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Wednesday 28 November 2018 – Jequitinonha – Almenare

Today we followed the valley of the Rio Jequitinonha to Almenare. Marlon wanted to explore the Valley for new Coleocephalocereus locations. Some were Buiningia locations while some were of a yet to be described species. Marlon collected material for herbarium specimen and I took images of the pollinators: a solitary bee and a hummingbird that attacked me, as I was wearing a red shirt.

We stopped at any inselberg that we passed, but most were too steep to climb. Still, I managed to pick up cacti growing on the hills between the Bromeliads covering the hill with my 300 mm zoom lens. We assumed that any short yellow spined stems were B. aurea while taller, darker spined stems were Coleocephalocereus sp. nova.

S3730 – as close as we could get to the inselberg. Making a crop of the above photo showed up a number of ‘our Buiningia aureus’.
S3730 – crop of the image above this one.

S3731: the inselberg was too far away to take meaningful crops. There were some candidates for the dar spined ‘sp. nova’, but they could equally be the burnt stems of the tall Bromeliads. Inconclusive. There were some amazingly azure blue stems of a Pilosocereus sp. growing near the car.

At S3732 there was flat limestone terrain with similar looking plants but close enough to stroke! No doubt! Buiningia aurea!

It was another hot humid day, so I stayed in the car, kept company by a white horse for scale, why I took pictures of the Pilosocereus, while the others climbed up the hill (S3733). Marlon was the last to return to the car, holding a top cut of the new Coleocephaluscereus species in his hands. I could not resist taking a quick look. There were more of these plants here. They were about 150 cm or more tall and solitary.

S3733 – sp. nova herbarium sample

S3734: we passed through a gate on to a farm yard where we parked the car. Walking up the hill – not too steep, we first saw and photographed Buiningia aurea and then, higher up, but still manageable, we found the sp. nova. I’m not quite sure where it fits in. It’s taller than any Buiningia that I have seen, there is only C. goebelianus in the Simplex group. The remaining taxa, as far as I have seen, all crawl up the inselbergs, again, unlike the plants here. Marlon’s description should clarify matters, I hope.

S3734 – Both taxa of Coleocephalocereus together.

It was another hot and humid day, so I decided to sit the next stop (S3735) out. Marlon was late returning, and was reported to try taking image of the sp. nova pollinators. Taking images of hummingbirds is not the easiest thing to do, particularly with a mobile phone! I went to take a look and found Marlon with a flowering stem. I was wearing a red shirt, a hummer’s favourite colour, and had to step back as it tried to see me off.

S3735: sp. nova + pollinator in action.

Tuesday 27 November 2018 – Pedra Azul – Jequitinonha

Inselbergs are granitic or gneissic rock outcrops that are considered terrestrial islands because of their strong spatial and ecological isolation, thus harbouring a set of differing distinct plant communities. In Brazil, inselbergs scattered in the Atlantic Forest contain unusually high levels of plant species richness and endemism. Inselbergs are thought to have differing microenvironments but in the rain are all very slippery especially on the steep parts. Our interest here is that they contain differing populations of the genus Coleocephalocereus (Cactaceae).

Our first stop, S3721, was for Coleocephalocereus (Buiningia) aureus subsp. brevicylindrica. We had already seen the giant Coleocephalocereus (Simplex) goebelianus which Backeberg had ‘blessed’ with the long name that has not endeared the plant to those who need to write labels for a living! They are therefore often still seen under the name Buiningia.

S3721 Coleocephalocereus aureus subsp. brevicylindricus with hummingbird pollinator.

Young plants are hard to distinguish from similar sized Melocactus. Once the lateral cephalium forms it becomes much easier to distinguish the genera as Melocactus has a terminal apical cephalium while Coleocephalocereus has a lateral cephalium. Both genera are pollinated by hummingbirds.

Buiningia‘ are said to contain just two species: the yellow flowered C. aureus and the purple flowered C. purpureus. But there are some subspecies that deserve recognition, if only in cultivation: C. aureus subsp. brevicylindricus and C. aureus subsp. elongatus that in nature are respectively shorter and taller than subspecies aureus. We were fortunate to see all of these taxa.

S3721: Yellow flowers: Coleocephalocereus aureus!

