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Saturday 19 March 2016 – Westminster, CA to ‘in flight’.

Today’s date had been in my Diary for a long time: we fly home around 22:00 hrs tonight.

Usually the day of the flight is just a ‘hanging around waiting’ day, but not short before starting the trip, a solution was provided in early January by Marquita, the programme organiser for the Los Angeles Cactus & Succulent Society who asked if I could give a presentation today. Expecting an evening presentation, I regretted that I would be in flight. After a flurry of emails across the pond we were set: the presentation would be on Saturday morning at 10:00!

After a few hickups with this new presentation about our 2015 trip to Chile, after three reboots, Kita and Eunice managed to fix the problem: run the 1080i rather than the 4k version of the presentation! Thank you ladies for resolving the cause!

In the meantime I had started a long winded introduction of Friedrich Ritter, the most active of cactus explorers in South America who had described new taxa from most countries in South America, where he had settled in Grazino, near Olmue. He bought a piece of land from Pablo Weisser’s father where he built his house. Pablo was a botanist at the time and started collecting seed of South American and western Argentina as assitant to Hans Lembcke. Many of the seeds they collected were sold to Frau Hilda Winter, Ritter’s sister, in Germany and offered for sale through her catalogue as Ritter / FR numbers. After a falling out between Hans and Hilda, Hans and Pablo sold their seeds to the then newly started nursery and catalogue of the Karlheinz Uhlig nursery.  For the full story, please refer to the  Diary pages of 24th October 2015 onwards.

The time moved on to noon, time for a brief chat with members, then six hour before we needed to do battle with Dollar Rent a Car about the insurance they charged us for our Mexican Insurance for the US$ 48 per day of our 18 Day stay in Baja after which ww could check in for our flight. What shall we do?

Eunice suggested a visit to the Orange County Show and Sales where many people that I enjoyed meeting last year during a mini tour of US C&S Societies in California and Nevada would be present. And so we drove across LA to Orange County where I met Jim Hannah who had been to four of these presentation last year, in the car park. Many more friends were found inside the hall. The balance was light (in number) on the Show, in a small side hall, but heavy on the sales of both plants and pots. Could I squeeze a few more pots in? You bet! And so six more pots were squeezed into my cases with Angie also joining in with spending the last of our dollars. They all went in and came out again without any damage in Amesbury, UK.

The chat at Dollar Rent a Car was unsatisfactory and will be followed up with checking out my rights with my credit card company once we get home. My next trip to Baja will be a flight from London via Mexico City to La Paz where we watched a very efficient looking crew at Hertz seemed to provide a very satisfacory service during the 45 minutes that we observed them at work, while waiting for Eunice to arrive.

And so the time flew by before we boarded the Airbus A-380 and I slept most of the way to England, but not before Angie received a text message from son Peter asking if we had missed our flight. No?! Why? Peter had spotted that we’d fly on 19th March and should arrive at around 15:45, but had not spotted that was due to happen the next day! Better than the other way when my pick up from LAX was expecting me the day after arrival!

Friday 18 March 2016 – El Cahon to Westminster, CA

In a way, the purchase of an extra suitcase at Walmart was the sign that the trip was nearly over and that our minds were becoming focussed on ‘going home’ issues. Today we would do the initial re-pack and visit Steve Hammer for our usual visit for interesting chat, even if we were unable to buy a single plant and without a cactus in sight.

The difference this time was that we’d say ‘Cheerio, see you back in Blighty, old boy!’ to Jonathan, who may have been a Ferocactus Fan since the early 1980s and a Copiapoa Nut since 2013, but whose real passion was for Lithops and so was keen to take more 3D videos while staying with Steven.

Today’s plant of special interest was a member of the Mesembryanthemaceae / Aizoaceae that, if I understood correctly, had not been observed in flower since the days of Linnaeus. Here, in Steve’s shade house was one of the less spectacular plants in the Family (if not THE least spectacular) but it was in bud, ready to open over the next few days. Don’t miss it in 3D, Jonathan to see if it has any redeeming features. I rely on you to tell me its name as although Steve mentioned it a few times, it was on my deaf side, so didn’t even enter one ear and out on the other side – it just never got to the ‘received’ area.

