Archive for March, 2014
Early this morning, the clocks in the UK changed to Summer Time, so in theory, it’s ‘safe’ for me to go back home. I fly out of Mexico City on Wednesday, so excellent timing before it gets too hot here. The following weekend, the clocks switch to Summer Time in Mexico.
Manuel, our host in Hotel Boca Sierra (highly recommended if you are passing through, especially when all the building work in progress has been completed. Toilet seats would be nice!) is also keen on cacti – there is a small Rebutia muscula in a pot at the bar – the discussion focused on whether it is alive or not. Manuel insisted on showing us a habitat (S3130) for Lophophora diffusa, taking us along a poor track that was OK for his Nissan pick up, but tough going for the tyres of the Jeep Patriot. We get the impression that these plants are quite common and given the right substrate and aspect, any stop will do to see these plants. Thanks for showing us these plants, Manuel! There was an interesting Agave too, sure to be in John Pilbeam’s latest book, with a name.
Next we returned to yesterday’s stop where Ian had found large numbers of L. diffusa and also some Strombocactus disciformis, but with the road cutting wall being in the shade at that time and in failing light, we had come back today to photograph the dozen plants in sunlight and look for some more. We did – at least a thousand of them! Ian (who else) managed to find the only plant in flower; well done again!
‘What?!’ , I hear you say: ‘Another white flowered plant?’ Yes, but as these plants often grow in the shade, they still seem to be able to interest pollinators (although none seen).
On the flat, we found many clumps of Thelocactus leucacanthus – many of them looking quite beaten up, but others in bud or in flower. In this area north of Vizarron it is ssp. schmollii that occurs abundantly over the hillside. It differs from ssp. leucacanthus by having magenta flowers and the plants kindly obliged by showing them, proving that not all cactus flowers here are white.
But for me, the Strombos remained the stars of the day. I also have to compliment the Mexicans on MEX120, a wonderful asphalt road, with bits recently updated, taking out a few bends where the old road can still be entered for an easy car-park and hassle free photography.
The other bonus, staying in Hotel Boca Sierra, is that they make and sell all sorts of the local marble and alabaster ornaments. Ian has been ogling the alabaster eggs for his Mum, who has a huge collection of these. I could also not resist a few items (I wonder how much my luggage will weigh in at….. )
Tomorrow we might take another look at Zimapan to see if Thelocactus hastifer – in bud soon after we arrived, has sprung into flower yet.
I spent a good part of the day winding Ian up about the fact that in a week’s time he’ll have spent his first day back at work. But the real point is that there are still six glorious days to see cacti in habitat and a lot more images waiting to be snapped to remind us of the marvels that we’ve seen.
We started the day just 5 km or so from the Premier Hotel, Rio Verde, where on 3 March 2011 Eunice and I had searched and found Turbinicarpus lophophorioides and Coryphantha maiz-tablensis. Then the plants were very shrivelled up and difficult to tell apart. Nothing had changed much, including our inability to distinguish the two taxa – may be we were only seeing the one and did not tell which one it was! We resolved that if it was pulled into the ground, it was T. lophophoroides, else it was C. maiz-tablensis. Areoles & spine clusters were almost identical, all quite different from plants in my collection. But just as back home, it seemed that these plants were short-lived.
Next we went off to another 2011 stop. This time I was confident that we’d park the car and just walk straight up to the first electricity pylon where we’d turn left to find Ariocarpus retusus ssp scapharostrioides plus lots of other cacti. All the land marks ticked all the boxes – but there was just one aspect missing – the cacti! May be it was at the second pylon, or may be the third? By the time Ian had made it to the fourth pylon there was an enthusiastic wave from him – he had found them. By then, Cliff had given up in the heat and had returned to the car but this time with me as the key holder. As usual Cliff likes to do his own exploring and although I had shouted as loud as I could each time that we were moving on to the next pylon, he claimed not to have heard. He was not best pleased when we returned, but as all who have travelled with him will confirm, he is usually the last to return to the car, so I have had to wait many times.