S3722 was another population of Buiningia aurea subsp. brevicylindrica, but the sides of the inselberg were much too steep for us to climb them to inspect the plants. It seems that the berries did not like the steep slopes either and rolled downhill to collect along the base of the rock.

S3712: seeds grew where the fruits rolled down the steep hill.
S3723 was the farm where we were invited to stay and were treated to a free range roast chicken dinner in 1999 and where, the next morning we were shown our first plants of B. brevicylindraca – here with flower and berry.

S3724 was for the almost inevitable second puncture, this time for John & my car. The other car, with Alain, Chris and Marlon inside raced on, oblivious to our flashing lights and honking horn. Eventually, after John had changed the tyre, they returned rather sheepishly. Did you not hear us or see our flashing lights? Sorry, we were listening the the Electric Light Orchestra at full blast was their poor excuse! So much for team work!

There were more Buiningia at S3725. Here the stems were a little taller. B. aurea subsp. aurea?

S3725 – stems a little taller?

S3726 was a stop along the side of the track for a huge, 30 cm diameter flower, appearing in the shrubs growing along the track: Aristologia gigantica!

There were more Buiningia at S3727, as well as Tacinga inamoena and various Bromeliaceae; Pereskia at S3728 and Melocactus sp. at S3729.

Monday, 26 November 2018 – Vitória da Conquista to Pedra Azul

In May 1999, Marlon brought us to a conservation project on the Serra do Piripiri near the third largest town in the State of Bahia, Vitória da Conquista. Here a small group of professionals had read Nigel Taylor’s report that Melocactus conoideus was threatened with extinction. They decided to do something about this, negotiated for half of the area on the Serra do Piripiri to be fenced off. When we visited for the first time in 1999, the fence has been completed, but there was a snag; during the frequent flash fires on the hill, the dry vegetation would burn, the wooden fence posts would catch fire and the fence would need repairs. The late Keith Grantham observed that as one reason for locals to visit was to collect the small grade substrate which was great for making concrete. Replace the wooden posts with concrete ones and the problem would be fixed. As the Conservation group and their families had already spent a good few years building the wooden fence, they feared their families’ reaction. At Keith’s suggestion a proposal was prepared for the BCSS Conservation Fund that had just benefitted from a bequest through the sale of the plant and book collection of Portsmouth Branch’s President Ken Ethridge. This donation covered the cost of labour so that the fence could be repaired with concrete posts.

By the time of our next visit in 2009, the fence was in place and the number of plants had increased dramatically. There was enough concrete left to build some office / class room space and the schools used it for their conservation classes!

This time Caio had warned us that in recent years, the Conservation Unit had been suffering a severe process of degradation caused by the criminal use of natural resources and irregular occupation of the area. Elimination of native vegetation, soil degradation and threat of loss of springs are just some of the issues which can seriously affect the geography of the city and the characteristics of our climate. Watch the video and help Vitória da Conquista take care of the natural heritage, which does not belong to government or individuals, but to all people and generations. Save the Piripiri Mountain!

Caio Coelho and a random group of Melocactus conoideus – now a very healthy population.
But the town of Vitoria da Conquista keeps growing as well, coming ever closer.
… so that Caio had thought it safer for a couple of armed guards to join us.

We had a great lunch in the town of VdC – as this would also the point where Jarred would leave us, catching a bus towards Rio de Janeiro and a few days of rest to write up his notes. Good luck with your job hunt in the US!

The remainder of the group now headed south, back into Minas Gerais and on to the town of Pedra Azul, where here in the north east of the State, the landscape was dominated by Inselbergs.

Sunday, 25 November 2018 – Serra Escura

Nothing much had changed at the entrance to the entrance of the Serra Escura Farm since our previous visit on 13 December 2009, except that there was now a paved track to the base of the hill where in the past we had to walk there. Quite a bonus in this heat!

In 2009 we explored into a short tunnel used by a mineral company to check the content of the inside of the hill. This proved that the entire hill was made of 99.94% pure quartz, a commodity that is highly valued by the steel industry. At the time we were told that the Government would not permit quarrying at a location where endangered species were present. But laws can change, and a new sign now appeared at the entrance to the site. In 2009 we left the the tunnel in a hurry as sticks of dynamite were left lying about!

