On past Baja trips I’ve enjoyed boat trips to islands to inspect the various island endemics among the Cactaceae. Some are hardly different, others more clearly show the concept. Isla Santa Catalina is just one of a few islands that is the home of Ferocactus diguetti, which also illustrates the concept of ‘island gigantism’. Some of these plants are true giants, up to 250 cm tall, towering over my head.
But as is not unusual, I race ahead of myself. Based on past experiences by Eunice Thompson, Alain Buffel, John Pilbeam and David Neville we had acquired the services of the Torres family who usually take people out for sport fishing, but who now know exactly where to take cactophiles on Isla Santa Catalina to photograph the giant Feros.
It meant a 5:30 start in pitch dark, no breakfast and a 15 minute drive from the nearby hotel to the settlement of El Juncolito, a small bay south of Loreto where we boarded a panga and sailed into the sunrise – a brilliant experience each time we do this. Fortunately the sea was as smooth as a pond. Not much entertainment from the dolphins on the journey out, but there was plenty of jumping around the boat on the way back, sadly too fast to capture the action digitally. On the way back we also say some Grey Whales, but too far away to take meaningful pictures.
Arriving and disembarking on the island can be a tricky exercise, especially with my back still in spasm from a previous sneezing fit. Our Capitan, Manuel Torres Snr. was wise to such challenges and had brought along an aluminium 3-step that ensured that we arrived with our feet dry. ‘How long do you need?’ he asked. I looked at the giants growing up a low hill and estimated 30 minutes. Wrong! While Manuel went off fishing, I was introduced to an almost impenetrable barrier of spiny plants: acacia, Stenocereus gummosus and chollas.
We forced our way through some how – days later I still have my arms and legs covered in scratches. We were also attached by lots of small flies and mosquito’s, or at least by small biting insects.
We soon found some great spots where F. diguetti formed a neat row leading up the hill. We managed to pose for a group picture: Angie and I plus a giant. But there were also plenty of small plants, down to orange size. At grapefuit size they already showed evidence of flowering. So they must be able to produce huge amounts of seed during their lifetime!
Looking out to sea we saw that Manuel was on his way back to the beach. Once again, his task was easier than ours as we had to do battle with the prickly flora again. We had been over an hour and had lost all sense of time.
We could have visited other spots on the island but still had to drive to San Ignacio for the night, so headed back to El Juncolito and then the drive north, satisfied with another tick on the endemic cactus islands list.
Alain tells me that although F. diguetti also grew on Isla Carmen, the re-introduced Borrego mountain sheep have practically destroyed all the giants there. Another great example of humans interfering with nature may save one species, but at the cost of others.