But there were the usual beauties on display that had ‘not for sale/ not affordable’ written all over them; Haworthias of the Elephant’s tooth type that looked as thought they needed ironing or looked a little pale and pots full of Lithops seedlings with all the seeds from just one fruit but incredibly variable, nicely demonstrating the concept of diversity encountered in a single species concept and so frustrating automated species name generators and botanists alike. I lit the touch paper for discussion by suggesting ‘a genus with just two taxa then? Yellow flowers or white flowers?’  It’s been a long standing joke between Jonathan and myself; I’m sure that Steven had heard it before!

We arrived at our Motel 6 in Westminster, CA where we had stayed on our first night in the US and again took Eunice, this time accompanied by her daughter Lachelle, to the Napels Prime Rib Company, where the Blue Cadillac Margaritas and the huge steaks went down a treat.

Back at the Motel, Angie again tried to improve on our previous packing effort. Not bad, but was this carrier bag and its comment coming along as well? Better have another go first thing in the morning!

Wednesday 16 March 2016 – A day in Anza Borrego

Some people say that the native cacti of California are boring, with about half a dozen taxa occurring in nature, but when you drive around the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, less than an hour’s drive from LA and San Diego with a wide range of comfortable hotels and a baffling choice of eateries and where Brits and semi Anglicized Dutchmen can make ourselves understood without too many linguistic skills (except that last night a ‘small pie’ turned out to be a huge pizza, large enough to feed a family of four!).

After doing battle with our waist line at Perry’s Cafe, 0.1 mile from the El Cajon Motel 6, me met up with Juergen Menzel and Eunice Thompson for a drive along I-8 to Ocotillo, where we headed north (south would have taken us back to Mexico), past a farm of wind turbines in full swing. It was not very long before Eunice, driving the lead car, pulled over as she and Angie had spotted a huge clump of Echinocereus engelmannii in full flower. Awesome! as they say in California.

And only a few meters away another impressive group of flowering cacti: Opuntia basilaris, and yellowish flored Cylindropuntia sp. (C. wolffii?). After two weeks plus and thoroughly confused by Ferocactus hunting in Baja, we were now thouroughly confused by the variability seen in Ferocactus cylindraceus. Juergen still prefers the name F. acanthodes but at least we can agree that the plants are identical, just a matter of a taxonomic nicety as to which name to use.  This plant has a huge distribution area. Last year I saw it in Nevada, near Las Vegas and this year F. cylindraceus subspecies tortulispinus was recorded by us in Baja. subsp. tortulispinus was also present here in Anza Borrego, or at least many plants of F. cylindraceus with tortulous spines. ‘But they don’t here’ I hear a choir of experts sing out. ‘We don’t read books so well and were never taught geography’ I hear the choir of Feros respond! Well, they would if they give a damn – it seems that Homo sapiens is the only species that does.

There were also plants that would have passed as Ferocacus rectispinus at any fancydress parade, but you’ve guessed it – they don’t grow here either. Their impressive spines were flatter than the ones observed in the Sierra San Francisco.

Would it not be great if we based names on a plant’s physical characters rather than where it grows in nature? We can always write a paper to extend their known distribution! A lot more research into the different soil types where these plants grow may reveal a possible course for the twisted spines. There were some nice, predominantly white spined F. cylindraceus plants near the Box Canyon stop where over one hyundred years ago the Pony Express and Wells Fargo Stage coaches would speed past.

Mammillaria dioica and its superficial look-alike Mammillaria tetrancistra, the former in flower, the latter with typical huge red fruits containing the typical large seeds.   At the Cactus Loop Juergen had marked the spot where a huge crested Mammillaria dioica caused us to queue and for cameras to click again. Along the Cactus Trail, Eunice found a Mammillaria ‘ten trancistors’ with a dozen or so huge fruits.