Can a sign and all the legislation justify the extinction of a species only known from this location? Looks impressive, but is actually very sad!
Clearly they had started without us!
Where once some 5,000 cacti had enjoyed the view over the surrounding countryside
diggers had started their destructive work.
Our visit was on a Sunday. Although the humans were enjoying their rest day, the pollinators were still fighting against time to support their food source.
Delicately balanced: Marylan on a balanced rock and the Arrojadoa that she discovered and is named after her on the edge of extinction. Yes, they can grow over 3 m tall!

Now, almost a year after the event, I still feel sad at the thought that by now most of the Arrojadoa will have gone. Taking down a hill starts at the top, where the plants grow, and stops at the bottom, among the trees and shrubs where the Arrojadoa marylaniae and Espostoopsis dybowskii refuse to grow.

Arrojadoa marylaniae, Rest In Peace!

PS A. marylaniae is not the most dynamic cactus. But, according to IUCN records since its start in 1964, it is the first cactus to have become extinct in nature. At the recent ELK cactus mart in Belgium I looked to see if there were any plants for sale but I was always disappointed to find that the plant I had struggled to find in the crowded sales room had been a Weberbauero-cereus johnsonii or a seedling Notocactus leninghausii, one of the most common cacti in cultivation. The niche for a golden spined columnar cactus seems to have been filled in cultivation. Even if I were able to obtain A. marylaniae seed by the kilogram or mature plants with cephalia at some 150 cm in height by the container load, I doubt that there would be many customers for this plant; at least not until it flowers. No question of ‘death through over collecting’ here!

Saturday, 24 November 2018 – Contendas do Sincora to Vitória da Conquista

We had arranged to meet Marylan Coelho and her son Caio, friends from my previous trips to Brazil, at the Floresta Nacional Contendas do Sincora. This National Forest was created in 1999 to promote the sustainable and multiple use management of renewable natural resources, the maintenance and protection of water resources and biodiversity, the recovery of degraded areas, environmental education, the maintenance of samples of the caatinga ecosystem fragment and the support to the sustainable development of the natural resources of the bordering areas. The Park has an approximate total area of ​​11,034 hectares. There are facilities to give courses that aim to make local people familiar with their environment.

We met managers and staff who explained their objectives and treated us to refreshments before taking us for a walk along the Trilha das Bromelias (The Bromeliad Trail) that took us past plants that occurred naturally in the park. This was augmented by great quality images, taken by local photographers Josafa Almeida and Josafa Filho that illustrate organisms such as birds, mammals and insects that can also be found in this environment but that unlike the plants move around or appear only at night or during specific seasons. It certainly made me think twice about going out at night to see cacti, knowing that I might meet puma, leopards, snakes and tarantula!

The cacti seen during the walk included Arrojadoa penicillata, Pereskia bahiensis, Pilosocereus pachycladus and Tacinga werneri and Marylan invited me to join her in planting a cultivated plant of Arrojadoa marylaniae to mark our friendship since 1999.

S3711: left to right: The manager of the Park, Marylan Coelho and PK
planting a seedling of Arrojadoa marylaniae

The second and last stop of the day, S3712, was some two hours away where Marlon wanted to show us a new species of Arrojadoa that he and Alvado wanted to publish. We were slightly surprised when we reached the plant, growing at the bottom of a steep and quite high hill. that Marlon produced a knife and started to attack the plant, explaining that he needed to collect samples to include as herbarium specimen to support the description. Alain sacrificed some of his cachaça, at 38 – 48 % alcohol by volume, the strongest alcohol available, in which the flowering stem of the plant could be preserved. I believe that the plants were found as botanists and students searched for new locations of Arrojadoa marylaniae that is close to extinction at its only known location that we’ll visit tomorrow. It was interesting to note that Espostoopsis dybowskii and Arrojadoa penicillata also grows here, just like at the A. marylaniae site! This plant has a very fragmented range with populations that I have seen growing near Jequia and, in the north, between Jaguarari and Flamingo. The distance between these locations used to be part of the Atlantic Forest of which some 85% has disappeared, replaced by agriculture and by logging, exported to Europe and the USA.