Our next stop (S3124) was for Lophophora viridescens, just a quick 30 minute stop, near San Francisco. It took me just five minutes to gain the opinion that the conditions were wrong to find Lophos here, too dry in the open places, lots of cacti among the shrubbery and ceroids, but too much annual vegetation to spot tiny plants beneath them. The others confirmed my opinion 30 minutes later. Plants found include Coryphantha maiz-tablensis, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, Echinocereus enneacanthus, Mammillaria sp. Myrtillocactus geometrizans, Stenocereus (Rittercereus) pruinosus and Tillandsia recurvata.
The next stop (S3125) was for the giant 3 meter tall Platy – Echinocactus platyacanthus that Eunice and I had first seen in 2011. Then, she had been on one side of the hill while me and the giant were on the other. I made three attempts to balance my camera on another platy and use the timer to take a picture of me and the giant – I failed. This time Ian obliged. As I walked up to the giant I was reminded of the opening number on Eric Clapton’s 50th Anniversary Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, where Angie had taken me for my 60th birthday: ‘Hello, old friend!’ In my alternative nomenclature system for individual cacti seen in habitat, this becomes PK#4 – Lanky (syn. Tally and Giant).
As in 2011, I probably took more images of Astrophytum myriostigma in flower here than on the rest of the trip put together. There was also a small plant that I first thought was Coryphantha maiz-tablensis, but as they got larger towards the top of the hill it was clearly a Thelocactus, presenting us with the problem of which one – T. hexaedrophorus was a candidate (but not recorded from this area), which would add another tick in the Thelo-list – but is it? And if so, which form? I’ll have to check what I called it in 2011, if indeed I recorded seeing it (I did not – or may be as a Coryphantha sp?). I’ve settled on T. tulensis based on information from literature.
We had passed all these stops yesterday and had bounced all this way again just to see these great plants. Then the plan had been to take the highway to Rio Verde and while I was having a snooze the plan got changed so that we ended up bouncing along a variable quality track. Then, we stopped in a hamlet where Ian bought two family size bottles of Cola and the elderly lady pointed out that there was a deposit on these plastic bottles. At the time we thought: ‘ yeah, what ever!’ Today he was able to return the empties.
Tomorrow we head south again.
Today was going to be a driving day, so I nestled into my ‘home’ for the last few weeks (back seat as Cliff had assumed the driver’s role, Ian the navigator role with me as director to specific locations guide) and closed my eyes – the quickest way that I know to make time pass by quickly.
When I woke up, we were bouncing along a rather rough track. What had happened? Change of mind, as we were making such fast progress, but on a road with little opportunity to stop, that Ian had found an alternative route that had turned out to be a little longer and significantly slower than had been planned, but still got us to Rio Verde in daylight, where we found a triple room at the Premier Hotel.
We made a number of stops along the track, but the images have already been backed up on my plug in HD, so the full details will have to wait until I review these Diary notes and fill in the blanks or make some corrections in weeks to come.
So here they are:
S3117: west of Ruta Federal 101, near Jaimes: Coryphantha sp, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, C. sp., Echinocereus pentalophus, Ferocactus histrix, Mammillaria compressa, Myrtillocactus geomatrizans, Opuntia microdasys, O. sp., Tillandsia recurvata
S3118: Along MEX 101: Agave lechuguilla, Aloe vera (cultivated) Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, C. sp. Echinocactus playacanthus, Echinocereus pentalophus, Mammillaria compressa, Myrtillocactus geometrizans, Opuntia microdasys, O. sp., Yucca sp.
S3119: Agave lechuguilla, A. stricta, Asclepias subulata, Astrophytum myriostigma, Coryphantha sp, Cylindropuntia leptocaulis, C. sp. Echinocactus playacanthus, Echinocereus pentalophus, Ferocactus histrix, Mammillaria compressa, Mammilloydia candida, Opuntia microdasys, Thelocactus tulensis
S3120: Coryophantha maiz-tablensis, Cylindropuntia sp,, Echinocactus platyacanthus, Echinocereus enneacanthus, Ferocactus histrix, Fouquieria splendens, Opuntia sp. Stenocereus (Rittercereus) pruinosus, Tillandsia recurvata.