Time was pressing and we could not possibly finish the day without a visit to the Julian Apple Pie shop in San Ysabel. The range of fruit pies had been extended to include Cherry and Loganberry, as well as the old favourite of Apple and Peach. Very tempting to get one slice of each.  This stop has become such a tradition since 2008, that Angie and I decided to spend some more dollars on Julian Pie Shop (JPS) souvenirs, Angie on a fleece with logo and I a baseball cap with logo. Time to pose for pictures. As by now we had eaten our pies, I needed to buy another slice. Needs must!


Sunday, 1 March 2015 – Bellflower to LAX

After my last breakfast at Denny’s for a while, Eunice went to church and left me to do battle with my newly acquired books, pots and shopping from the Palm Springs Outlets. The check-in luggage was still some 4 kg below the permitted 23 kg limit, but needed quite some effort to close. My hand luggage now included a small roller case filled with pots, my ‘laptop bag’ filled to bursting with clothes and two large DSLR cameras in their cases. Although the weather was overcast, it was still warm enough not to need the jumper and jacket I would have to wear as they would not fit in my luggage.

At the Air New Zealand check in desk, I got even warmer as the check-in hostess refused to put an ‘approved hand luggage label’ on my roller bag. ‘See what they decide at the departure gate’ she said.

As our departure time approached, I was reassured to see many passengers with more items and larger sized items of hand luggage around me, only to become worried again when they went to the first and business class gate, where such things were permitted. In the end, the staff at the gate offered to add my roll on case to the check in luggage without any extra charge. I could only hope that the pots were strong enough to survive being thrown around.

We left 20 minutes late, but there was a strong tail wind so that we were still on schedule to arrive forty minutes early at Heathrow.

Thursday 19 February 2015 – Anza Borrego again

Why on earth would I go back to a place that I had visited so often? Well, because a review of previous visits revealed that there were still two species – one Mammillaria and one Dudleya that had somehow escaped my camera – Mammillaria tetrancistra and Dudley saxosa to be precise. The second reason of course is that we would pass Santa Ysabella where the Julian Pie Company serves up their excellent Apple Pie and may even sell you a whole one to have a second helping when you get home. Sadly we had completely run out of Apple Pie at Eunice’s kitchen.
Eunice had looked up location data on the on-line Jepson database from which I had made up entries on Google Earth, both for San Diego County (in and around Anza Borrego) and San Bernardino (in and around San Bernardino Co = Mojave State Park).
I selected just three locations from Google Earth based : a) on date, I did not want to check data reported in 1920 if there were locations available from 2009 b) on location: Anza Borrego is large and it would take several days to visit all spots. So I picked the first three along the 78 from Santa Ysabella (where a peach and apple frozen pie was purchased plus a slice of Apple-Dutch for lunch) and on to the first stop (data from 2009).
We pulled up in the first lay by after the location marker on SatNav, nearly a mile on (S3252). Lots of Echinocereus engelmannii here, clearly ready for the new season after having enjoyed some rain, but no obvious signs of buds yet, although based on previous visits, I expect them to be in full flower in a months time. There were also lots of Cylindropuntia, C. ganderi, not the prettiest in the genus. And finally, found by Eunice, a four headed plant that could be M. tetrancistra, but I’ve been caught out by look-alikes before elsewhere. How many central spines? 3-4? Difficult to tell, at least 2-3 dark spines per areole, but there were ‘invisible spines, that suddenly became visible when viewed from another angle. No flowers, but then it was too early for most other cacti to flower. I’ve learned since that this taxon has a different flowering season to the other cacti in the Park, waiting to the monsoon season in August, in Arizona before producing its flowers.
We went back to the actual location coordinates (S3253) and were able to park off the asphalt on the other side of the road. There was an outcrop of granite-like stone that had a number of Ferocactus cylindraceus growing on it, as well as all the cacti previously spotted. I walked up to the largest Ferro and found the first Mam. consistent with those found at the first stop. I wanted to take a shot of a group of young, still globular F. cylindraceus plants, but old enough to be full of yellow buds. I slid down the hillside to get a better angle and slid past three more M. tetrancistra and the first Dudleya saxosa, then a second and a third. I called Eunice over who found another growing almost in a clump of Echinocereus engelmannii, so success on finding both of today’s target plants. So why am I now confidently calling our find Mammillaria tetrancistra? Because just as I was about to cross the road on my way back to the car, Eunice called me back as she had found a plant in fruit with the characteristic large seeds inside.
We took a look at the second location (S3254), but this dated back to 1928. Earlier we had turned on the old, now out of use, CA78 and this had been narrower road – probably the 1928 version was little more than a track. Today’s main road had no space to pull over and was flanked by steep hillsides. Time was ticking on and if there were plants here, they would be in deep shade.
It was a good three hours drive back with the last hour in the dark, which Eunice did. After feeding Bosco (and my first attempt at a report) we went for dinner, again at the Lazy Dog restaurant which serves and excellent ‘Cadillac’ Margarita with a range of burgers and steak. It had become a regular place for dinner, outside, although tonight with the welcome help of an overhead heater.
Eunice had suggested a visit to one of the off-shore islands to look at some endemic Dudleya for Sunday, but the forecast suggests a drop in temperatures to 11C and a 50% chance of rain. We’ll see.
Early start tomorrow for a visit to Jürgen Menzel in the morning and to Steve Hammer in the afternoon.