Marlon taking pictures and herbarium specimen for a possible new species of Arrojadoa.

Friday 23 November 2018 – Morro do Chapeu to Mucuge

We were ready in good time for today’s 395 km journey south. All were in good spirit, until I spotted the puncture in one of Alain’s Duster tyres. As usual there were more people than needed to change the tyre. Dusters appear to pack only an emergency tyre, a polo mint like tyre, good for a maximum speed of 86 kmph. Fortunately there was a tyre repair stop just a few km up the road, where the tyre was soon fixed.

Changing a punctured tyre.

In 2002 Marlon took a picture of a Cereus jamacaru that he called ‘Giant’. In 2006, he showed the plant to Nigel Taylor and Daniela Zappi, who also took its picture and used it for the inside cover of their book Cacti of North East Brazil, suggesting that this was probably the biggest individual of Cereus jamacaru. In 2009, Cliff and I also took its picture and today, probably even larger than on previous occasions, we took its picture again.

‘Giant’ – probably the largest recorded Cereus jamacaru.

Next stop was again for the cactus stop where we had found most cactus and succulent plant taxa in one spot, for Marlon to show us the Pilosocereus gounellei with the longest spines that he had seen.

S3706 – Cactus maximus
Marlon with Pilosocereus gounellei with the longest spines that he has seen

S3707 was for Discocactus bahiensis. This plant remains quite small but has spination that is almost second to none. It competes for that title with Gymnocalycium spegazzinii from north eastern Argentina that, in cultivation, is a lot easier to grow. Like most cacti from this area, in our collections in Europe, it should be kept at above 15 C.

Discocactus bahiensis

The plants at this spot are tough individuals as they have chosen (?) to live in the middle of a track. Although we saw no other cars, the track looks in regular use, which means that cars drive right over them without ill effect!

Melocactus glaucescens was also here. This is said to be very rare, only known from four small sites in the Chapada Diamantina, but we were perhaps suffering from Melo overflow after seeing so many M. azureus yesterday. S3708 was for a Stephanocereus leucostele right alongside the main road. No need for long hikes – once again it was a hot day. I took its picture from the car while the others needed to stretch their legs. As I was checking the image on the camera’s monitor screen, an owl landed on the post right next to the car!

Athene cunicularia grallaria – the Brazilian Burrowing owl

Our final stop of the day was at the Cemitério Santa Isabel in the town of Mucugé. The large monuments of this Byzantine cemetery were as brightly whitewashed as on previous visits. We made our way to the small chapel at the back of the cemetery where we still saw a few Arrojadoa bahiensis, all out of reach from collectors’ hands. I love my 300 mm zoom lens!

Cemitério Santa Isabel in the town of Mucugé
Arrojadoa bahiensis

We found very reasonably priced accommodation in Barra da Estiva so that again we had a room with toilet and shower each.

Thursday 22 November 2018 – Morro do Chapéu – Irece

Today we went west towards Irece to check on Melocactus azureus to see what had changed, if anything, since our visit here on 7 January 2010.

Then, Marlon had proposed a day of exploring by visits to some dozen locations that on Google Earth looked similar to known localities of M. azureus in the area.

Quoting from my report of 7 January 2010:

‘Nigel Taylor and Daniela Zappi in ‘The Cacti of Eastern Brazil’ (2004) write regarding the conservation status of M. azureus:
‘Conservation ex situ may be the only viable option unless populations discovered in 2002 can be adequately protected….
… Specifically for Melocactus azureus, whose known habitats are in imminent peril of destruction and hold wild populations that are highly fragmented or numbering only tens of individuals.’

The report for 7 January 2010 was quite straight forward in terms of reporting plants. We made 11 random stops (S1667 to 1677). At all stops we found Melocactus azureus, not in their tens, but in their tens of thousands! More over, we could see no good reason why this would be any different for the locations that we drove by without stopping, due to lack of time. Great news for the conservation status of this taxon. ‘

And yet, some ten years later, this positive outcome has not yet filtered through to the official websites that report such matters.

This time, we made just two stops:

S3702 was one of the 5 locations along the side of the main road, reported in 2010. Not much appears to have changed since then, except that the amount of rubbish – shredded plastic carrier bags, plastic drink bottles, discarded textiles etc – had increased dramatically, so that we had to do a fair amount of rubbish clearing before photographing the cacti.

