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Archive for November, 2014

Sunday 2 November 2014 – Aramberri to Tula

After last night’s great stop, S3200, where we found a very variable selection of Ariocarpus (A. confusus), we had high hopes to continue the theme with another stop at a location where these Ariocarpus had been reported from, near La Escondida (S3201). Here the range of flower colours had been reported to include yellow and yellow-with-pink-tips to the petals. We had no problem finding the hillside, right along the side of MEX 61, but failed to find ANY Ariocarpus at all on hill, and the one behind it and the hills to the left and the right of our target location, which in itself seems a bit odd as just about every hillside here seems to support Ariocarpus plants – still, never mind!

There were many Echinocactus platyacanthus here and many of these had been badly damaged, some by animals (Donkeys? Goats? Cattle?) while others looked to be damaged by disease. Could such a disease have whiped out the Ariocarpus here?

There were still plenty of other cacti to see, with of course Opuntia and Cylindropuntia as always omnipresent in large numbers. I was quite excited to find a small cactus where the stem was very thin just above the ground, broadening to a normal globular plant. Might this be ‘Gymnocactus subterraneae’? Pictures were taken, just in case. Moving on, I then found similar plants, but larger, resembling Neolloydia conoidea, so that my small plant was probably nothing more than a juvenile plant of this taxon. It does seem that Neolloydia are much more variable than I had appreciated – something to look into back home on cold winter evenings.

Just as at S3200 yesterday, there was a large presence of Thelocactus connoideus around. If I’m ever back here in spring, they’d be worth a stop when in flower. And to cheer Alain up, there were some more ‘Red Devils’ (Ferocactus pilosus) hiding among the shrubbery, even though the plants were up to 2 m tall.

Time to move on and as we approached the turning to Sandia and La Solidad that we had missed last time that we drove by here, the walkie talkie crackled and Ian offered to take us to the site that they had found on that occasion, where large Thelocacti grew (S3202). T. conothelos subsp argenteus has been reported from here and pictures in John Pilbeam’s Thelocactus book seem to match what we saw. Others used to name T. macdowellii, but this plant is reported from farther north, near Monterrey, and the one large plant that I have owned and killed under that name had finer supination and formed a clump while the plants that I saw here were all large solitary heads, with one offsetting exception. More things to look up!

For completeness sake I should mention Mammillaria formosa and Echinocereus enneacanthus, plants often found at our stops but not always mentioned. Another Echinocereus here was what I’ll call E. pectinatus with beautiful fine spination. Talking of things I need to look up: how can I tell E. pectinatus from E. riggidissimus from E. reichenbachii in habitat? Geographical taxonomy?

Echinocereus pectinatus ? (S3202)

Echinocereus pectinatus ? (S3202)

We had deicided to take the ‘back road’ from Dr. Arroyo to Tula, as Ian’s map described it as a ‘big yellow’ road, but turned out to be a variable dirt track which did not help my back at all – yep, the disc popped again.

The last two stops were therefore ‘leg stretch’ stops with nothing new seen.

Saturday 1 November 2014 – Matehuela to Aramberri

Our goal today was to see some of the interesting cacti reported from around Aramberri. Just two stops today.

S3199 sounded interesting enough, just a few km off the main road from Dr. Arroyo, before La Escondida where we would turn east to Aramberri. Gymnocactus subterraneus and Turbinicarpus pseudopectinatus were listed amongst the cacti found at this stop. We were to be disappointed, seeing just Thelocactus buekii, Echinocactus platyacanthus, Feriocactus pilosus and Mammillaria formosa and M. candida. Of course there were numerous unidentified Opuntia and Cylindropuntia as well, plants that were so common that you’d hardly notice them after a while. Not as common were the huge plants of Dasylirion that need more research later to identify the species. The data we had suggested a 200 m walk up a hill to find our target plants. Common sense told us that these target plants were extremely small and were not expected to be in flower, so chances of finding them were slim. After a while it became clear that we were not going to find them, when the sound of a car crunching the grit on the track alerted us of approaching traffic, in the form of a mini bus. We were by now high on a hill top and watched as the minibus stopped near our cars and a man got out and walked around our vehicles. A bit later, Bart emerged at the car, having chosen to look at the other side of the track. Through my zoom lens I could see him talking with the person from the passing vehicle who then returned to the car. We had all decided that it was time to come down the hill, where we learned that the mini bus had been occupied by Czech cactus tourists. The one person who had spoken with Bart only spoke Czech and a little bit of Spanish, so the conversation had been limited to mutual nodding at the names of plants that we had already seen and had hoped to see. Lots of smiles and friendly sounding words and off they went, back to the main road, to be followed by us after we had gathered the troops, and never to be seen again by us, at least not today.

The scenery at S3199 was quite dramatic with camanchaca-like clouds drifting over the distant hills; perhaps another fog related presentation could focus on plants where hill fog provided important regular humidity to support succulent plant life.

After the turning at La Escondida we agreed that the first task should be to secure accommodation for the night. SatNav suggested Hotel Esmeralda which we eventually found by parking on the square and sending Ian and Alain on a run around the town. SatNav insisted every time on sending us the wrong way up one way streets. On foot, that tends to create fewer problems. So the hotel was found and rooms were booked, leaving us free to take a look at one of the many locations to the north of the town for Ariocarpus confusus. A strange name? Not really, for a plant that has tubercles somewhere between A. retusus and A. trigonus and a highly variable flower colour, from white to pink to magenta, with yellow also reported but not seen.

To get to the location coordinates, we had to cross a small stream. The ford was flooded and so we sent Alain and Sarda on foot through the fast flowing water to establish the depth. Encouraged by the result, Bart was the first to drive our car through, quickly followed by Cliff in the other car – too fast for me to catch it on video.

Once at our location (S3200) we quickly found huge numbers of Thelocactus conothelos, as well as many large Echinocactus platyacanthus. We realised that we were on the northern side of the hill – fine for cacti on the southern hemisphere, but not so good here in Mexico – so climbed to the top and on the crest of the hill soon found our Ariocarpus in large numbers and in flower!

Ariocarpus confusus, north of Aramberri (S3200)

Ariocarpus confusus, north of Aramberri (S3200)

A great stop, that also provided the first time that I remember seeing E. platyacanthus in flower.

We made sure that we were first to cross the river again, so that we were sure to have our cameras in video mode, ready to catch the other car coming through. They arrived … and stopped. Then Ian got out, rolled up his trouser legs and walked through the water, to join us in our video exercise. Then Cliff followed in the car – all captured on video – a nice change in future presentations from endless pictures of Ariocarpus in flower!