Tuesday 17 February – rest day

With Eunice spending the whole day at photo school, there was plenty of time to bring the Cactus Trip Diaries up to date in front of the telly, with a first close look at Werner Rauh’s Succulent and Xerophytic plants of Madagascar book.

Madagascar is slowly creeping higher on my wish list of plants to see and photograph in nature.

Nothing else to report.

Sunday 15 February 2015 – Searching for Dudleya

As last Sunday, Eunice was occupied with church during the morning, so I had a nice relaxing time googling for information on pottery matters after acquiring pots at San Gabriel’s CSS meeting and at the San Diego Sales yesterday. If they were not so heavy and potentially fragile, I’d buy some more at the two presentations yet to do, or….. find potters with similar products in the UK or …….. discover how to make them myself.
The only flower pots for sale in the UK and found in the top 20 Google pages were for mass produced pots in garden centres and general stores. So, I need to make some visits to craft markets once I’m back in the UK. Then I remembered that Angie used to go to pottery classes before we met, some 15 years ago. Are there pottery classes in Amesbury?
After a slice of Apple Pie and cinnamon ice cream, we went to the coast where Eunice wanted two show me some more Dudleya, D. stolonifera. It turned out to be a bit of a disaster. As we approached the coast, our average speed reduced to around 15 mph as others also wanted to see the sea and the sun.
The first spot was an old Reid Moran spot that is now a ‘wilderness site’ with so many negative signs: no dogs, no smoking, no trespassing off the track, no enjoying yourselves etc etc that I suggested moving on to an alternative site. The only sign that was missing was ‘no photography’. But I bet that if we had seen any of the plants, say, growing five feet away from the track, it would have been impossible to have taken the pictures we wanted without breaking the law. Reid Moran, you were very lucky to have seen them when you did!
Rather than persevere in this unwelcoming environment (no doubt necessary in this densely populated part of the world) we decided to get back to the car park (US$2 car park charge) and move on the spot #2. This was at a golf course and Eunice had last been here some seven years ago. A lot had changed. There were building works going on at the small car park where we should have parked, had it not been for the ‘no parking’ signs due to the building work in progress (although not during President’s Weekend). They were rebuilding the bridge we would have had to cross and the hillside where the plants were expected to grow was in deep shade, not the best for photography. As we got back on the coast road, the camanchaca was coming in – just like in Chile. Dudleya are definitely ‘fog zone’ plants.
On the way home we stopped off at a REI, a large leisure wear shop with everything from hiking to cycling to mountaineering to water sports gear. I’m looking for a suitable bag to bring the pots and books home – not really a sport, and although some bags would have done the job, at the prices on the ticket, I prefer to take a look at Costco’s another day.
We had a Chinese at Ming in Bellflower before I was fighting my eye lids around 9.