There have not been Diary reports for a few days because the Hotel Perkin in Holguin had run out of Internet cards! The internet worked without problems, but the cards that contained the passwords to enjoy 60 minutes of slow internet access (CUC$ 6 per hour) had run out and the hotel staff could not tell us when new supplies would arrive, or indeed when they would be ordered! That’s Cuba!
Today’s aim was to find the population of Melocactus reported in the Melocacti of Cuba book, from La Palma, some 20 km north of Holguin. I had spotted a roadside cafeteria on the road north out of Holguin by that name and a track west that could be the spot. Nothing.
Back at the La Palma coffee shop (seemingly concentrating on the sale of rum, cigars and women) the owner, in fluent American English, told us that the village of La Palma was another 12-13 km to the north, along the main road. He seemed to have some knowledge of botanical names, because when we showed him pictures of our target plants, he spotted the name ‘holguinensis’ and, in scholarly fashion, told us that the name meant ‘from Holguin’, and we should therefore be looking in the town. I smiled patiently and said that we knew all that, but that the name could also mean ‘in the area of Holguin‘ (municipality etc) and that if the name was given by foreigners, it might not be geographically exact or correct. The mark on the map was what we were looking for and for now we were happy to accept the name provided in the book. He smiled also – we had each sort of established credentials.
The map turned out to be ambiguous, suggesting that the turning west was almost opposite the turning east that we had taken yesterday to the well marked Presa Rio Gibara. But his estimate of ’12-13 km north of the La Palma Cafeteria’ was spot on. We took the turning west and after a couple of km arrived in the village of La Palma with a clear crossroads giving us three options. We decided to go straight on.
A couple more km out of town we passed a disused quarry to reach a fork in the road. Left or straight on? We could not decide and parked the car to explore on foot, first to the left, with Mike staying close to the track and Cliff and I stomping off to either side. Pictures in our book had suggested plants growing on a darkish rock substrate, just as we were finding here. I walked over to a clearing to get a view from the hill over the village of La Palma and spotted a couple of Melos. I ran back towards the track and shouted to make contact with Mike on the track. Cliff too made contact with Mike, reporting that he too had found a couple of Melos. They came over to me first (S1719). Then a slight panic as I could not find my way back to where I had spotted the plants. It did not take too long to find them again, but there were not many! Two mature cephalium bearing plants, one with a pink fruit and a number of younger adolescent plants. Pictures were duly taken before Cliff collected the fruit.
Then on to Cliff’s plants (S1719a); one mature plant in a gully and a young seedling on an higher point between shrubs. Not a massive find, but we all agreed, looking at the hillsides around us that the area had every potential for other small clusters like this. Our time budget was against us to find them, as we had to drive some 200 km to Camagüey.
This population of Melocactus holguinensis was remarkable in that plants had an extended lower radial spine, similar to plants of M. ernestii that we had seen in Bahia, Brazil.
Usually the berries of Melocactus are forced out of the cephalium but the pressure of the cephalium’s bristles as the berry ‘inflates’ when ripe. This seemed to be the case for the one fruit that we found. The berry then falls to the ground where ants and lizards seem to open the fruit and facilitate the distribution of the seed. On the plants observed here, the wool of the cephalium was full of seed although there was no sign of the fruits that would have harboured them. An imperfect distribution mechanism in this population?
Next an uneventful drive to Camagüey. We stopped again at S1691; this time S1691a, not worthy of a fresh stop number, but worth mentioning as it provided me with the GPS coordinates that were missing from the images I took of the Nopalea and Euphorbia with lizard and humming birds. There were few Nopalea flowers open, it was overcast and the hummers appeared to have taken a day off. My friend Anole, the lizard, was making his way along the Euphorbia stems, but too far from my camera to be able to improve on the pictures taken two weeks ago.