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As usual, we had failed to cater for breakfast in the self-catering cabana. As in 2013 – no panic – a drive to the Copec at Soccos and refuel the human engine at the Pronto did the trick.

I wondered how the track to the Parque Nacional Fray Jorge had changed. Had the fields of grain taken over alltogether? was it still a storage area for windfarms along the coast? No, everything seemed to be returning to ‘normal’ except that unlike in 2001, most of the land was fenced off and at our usual stop, where at least we could see some Eriosyce aurata long the road, there were now GOATS! Intentionally or unintentionaly the fields of grain were now providing grazing for a few horses. The Trichocereus here – call it ‘chilensis’ or ‘skottsbergii’ as you will, I’ve never been able to tell which is which and what happened to the ‘rule’ that a species and its subspecies don’t grow together? There certainly are two ‘Trichoes’ here, alongside Eulychnia acida to confuse matters further, but from the island of Chiloe in the south, right up to Taltal (?) the name ‘chilensis’ is applied to a very variable taxon. The plants seem to be of little horticultural interest, which still seems to be the main motivator for creating names, but if we want to have meaningful names for things found in nature, than surely consistent regional forms that vary in appearance along the range deserve a name to enable us to talk about them? From memory, Ritter I believe recognised eight varieties. The form found in the Elqui Valley with its super long spines certainly deserves a ‘name’, even if there is no need to record it at a botanic rank.

Pablo and Angie wanted to take pictures of a fence of ceroid cacti – I stayed in the car, having seen it dozens of times before. A lady, more senior in years than I am – I have to be careful now that I am over 60 years young as well – that used to be my benchmark for using ‘old’! – came to the gate of her property and shouted a question to my deaf ear. In my best Spanglish I replied that we were English tourists on our way to the Parque. She came through the gate and said ‘I’m not sure why you are trying to speak Spanish to me, I have lived in the US for the last 50 years, but I was born just a few 100 meters from here.’ We had a nice chat over how things had changed, some for the better, but some for the worse too – people just don’t handle change very well.

We came to the turning to El Sauce, the weeping willow tree.  Nature became more and more powerful, as ‘the flowering desert’ also extends to the hillsides either side of the road. It was an interesting ride on a track that Jonathan and I first explored in 2013 to find a nice stand of Copiapoa coquimbana overlooking the Ocean, in fields where as dense with Eulychnia castanea as the I have seen any population of cacti.

The C. coquimbana here were marvellous, obviously also as a result of this year’s rains, evidenced by the tracks that often had been partly washed away. It’s a shame that the name ‘grandiflora’ has already been used elsewhere in the genus Copiapoa, as the plants here had the largest flowers in the genus that any of us had seen. Had it been the same in 2013? Or does it add to my theory that flower size (and shape for that matter) is not a guide to identification of taxa in this genus – available water and density of spines at the apex are significant in determining flower size!

This is one of the most southern populations of Copiapoa, with the nearby Rio Limari generally regarded as the natural southern border of the genus, with small groups of plants in the sand dunes at El Teniente and La Cebada holding the official southern-most record – or has anyone found them in nature even farther south?

Again, when I get home, I’ll have to look for the name of the small Eriosyce / Neoporteria / Horridocactus that we were seeing this time – in bud. Not sure if Jonathan wants to take a look next week if they are in flower yet. Superficially, they looked similar to the E. heinrichiana that we had seen near El Trapiche yesterday. And remarkably, there were small plants resembling Thelocephala growing near the Eriosyce as well, again, just like at the El Trapiche site. But, according to literature, no Thelos have been reported this far south, so it is probably another example of dimorphic growth – differing juvenile and mature spination found on plants of the same species. All together a very enjoyable stop again!

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