I have to admit to becoming really fed up with the names of my favourite plants changing continuously. I try to keep up, for the sake of good communication in the Diaries, in presentations and in articles, but names change faster than I can keep up with if Cactaceae Systematics Initiatives are to be believed. Trouble is that at presentations I learn that most people still hang on to Backeberg names – no problem but it would be such a help if we could all stick to one, stable set of names. You may have noticed that in attempt to do this, Angie and I have started our own naming system, starting with ‘Smiler’ for a crested Copiapoa cinerea ssp columna-alba that we go and see each time that we pass through the Pan de Azucar National Park in Chile. After parking the car, Angie is able to walk straight through a field of 1,000 + columna-alba, straight up to the plant, so it certainly meets the criterion of being ‘distinct’, and yet there is no intention to suggest that botanically / taxonomically it is a different taxon.
Here is my second plant in this naming system (PK#2): meet ‘Fatty’ (a.k.a. ‘Michelinmanii’). Cliff’s pressence in the picture is purely to illustrate that there is no truth in the opinion that cactus explorers are the biggest threat to plants in habitat. We could not move most, even if we wanted to! In the ‘old system’ it is still known as Echinocactus platyacanthus. Tomorrow we’ll meet PK#3.
S3121: Disocactus sp, Fouquieria splendens
The plant above looks remarkably like ‘Aporocatus flagelliformis’ that we used to grow at the Holly Gate cactus nursery in the 1990s, except those plants tended to have their flowers nearer the base of the stem, rather than at the end like this one. Holding the branch to prevent the stem swinging in the breeze produced evidence that the plant had the same glass-wool like spines that I’d have in my fingers after repotting a few hundred plants for Terry Hewitt.
The track seemed familiar – was it the same track that Eunice Thompson and I had followed in the opposite direction in 2011? Yes, it was, but how did we miss the plants that we saw this time? That time we picked up a puncture and ended up buying a new tyre in Ciudad Victoria. This time we had no such dramas and promised to go back the next day to revisit some of the stops made in 2011.
I’m sure that I have mentioned this before, but if you plot the locations where cacti have been recorded from on a map, you end up with the road map of the area. Mex101 comes into Jaumave from the north and leaves it to the south. There are literally hundreds of cactus locations reported along this road. The list of plants from these locations shows some confusion among the explorers that visited here – lots of names, especially for Mammillaria, but at times I think that a particular plant has been mistaken for another similar plant, which is then listed. As I mentioned before, I don’t claim to be an expert in naming Mammillaria, especially those in nature, although over the years I have grown (and killed) most of the taxa – I find it difficult to combine long spells away from home, with giving plants in my collection the care that they deserve.
For now, while my health permits me to travel to habitat, I’ll focus on taking their pictures in nature, while replacing the gaps in my collection each September at ELK.
Studying the maps last night, Cliff spotted a road to the El Cielo Biosphere Reserve that was founded in 1987. It seemed that we were the first visitors there, certainly among cactophiles. The main interest for visitors seems to be the birds, of which Ian claimed to have spotted several species – a great source of leg-pulling by Cliff and I as he claims to have seen birds such as the lesser spotted upside down red legged hawk eagle – but without images to prove it! Show us the pictures, Ian. We believe that he has been taking lessons from Mike Harvey who has entertained us on past trips with his years of bird watching experience.
There were no cactus locations reported from this area, so either there were none to be found or nobody had bothered to report their finds. The first stop, (S3110) proved the latter and I will try to make up for the lack of data by providing a full list of the cacti that we photographed at the seven stops we made. By two o’clock we thought it wise to return to the hotel, as we had been on the road since 8:45. It only took us 45 minutes to get back, which indicated the time spent dodging plants with hooks and spines but not of the Cactus Family. And also the time we spent trying to get out of town. It is not a large town but with lots of one way systems and no signage to help until we were well and truly out of town, this can be a real challenge. Cliff and I recalled the day that we had spent the whole day driving around Arequipa, Peru without succeeding to find the way out – not one of our prouder moments!
