010 presentations, I have his views right.

What ever the taxonomy and classification, this is an interesting location – extremely remote, with Leo last year failing to get Marlon and Gerardus to this site by becoming stuck in a 1 km stretch of soft sand and deciding to turn back without reaching the site. Should be good for a wind up or two during a few bottles of wine in months to come, Leo!

It was indeed not an easy journey, taking us 3 hours to cover 57 km, i.e. an average speed of 19 km.p.hr (12 m.p.h). If you consider that the first 25 km were probably covered at an average of 35-40 km p. hr. then you can imagine that during the last half, we were often at a crawl, but grateful, in the heat, not to be walking.

Why such efforts? You will already have seen our pictures of D. zehntneri (s.n. D. albispinus)  and its ssp. boomianus from previous days in these Diary pages. As a result, we know that this species is not endangered, especially as Marlon tells us that its distribution is much wider than was first imagined. But this form grows on a hill that seems to be composed of extremely high quality iron ore – haematite. The government has invited tenders for mining companies to remove the iron, the mountain and as a result, the habitat of this plant from the planet, so that we felt privileged to have the opportunity to photograph it. Who knows if it will still be there when any of us get the chance to visit again.

S1656 was for the type locality for the recently described Pilosocereus bohlei. Again, this is is an extremely remote location, but as it was only 6 km from the track that we were on to see S1655, it would have been silly to miss out. Marlon tells us that this plant was found by a party lead by Kurt Ingo Horst that included amongst others, Bernhard Bohle (Germany)  and Graham Charles (UK), but that Kurt Ingo  considered the track too rough for his 4×4, so that they made the journey from a near by village on the back of a truck. Compliments again to Cliff who calmly took us two both these locations in our city slicker’s 1.4 cc Chevvy Meriva Joy and got us back safely, all in good time.

The Pilosocereus is interesting because it seems to be made up of ‘spare parts’ from other taxa: the stems of mature plants have a flowering zone that most resembles that of P. gounellei, that it has a swollen base to its trunk that reminded me of the ‘bottle shape’ of Stephanocereus leutzelburgii. The fruits do not dehisce, unlike other Pilosocereus fruit, the stems remain short, to c. 150 cm (4.5 ft) in length, branching from the base and below the soil is a tuberous root! Certainly intriguing, but difficult to photograph as recent rainfall had created an unusual lush landscape with tall grass and shrubs in leaf making it difficult to get a clean shot of the plant.

Also at this location we found numerous Micranthocereus flaviflorus ssp. flaviflorus.

S1657 is for the images of all the other cacti (more or less the same as yesterday’s list) that we saw growing along the road, plus Rhipsalis lindbergiana that was growing in a palm tree, together with Pilosocereus pachycladus also growing epiphytically.

Saturday, 2 January – Petrolina to Umburanas

Today was planned to be just a driving day. We needed to get  to the village of Umburanas, which on most maps has one asphalt road going in before you fall off the edge into nowhere by following one of the three dirt roads going out of town. But it seems that we have internet connectivity and so might be able to keep you posted of our activities during the next few days (we’re provisionally booked in to the night of 5 January).

S1651 was a much needed P break and leg stretch at a rocky outcrop that Marlon spotted near Jacobina. We could see the Pilosocereus p and Cereus jamacaru from the road, but had to stomp along the rocks to find Melocactus ernestii.

We arrived in Umburanas around three – early enough to secure rooms in the only hotel in town, although Marlon has since spotted a Pousada as well, just in case. Plenty of time for a bit of exploring, so we went back out to the crossroads, where the asphalt road came in and selected the dirt road to the west. There is much agriculture going on with Agave sisalana planted in many fields along the road. Just as we decided that this did not look very promising for cacti, the track headed off into the hills, until eventually becoming too rough to continue on in our city slicker’s car, some 30 km along from Umburanas. S1652 is a record of cacti seen and photographed along the track, at the next two stops and on the way back, while S1653 was specifically for Micranthocereus flaviflorus ssp. falviflorus with yellow flower buds confirming its ID.

Similarly, S1654 was specifically for a Facheiroa sp. that requires a bit investigation before it can be given a positive ID. These plants are rarely seen in UK collections, accept of those who specialise in Brazilian ceroids. For five years I was the proud owner of a F. squamosa seedling that was about 15 cm (6") tall when it moved in and about 30 cm (12") when it succumbed to a cold winter while I was enjoying the South American warmth. The plant had been so unremarkable during its stay, that I had trouble remembering what it was when I saw its remains. In habitat we have now seen it several times, when it makes attractive stands of tall thin stems of 3m (9ft) length. F. ulei and F. cephaliomelana form a long, thin pseudocephalium that on mature plants seems to take up the upper third of the stem. This had a pseudocephalium, so we just need to check which of the two it is.