S3702: Battle for survival: cacti v. plastic waste.

S3703 was for one of the ten new locations visited in 2010. Here too, nothing appeared to have changed. The terrain was the usual eroded limestone pavements, home to upto close to a million plants. Not a scientific report, but I guess that approximately 10-15% of plants had the azure blue coloured epidermis that gave this plant its name. It seems that young plants have the most-azure epidermis, but that this begins to fade once plants reach maturity and form a cephalium.

Jared amongst thousands of Melocactus azureus plants
The azure blue epidermis fades with age and maturity once the cephalium is formed.

Wednesday 21 November, around Morro do Chapeu

Breakfast was delayed a bit as the hotel manager in this one-man operation was trying to fix the internet. It seems that some bright spark had lit a bonfire below the cable that carries the signal into the hotel, explaining the acrid smell that woke us up.

As soon as breakfast was over, we left to pick up Father Delmar. In 2009 Marlon had excused himself to spend Christmas with his family. Could we have contact information to meet Father Delmar? Sure.

We were both fluent, in different languages, but, using Google Translate and a lot of waving of hands, arms and legs, we managed fine. For our days together, he acted as our guide and we took him to the best (Italian) restaurant in town for dinner on Christmas Day, where he knew everyone. or did he take us? This time he took us to ‘Marlon’s Reserve’ to see Micranthocereus polyacanthus subsp. alvinii.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018 – Rio de Contas to Morro do Chapeu

From memory, our first stop of the day was just north of Piatã,(S3694) to play in a huge sandpit (quarry, doubling up as a waste disposal site) to look for Marlon’s Micranthocereus hofackerianus. The plant was originally described by Pierre Braun as Arrojadoa multiflora subsp. hofackerianus. Marlon noticed that the plants had a lateral cephalium rather than the ring cephalium found in Arrojadoa. (\ (http://forum.bcss.org.uk/viewtopic.php?t=75226).
As I was searching for the plants between the tall grasses and low shrubs I heard shouts from the track that ran parallel to the one I had selected.  As I walked over, I saw the Dusters stuck in the soft sand. Marlon had already walked back to where we had seen workmen and equipment that might resolve our problem.  They had pulled out the Dusters in no time at all!
The heat was now my main issue. It was 37 C when we reached the stop near Seabra (S3695) where we were going to climb to the cross at the top of the hill to see Mircanthocereus streckeri, the one with a nice Mohican punk rocker cephalium. Alain and I said ‘no thanks’ and just strolled around the base of the hill. Marlon then shouted that he had found a nice spot where both M. purpureus, M. streckeri and a hybrid grew together, about 1/3 up the hill. I had already made it to the top in 2009 – how many medals do you need? One more!
I made my way back to the car and on the way found a very nice fence of Pereskia stems and in full flower!
During our previous two visits to northeastern Brazil, Morro do Chapéu had become a firm favourite of mine. We stopped some 20 km west of town (S3696) along BA-052, at the same stop that we visited several times in 1999 and 2009. Originally, we christened this ‘the boomianus site’, because of the presence of a dense population of Discocactus zehntneri subsp. boomianus.
Since then, it has also been referred to as ‘Succulentum Maximus’ as I’ve photographed 17 different taxa of cacti and other succulent plants here. I’ll have to compare this to a spot along MEX1 in Baja California Norte where we found a similar number. On this occasion, the sun had passed its ‘best by’ moment for photography so we did not stay as long as on past occasions, but for the record, here are the taxa recorded from here over the past twenty years:
  • Arrojadoa rhodantha
  • Cereus albicaulis
  • Cereus jamacaru
  • Discocactus zehntneri subsp, boomianus
  • Dyckia sp.
  • Euphorbia phosphorea
  • Euphorbia sarcodes
  • Leocereus bahiensis
  • Melocactus albicephalus (= M. erythracanthus x M. glaucescens)
  • Melocactus concinnus
  • Melocactus ernestii f. erythracanthus
  • Melocactus glaucescens
  • Micranthocereus flaviflorus subsp. densiflorus
  • Pereskia bahiensis
  • Pilosocereus gounellei subsp. zehntneri
  • Pilosocereus pachycladus
  • Tacinga inamoena

