Two months after I left England and I’m already well into my third trip. ‘Doesn’t it get boring?’ Not as long as you have days like today!
Our local guide, Martin, arrived promptly at 9 and waited patiently while we created space in the car for him. There is an area that is ‘owned’ by the original native people that is only accessible by main roads at the weekend. But Martin knew the back roads very well and so promised to take us to above the tree line – and into the snow – to show us some more Violas. Stops S2110 to S2114 were for four segments of this trip for different flora and scenery – no cacti found. We are looking for the book that our guide had brought along, to get all the names for these plants, but that will have to wait until we reach a larger town.
We drove through pine tree plantations into Araucaria forest and out onto bare scree made up of pumice and other volcanic rocks and sands. Although we are only some two weeks from the longest day in the middle of summer here, we were driving through snow covered patches on the south facing slopes. The car’s outside temperature gauge suggested 13 C. We were happy to walk around in shirt sleeves in the sun, although jumpers came out when the sun disappeared briefly behind clouds and a biting cold wind stirred up.
For now I can tell you that we saw a Viola sp. that was new to us, Viola cotyledon, Nassauvia lagascea (Asteraceae), Senecio boelckei as well as a remarkable Oxalis, O. adenophilla, with, for me, delicate, most un-oxalis like leaves and, for the plant’s size, huge pink flowers. There are others, still awaiting identification. As well as these fascinating plants, growing in pure pumice, the scenery was breath taking.
The tricky part, photography-wise was to strike a balance between fast exposure times, to freeze petals blown about in the strong winds and using small apertures to achieve maximum depth of field. And to handle the contrasts: white snow v. dark volcanic rock etc.
For S2115 we had a small misunderstanding. Guillermo had sent me a message that they had found a location where Pterocactus had been in flower – some 200 plants flowering at the same time. We had been two days behind him and had driven through the same area, but on a different road as we discovered later. So this afternoon we hoped to find this spot. Martin had understood that we wanted to go to Laguno Blanca and Zapala, in that order and had taken us the long way round, thinking that the order of seeing these places was important. It was not, in fact we would only needed to go some 56 km towards Zapala to hit Guillermo’s location. Instead we took a 156 km ride but did stop at a huge rock formation where Martin remembered having seen cacti. Cacti were not his specialty. But we had hit the jackpot with a large number of Austrocactus bertinii in flower. Austrocactus are strange plants with various growth habits from thin wispy stems growing through shrub and stones to robust stems, not unlike Echinocereus in North America, but with buds and flowers superficially resembling Eriosyce.
S2116 was for a strange dried out lake that had very bright salt crystals colouring the sides of the rocks that contained it. Once we were out of the car we naturally started looking for plants and soon found another viola. Juan then found Maihuenia patagonicus and Cliff found a strange plant that at first sight reminded us of Toumeya papyracantha from Utah or Colorado or some other Pediocactus or miniature Sclerocactus. A bit of digging revealed a long neck attached to a large tuber: Pterocactus. Pterocactus araucanus comes from this area, but the pictures and description in Roberto Kiesling’s Cactus de la Patagonia for P. australis were a much better match. That will be the name I’ll use until I’m persuaded differently.
This threw doubts on the plants found by Guillermo that he had reported as P. araucanus. Based on what was reported from here or on appearance? We found no flowers but a bit of surgery revealed that the above ground stems were no more than ripening fruits. The coordinates for his stop were still in the hotel. Likely places had goats grazing on them – this seems to be the time that goat herds move their flocks around. Well, after all, Christmas is approaching ….
Pressed for time, we did not find Guillermo’s stop.