For now, I’ll limit myself to the highlights, plant wise, at each stop. The whole day was spent on a fair to good gravel track, driving through a low forest, similar to the Catingaa forest in Bahia, Brazil.
S3110: Just a random ‘let’s stretch our legs’ stop without much hope of seeing cacti. We saw Ferocactus hamatacanthus, Coryphantha delicata, Echinocereus pentalophus, Cylindropuntia lepticaulis and a large padded Opuntia. We came back to the car, now covered in dry leaves and Acacia flower remains, probably Vachellia (Acacia) rigidula, with arms and Cliff’s legs covered in more scratches and with Cliff playing host to a small stick insect.
S3111: This stop will be remembered for the giant Thelocactus conothelos plants mostly in fruit (not yet ripe) and some still in flower. We all took turns to pose next to the largest plant to provide an idea of scale. Ian also spotted a group of Ariocarpus trigonus, mostly recovering from having been chewed on by cattle or goats, but with one nice specimen plant. It was here that Ian spotted one young seedling with pectinate spination that we all agreed looked like a Turbinicarpus sp juvenile.
S3112: More T. conotehelos to remind us that we were on a Thelothon, thus justifying our exploits today. Also more of the Turbinicarpus seedlings, this time larger and finally, on a clearing a dozen plants in full flower. My guess, under protest from Cliff and Ian, is that it is Turbinicarpus (Gymnocactus) viereckii, which has the benefit of being reported from Jaumave, while their suggestions come from different states, some distance away. Here is a picture of a nice group – any suggestions to ID welcome:
Since our trip, Ian believes he has tracked this down to Neolloydia grandiflora, an old Fric name, now considered to be a synonym of Neolloydia conoidea. Close examination of our images back home also reveals individuals with the typical dark central spines, but not until much later in life and always on areoles high up on the stem. It is also remarkable that although we saw plenty of Neolloydia, right from the second day in the field, these were the only ones in flower. I’m surprised that the name has been sunk despite these distinguishing features, probably the plants in habitat are just not sufficiently known. For me, it is distinct enough from N. conoidea to deserve a (cultivar) name, but probably not sufficiently distinct to be considered a different botanical taxon, so Neolloydia conoidea ‘grandiflora‘. What ever its name, they are cute floriferous plants in habitat and deserve a place in any small glasshouse or windowsill collection – raised from seed of course.
S3113: I have already mentioned similarities with the Brazilian Caatinga forest and this was enforced by the cephalia of Pilosocereus leucocephalus poking above the low trees and shrubs. Here the plants had come to the track, so the stop was to take their picture. Not sure if I even got out of the car.
S3114: At previous stops we had already seen a number of Mammilloydia candida, many of them in flower. There were some white spined clumps that were not in flower and looked different. Here we saw them with dark pink – mauve flowers. Michel Lacoste reports Mammillaria klissingiana from near Jaumave and I believe for now that this is the ‘other’ white Mam. we saw. Jatropha urens,from the Euphorbiaceae family, the one with the evil stinging leaves, stems, everything, was here – good to avoid.
S3115: Walking into a dry river bed, we spotted large Cycads and their younger siblings – no idea what species. Yesterday, Ian found two small Mams that I’m calling Mammillaria melaleuca for now. We saw more examples today, but here, Ian Eagle-yes found a small group in flower. The bright yellow flowers seemed to confirm the Dolichothele group, but the flowers seemed much smaller than what I have seen in cultivation in Europe. Special selection by nurseries for larger flowers? Or just the wrong name?
I hardly had the chance to open my bottle of drink when Ian called for another Stop – this time for a tree with some large Tillandsia growing on the branches. This was so near the previous stop that I’ll use the same number.
S3116: was really meant as the place to turn the car round, but why not take a look at what grows on the rocks as the dry river bed again crossed the road. Much the same as before, with a very nice M. candida in the shade, in full flower. And a strange ‘upside down’ Opuntia that had given up the will to grow upwards and was thus hanging down. A new species? Cliff and I agreed, thinking of Trichocereus bollingeriana in Chile where some stems of a plant hanging down seemed to justify a new species name; not for us.