In addition, another 20 taxa can be found around the town:

  • Arrojadoa penicillata
  • Discocactus bahiensis subsp. gracilis
  • Harrisia adsendens
  • Melocactus ferreophilus
  • M. pachyacanthus + subsp. viridis
  • M. paucispinus
  • M. zehntneri ‘douradoensis’
  • Micranthocereus polyanthus subsp. alvinii
  • M. purpureus
  • Pilosocereus caatingicola
  • P. glaucochrous
  • P. pachycladus
  • P. pentaedrophorus
  • P. tuberculatus
  • Pseudoacanthocereus brasiliensis
  • Stephanocereus leucostele
  • S. leutzelburgii
  • Tacinga funalis,
  • T. palmadora and T. werneri
It is no surprise that many of these plants are now protected. The Parque Estadual do Morro do Chapéu (Morro do Chapéu State Park) covers an area of 46,000 hectares and was established in
1973, but no action was taken to implement the park.
A team from the State University of Feira de Santana concluded a study for a new polygon to define the area of the park. As of 2011 problems had been caused by opening a road inside the park, hunting, deforestation, logging and complete lack of surveillance, particularly in the west of the park. Landowners had still not been compensated. In addition to the cacti, there is a wealth of orchids and bromeliads and big cats (cougars) that also benefit from the protection offered in the park.
In 2009 we stayed in the comfortable ecohotel Pousada  Ecologica das Bromelias and hoped to stay there again this time but they had increased their prices greatly. We had seen much more basic accommodation along the BA-052 so that, once again, we enjoyed a room each.
Marlon contacted Father Delmar and invited him to join us at the excellent Italian restaurant in town.  Delmar is a senior citizen who for many years had run an orphanage in town. He has a keen interest in nature with orchids in particular. In  1999, we first met him with a group of students staying in the same hotel. We were given a frosty welcome over breakfast. Marlon asked him if we had upset him or his students. ‘I don’t like Americans’ he said. Wrong! We are British and Dutch.  ‘You’ve come to steal our Orchids!’  Wrong! We’ve come to ‘steal’ your cacti, but only their pictures, we support conversation! He began to warm to us and told his students to be nice to us.

Monday, 19 November 2018 – Jacaraci to Rio de Contas

I’ve already mentioned how green and lush the NE of Brazil looked compared to previous visits. However, there was another change in the landscape: the appearance of wind turbines to create clean renewable energy. As you would expect in the fifth largest country in the world, the wind farms are some of the largest in number that I have seen on land – the seas around the English coast are rapidly approaching similar numbers. Fingers crossed that this positive development does not turn out to have some long term negative effects on nature.  For now, I have to admit that they can be quite photogenic.
Our last stop was for a new Arrojadoa that Marlon is in the process of describing and will call A. paradoxa. My personal disappointment again was that I didn’t make it. The rains had damaged the track, so we had to abandon the cars and walk the last bit, on a very uneven track,  continually ducking & diving to avoid overhanging tree branches, most with thorns. In no time at all, I was on my own as the others raced ahead at, for them, a slow walking pace. Then we reached the spot where I could hear them in the thick growth, but there was also a steep rockface. I shrugged my shoulders and started the long walk back to the car and 15 minutes later, they arrived back, worn out.
I wouldn’t have missed this trip for anything, but it is a learning experience! I think that I can still do them, but at my own pace. The heat is also a factor that saps my energy.
Tonight we stay in Rio de Contas where, in 1999, we helped Brian Bates celebrate his 53th birthday.
Some nice stops as usual, with some nice Pilosocereus
and with many different species of Arrojadoa, this time, A. multiflorum, obliging with flowers! Only one stop (S3686) where I decided that I’m not a mountain goat, but everyone has promised me copies of their best pics – non received yet!
We crossed a railway line several times, a reminder that Ritter was here half a century ago.(S3687)
It seems that the Caipirinhas here are stronger than usual as I needed help from Marlon and others to get back to my room safely. Good job that mine was one of the ground floor rooms! Thank you, whoever they were and see you at breakfast tomorrow morning – it will be interesting to see who shows up! I believe that we all did.