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It is said that for every sunny day, Taltal has two overcast days. We had yet another sunny day! Relying on the (missing) cloud cover I wore one of my short sleeved shirts and got quite sunburned by the time we got back.

For regular Chile travellers planning to visit Taltal – Bart & Marijke please note – there are two new restaurants in town. Just as well, as our regular eatery, the historic Club Taltal, had been having difficulties and remained closed, leaving us to eat a pizza at El Rancho, a cheerful fast food pizza stop next to the old Faro (lighthouse) along the promenade. This morning, as we drove out of Taltal using the coast road, south, just before our favourite restaurant of some 10 years ago, Las Brissas, there is a new, attractive and modern restaurant called El Mason del Greko. We decided to give it a go last night. As you might expect (????) this is run by a guy from Sweden! His daughter, the cashier in the restaurant, explained that her grandfather was Greek, hence the name. Excellent food, but a bit pricy for every night in Taltal.

As we walked to the Greko there was another new restaurant, looked bright and modern, with a special 40% off discount on wine. We’ll give it a go when Jonathan arrives. Tomorrow night (Thursday) Angie has reqquested a last visit this trip to old faithful, Club Taltal, before we head south towards Santiago for her flight home in some ten days time – and Jonathan’s arrival.

Back to today. Having found Thelocephala weisseri a few days ago at what we call ‘the desertorum stop’, we returned, now with better light, to check what had happened to Copiapoa desertorum. Just some brief notes and impressions that may well prove to be incorrect in time, but jotted down here as an aide memoire.

  • The age distribution of a population of Copiapoa is not the traditional bell-shaped normal distribution curve made up of plants germinating on a year by year basis. Every year the brief ‘wet’ season may be enough for seed to germinate, but tnot enough for the seedlings to put on enough bio-mass to survive to the next water event. It is during the ‘special’ El Ninjo events that there is sufficient moisture for seedlings to make sufficient bio-mass to withstand the next 7-9 years (roughly) of drought.
  • At the Desertorum location along the coast road, south of Taltal, just before it joins the road to Cifuncho we were impressed in 2001 by the massive ancient clumps of this plant.
  • We stop by every time that we have visited Taltal and only find few flowers that always look ‘reddish’ in colour. This is never a ‘pure’ red, like you might find in a rose or tulip, but rather it seems that the usual yellow pigmentation of Copiapoa flowers is missing, leaving translucent cells that show through the red of the outer petals – Copiapoa often have buds that are red coloured. I have never seen a typical yellow coloured Copiapoa flower on these plants during visits in January, May, June, July, September, October, November and December. May be there is a yellow flowering colour variant that shows of its flowers during the months that I have not visited the site – any observations from others would be very welcome.
  • We believe that Ritter called the plants here C. rubriflora, and for me, the two names are synonimous.
  • After this year’s double rain event (March and July/August 2015), it seemed easier to distinguish the ‘generations’ in the population age distribution:
    • Small ‘seedlings’, probably to 10 years of age
    • Small clumps, probably some 50 or more years of age
    • The large clumps – ‘ancient’, mostly dead or dying with only few heads capable of pushing out the odd new growth or flower before joining the piles of ash and blackened tissue and spines that make up most of the individuals here.
  • The other cactus found here abundantly is Copiapoa columna-alba. These were looking very pumped up as a result of the recent rains with a few buds starting to become visible through the wool. Some plants were forming new offsets

We carried on past Mina Las Luces towards Quebrada Tigrillos (small tigres). I had not been here for a few years and really enjoyed the session here, photographing the local form of Copiapoa longistaminea that Knize called ‘tigrillensis’ a nomen nudum. Here thw plants grew between huge granite boulders that sheltered them from the Ocean wind. Many plants would have been automatic Best in Show plants back home, but best left here to be enjoyed again during future visits.

By growing in and on top of the rocks, it was easy for the eye and brain to take in the healthy plants without becoming distracted by all the dead plants. Imagine stepping out of your front door and looking down the road seeing the corpses of all the folks who had died here during the previous 50 or more years. It can be a very depressing sight, until you put it in the correct context.

I should have plenty of pictures for next year’s round of talks, just from this stop alone. Quite a challenge ahead to select the best!

As we headed back, we took the turning to Las Maderas (the wood) where indeed it was difficult to see the wood for the trees, this valley has one of the largest and densest populations of C. columna-alba that I know. Just before coming to Chile, someone at Exeter university published a paper stating how desperate the conservation status of the cacti in the world had become with many species nearing extinction and firmly pointing the finger of guilt at the cactus hobby and commercial collection of plants. Even if the hobby was able to tripple its global membership and give every registered member three plants of C. columna-alba from this location, it would hardly make a dent. Perhaps I need to send her some pictures from this trip and illustrate damage done by road building, mining, agriculture (wine and goats) and natural events (floods) to enable her to adjust the balance of reality in her mind and teachings. Hers is the wrong message – doom and gloom – to express. There is much cause for optimism.


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