We took the coast road from Taltal to Cifuncho. Again, we made a familiar stop near the Quebrada Bronce (S3847). There were some Copiapoa cinerea subsp. columna-alba, but we’ll see much better stands later. There were also small clumps of Copiapa taltalensis here – all very dry! Of course we sang the chorus of ‘We do like to be beside the seaside’! – our theme tune for this trip!
Next, at S3848, the clumps were larger – Copiapoa taltalensis subsp. desertorum = but I’m still not convinced that there is a close affinity with C. taltalensis. For me I prefer the name C. desertorum until detailed DNA research sorts this issue once and for all. Also here were clumps of Nolana sp., in flower. Although they are not ‘true succulents’ that are considered to use their leaves and pachicaul stems to store water during periods of drought, these plants’ leaves shrivel up when they need water.
Our next stop was just past Cifuncho in search of a plant that we called ‘Benjy’s Plant’ as Benjy Oliver first showed us this plant on our trip in 2001, 18 years ago. It is also known as ‘Copiapoa ‘ sp Cifuncho’ but for me it is the northernmost form of Copiapoa longistaminea.
Later today we’ll see this taxon again, at its southern most stop at ‘Puma Bay’, then in the Quebrada Huanillos (Quebrada Guanillos), Quebrada Tigrillo and Quebrada Madera. At Puma Bay, C. longistaminea grows alongside C. grandiflora where the two taxa are very distinct. As we visit the quebradas farther north, hey seem to ‘morph’ into one single taxon. Rudolf called a northern location ‘Confusion Hill’, for obvious reasons, but this year there was no time to visit that spot.
For some reason, Benjy’s plant was always keen to play a game of hide & seek – Angie and I were convinced that we could find it without the need for a GPS and eventually we did! It’s a beautiful plant in a spectacular location, overlooking guano covered rocks just off shore.
Al covered a larger area, including at the foot of the hill between our spot and Cifunco and found many more plants. I did not see those this time – the rocks were quite difficult, loose and not very stable – not easy with a touch of arthritis in my knees and hips and a bad back. I promised myself a closer look next time, possibly in 2020.
I suddenly felt unsure on how to get to the locations for the day – there were quite a few excellent stops in this area, but how to get to them without a SatNav system! I saw a sign to Minas Las Luces, my first clue. We drove through an inland Quebrada and I remembered seeing an Eriosyce here – Eriosyce rodentiophila or is it E. megacarpa? If only Roger Ferryman was to finish off his Eriosyce book to clarify the names of these plants!
S3851 was for Ritter’s type locality for Copiapoa cinerea subsp. columna-alba. A few years ago, Rudolf Schulz had tried to take a photo of the exact plants that Ritter had photographed here and that featured in Kakteen in Südamerika Band 3. Again we were overwhelmed by the large number of plants here, but the star of the show was Eriosyce (Thelocephala) esmeraldana, with a flower stuck above the soil giving away where other plants were seen on previous occasions, this time hidden below the soil.
The Copiapoa columna-alba must have had some moisture as many were now in flower.
S3852 was our regular spot to say hello to Alan Craig, whose ashes were buried on the beach after he died of leukemia on 31 January 2001.
We headed ‘home’ to Taltal, driving through the Guanillos valley and our last challenge – finding Copiapoa laui in the extreme drought! This time it was Ian who performed a war dance as he believed that he had found C. laui. Well done Ian!
As we wanted to get back to the car, I had my only fall of this trip – nothing too dramatic. Everyone helped me get back to the car and got out the tubes of antiseptic creams. A trip down the rocks now seems to have become a part of any cactus trip for me!