On the way back to the car, on a ledge right below the nice M. candida, Ian pointed out yet another ‘different’ Mam. M. wildii?
Oh, we’re going to have fun at the Mammillaria Society AGM with no end of ID challenges for the members!
Later, while I was writing up these notes, one of the workmen building the hotel around us explained that the weather is not always this nice. In December they experienced -7C and 30 cm (1 foot) of snow. It’s nice to know what these plants can put up with in nature? Of course there are other factors to consider – moisture, humidity, the length of the frost and the maximum temperature for that day. And are such events regular or rare exceptions?
Many of my cacti have died just after one night of a sharp frost in an unheated greenhouse, but then the day time temperatures never rose much above 2 C. while in nature it can rise again to 10 C or higher.
Or rather, to the north of – as we headed back north along MEX101, the way we had come yesterday. Soon SatNav suggested a left turn, than through a small settlement, squeezing our way through the narrow lanes, to arrive at the coordinates (S3107) where others had found the plants some 10 years ago, but I’m sure visited by others more recently. An article by a Mexican published in 2008 blames collecting by foreigners as the main cause for its decline. Not the quarrying on the location where in 2011 we found many plants? I’d be surprised if we’d find any plants here.
So what were we looking for? Obregonia denegrii! And at the location well-known and documented in on-line field number lists as the San Antonio location, we found them by the million. If the numbers had declined, they must have been growing in double or triple layers before! I met a Mexican on a bike who stopped for a chat. I showed him some of the images I had taken and keen to help, he parked his bike, took his axe and offered to take out a small tree and some shrubs to allow me to take a picture of Echinocereus pentalophus with seven flowers wide open. No thank you, I’ll just walk around the tree to get the shot, no problem. Have a nice day!
So what image to select? one with a carpet of plants or a close up of just one or two? or a really large, old, but slightly marked plant? or one of the few found in flower or ….. This will have to do for now:
Also here were Echinocereus pentalophus, in flower:
The images are taking an age to upload, so others like a long tubercled form of Ariocarpus trigonus and Astrophytum forms, some in flower will have to wait.
I’ll have to look up the name of the Ceroid in flower when I get home. Myrtillocactus geometrizans was also here, in flower and there were lots of ‘flat Mammillaria‘ – the type that you could grow in your lawn and mow over without damage, even on a low setting. I call them Mam heyderi, but understand that there many local names, depending on where they are. The Astrophytum myriostigma was very variable, making a nonsense of some of the form names around in cultivation.
The complete plant list for this stop (S3107) is: Aloe vera (cultivated), Ariocarpus trigonus, Astrophytum myriostigma, Coryphantha sp, Echinocereus pentalophus, Ferocactus hamatacanthus, Ferocactus histrix, Mammillaria baumii, Mammillaria sp., Myrtillocactus geomatrizans, Obregonia denegrii, Opuntia microdasys + O. sp. Stenocereus (Rittercereus) pruinosus ? and Tillandsia recurvata.
Also on the plant list is a lizard – to be fair, it’s more a photo index list than a purist plants-only list. The horned lizard, when anxious, will squirt blood from its eye for a distance of 5 ft to put off its attacker. Fortunately it was not too frightened by me.
After some 90 minutes of indulging our cameras, we carried on for another 5 km along the track, to check the extend of the Obregonia population. Everything we had seen was still there, but this time Ian spotted two small Mammillaria not seen earlier. Mammillaria melaleuca is from this area and that is the name I’ll stick with for now until I show my Mammillaria and other associated genera images at this year’s Mammillaria Society’s AGM to put the learned members of the Society on the spot. Any information helps! (After a few presentations of ‘Mexico 2014 highlights’ in the UK, Mammillaria baumii seems a better fit)
We’ve extended our stay in Jaumave for another night, to take a look at another road near by to see what grows there. This is really turning into an amazing trip in terms of spectacular plants. No doubt I’ll have to make more trips, as today’s Thelocactus count was zero.