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Archive for March 27, 2010

Sunday, 28 March, 2010 – Bustamante to Minas Viejas

It was only some 30 km from Bustamante to Minas Viejas but we took quite a while to cover the last 20 km from the gate along the asphalt road, up the mountain to the Great Hall which would be our lodgings for the night. At the princely sum of 33 pesos (less than US$3, or GBP2) for all three of us. We were the only people here and the hall served as our indoor campsite. Eunice had brought along air-mattresses for us and John had his own cot-bed. The hall had a kitchen and bathrooms and avoided the setting up of tents and the clearing of sharp rocks. There is quite a wind whistling around the place as I write these notes, so it is just as well that I do not need to put up a tent.

From the gate to the Great Hall, the reasonably maintained track wound its way up a canyon and I recorded four stops for pictures taken along the way.

S1797 was prompted by us spotting our first Opuntia in flower. We were still on the flat lands of the Valley floor at around 580 m.

Local reports from Los Angeles all along the route to here suggested that in general it had been a wet winter, so that everything looked relatively lush compared to June 2009 when Eunice had last been here. It meant that the Opuntias were full of advanced buds. But the warmth of Spring needed to persuade these buds to open had been late this year, as if the flowers had been waiting for our arrival. The coming weeks should be a real feast.

We saw Epithelantha micromeris, the omni-present Agave lechuiguilla, Agave scabra, recognised by the sandpaper-like texture of the underside of the leaf, Opuntia engelmannii (?), and a small globular cactus about which we can’t make up our mind as young plants look different from older plants and flower remains and fruits will probably require some reading and looking up things on the Internet once I’m back home in England. Coryphantha, Sclerocactus (Ancistrocactus) and Echinomastus are among the candidate genera.   Or are we seeing more than one species of similar looking plants? There was also an Echinocereus sp. that we had seen yesterday. It forms clumps and looks to be coming just out of its winter rest, looking dehydrated and in need of some moisture and warmth. At the Great Hall they had a picture book of the natural history of the area and there was our plant and the label clicked immediately: Echinocereus viereckii.

S1798 was at the beginning of our ascend up the hill at around 800 m. Plants spotted included that Coryphantha / Sclerocactus sp. again, small solitary green bodied plants assumed to be seedlings of Echinocereus viereckii and a slightly larger, clumping sp. too, were they the same species? The book suggests E. enneacanthus, but the accompanying pictures of plants in flower suggests E. vierecki to me. Agave scabra was also still abundant.

We had climbed to 1,020 m when we photographed Echeveria simulans in flower, for the start of S1799. This stop lasted until we reached the Grand Hall. We saw Sedum palmerii, (although the book calls it S. greggii, John is positive that it is E. palmerii) abundant and in flower, another Sedum sp., Echinocereus enneacanthus and E. viereckii. the same one that we had seen at the previous stop, and a form with long pendant stems up to a meter long, Hamatocactus setispinus, a thick leaved Tradescantia sp. – are there succulent Tradescantia ? Opuntia engelmannii.  Mammillaria heyderi (?), M. prolifera (? not reported from this area,  so probably something else), Tillandsia sp., Agave stricta and our first Agave ovatifolia, although the book called it A. gentryi.

Throughout our trip and also in Brazil, we would come across the resurrection plant, Selaginella, and here it was in all its stages between very dry and in full glory, depending on the aspect of the hillside and the availability of moisture. I suspect that there is more than one species that we have seen on our travels – must read more later. *

After inspection of our quarters for the night, we went farther up the track, until it deteriorated and climbing to the top of the hill tomorrow became a good alternative. John and I walked back along the track, while Eunice drove the car. All images are filed as  S1800 and included Agava stricta, A. ovatifolia, a few A. scabra, Mammillaria heyderi (?), Echinocereus viereckii , Oxalis sp. and Opuntia sp.

Tomorrow we’ll explore a bit more around the area before returning for a night in comfort at Bustamante.

*  From Wikipedia:

‘Selaginella is a genus of plants in the family Selaginellaceae, the spikemosses.

Selaginellas are creeping or ascendant plants with simple, scale-like leaves on branching stems from which roots also arise. The plants are heterosporous (megaspores and microspores), and have structures called ligules, scale-like outgrowths near the base of the upper surface of each microphyll and sporophyll. There are about 700 species of Selaginella, showing a wide range of characters; the genus is overdue for a revision which might include subdivision into several genera. Selaginella lepidophylla – the resurrection plant, dinosaur plant, and flower of stone (Chihuahuan Desert of North America)’

So what species is the one that we saw in Brazil?

Unusually for the lycopods, each microphyll contains a branching vascular trace.

Saturday, 27 March, 2010 – Monclova, Coahuila to Bustamante, Nuevo Leon

Another excellent day with seven stops that provided cacti in two genera that I had not seen in nature before: Epithelantha (I assume  it was E. micromeris) and Astrophytum, with A. capricorne as it’s representative. There were also a number of candidates for first time of photographing a species that I had not seen before in nature. Now don’t jump to the conclusion that I have become a mere  ‘list ticker’, but at the same time, there is little point in going back time after time to photograph things that I have thousands of pictures of already – unless we are in Chile of course.

The theme for today can be summed up by that song from the sixties by the Chicago Transit Authority: ‘Does anyone really know what time it is?’ with all the jumping from one time zone to another and different countries / states  changing from winter to summer time on different weekends. California had already made the change on the night of 17 / 18 March. In the UK (and Europe in general I believe) it happens on the last weekend of March so in fact around 2 a.m. on 28 March, while in Mexico, it seems to be next weekend – Easter Weekend – that the clocks change. Anyway, John & I got it wrong and knocked on Eunice’s door 55 minutes after we thought that we had agreed to meet for breakfast, only to be told that we were 5 minutes early. We had already had breakfast, so Eunice was on her own, while I used the extra time to have a chat with Angie. Sorry Eunice.

I guess it only matters what time it is when I need to catch my flight back to England in a couple of weeks+ time.

Today’s stops were S1790 to S1796 inclusive.

S1790 and S1791 were ‘leg stretchers’ but did not yield anything exciting, so I won’t bore you with the plant list. S1792 are pictures taken around the charming Mexican town of Bustamante. Our database suggests that there is also a town by that name in the State of Coahuila, but as the plants reported are the same that we found here, in Nuevo Leon, I wonder if that might be a typo. So S1793 to S1796 are from the Bustamante canyon area known as Ojo de Agua. Not a very original name, as I have come across several of these in Latin American countries. We found Epithelantha micromeris, Escobaria sp, a small growing Echinocereus pectinatus form – is this E. pailianus that I have grown and killed several times in the UK? E. fendleri (?), E. stramineus, Astrophytum capricorne, Ferocactus / Thelocactus hamataspinus (?), a Sclerocactus (Ancistrocactus sp) and a Mammillaria sp to be identified and various Opuntia sp. that the Tephrocactus Study Group meeting can have a chance to ID.

Back in Bustamante, work was in progress for a big fiesta, probably to celebrate Palm Sunday. I bought yet another hat to ‘blend in with the natives’, as you’ll see on tomorrow’s pictures.