At breakfast I was surprised to hear Dutch spoken at another table where four elderly couples were having breakfast. A quick chat and I learned that it was a party of three sisters, a friend and their husbands on a tour of southern Brazil. I was amazed how well they spoke Portuguese. That was because they had lived in Holambra #2, one of three Dutch colonies in Brazil, since 1953! The amazing thing was that they still spoke such good Dutch!
Why were we in Vacaria you may ask. When seeing Parodia haselbergii ssp graessneri in habitat a few days back, we had been slightly disappointed. These plants looked just like P haselbergii proper, with a different flower colour. In cultivation in Europe, we are used to seeing yellowish spined plants. Earlier, Franco had explained that the yellow spined form was common in southern Santa Catarina, the state to the north of Rio Grande do Sul. As I was keen the have the full set of pictures of the various forms we decided to cross the state border and take a look.
The only information we had was that the plants could be found in a triangular area with sides of some 15 km each. Quite an area. From what we had seen so far, our expectation was that they would grow on steep cliffs, inaccessible for close up photography. We arrived in the area round 2 p.m. having only made some brief roadside stops (S1491, S1492 and S1493) to photograph Parodia linkii in flower. Marlon tells us that the form here was formerly known as Notocactus megapotanicus .
We had now reached the designated area for our search for P graessneri and were looking for steep cliffs and signs pointing to waterfalls (usually associated with steep cliffs). S1494 was a disappointment, more a family play area with water ducts and the promise that a 2 km hike into the hills would lead to a waterfall. The owner showed us photographs of the area that had little potential for our cacti, so we moved on. We stopped along the track to take more pictures of the impressive Araucaria angustifolia. There were two huge trees in particular with a sign claiming that they were at least 400 years of age. Cliff had been looking for seed but now realises that he will never see any seedlings reach maturity.
S1495 promised a steep rock face with indigenous art work but delivered no cacti, except a Rhipsalis or Lepismium, an epiphytic cactus swinging from the rocks seen in one picture, blown up to full size. Not one for a talk, but one for the records.
We did better at the next waterfall stop (S1496), paid our R$3 each to get in and found a nice deep waterfall cascading at least 100 m down. On the wall from where it emerged (but again a good 100 m away, we believed that we could make out some golden spined globular cacti. We took a hundred or so pictures with the zoom lens set to it’s maximum 200 mm setting and were hopeful that back in the hotel we would be able to crop these further. And sure enough, back in the ‘computer dark room’ I was able to spot more than 25 plants of P. graessneri.
There were a couple of plants near the top, right alongside the edge of the deep ravine. We had to cross the river and then walk along the cliff’s edge to get to the pants. We asked the owner’s permission to cross to the other side of the river. ‘Not my land, not my problem’ came his reply.
Needless to say, we completed our mission, got some nice pictures of Mr Graessner’s Parodia and discovered a nice epiphytic cactus, Lepismium houlletianum, growing alongside.
Interestingly, the near by town where we are staying is somewhat of a winter sport centre with Hotel names including Snow Valley. So these plants are able to stand some pretty low temperatures, as suggested by the fact that they survived last winter in my frozen tunnel back in England.
We’ll spend some more time in the area tomorrow to check out stories by local people that this plant occurs plentifully here, also growing on more easily accessible flat locations and is collected by kids who eat them as sweets (after removing spines!). We’ll see…..