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S3752: The image, taken from the car sums it all up. Dark and wet, dodging to overtake the slower lorries on BR-251.

Marlon had scheduled just one stop, S3753, while pictures taken from the car are filed under S3752.

S3752 took us off the BR-251 into Eucalyptus forest. After a while we stopped along the track and Marlon went to explore. He had been here some three weeks before we arrived with Leo van der Hoeven and Gerardus Altshoorn. Since then, the wet season had started and the abundant rain here had transformed the dry clearings between the trees into a shrub filled forest of shrubs in leaf, dripping with water. Although the rain had stopped for now, as we touched a tree or moved a branch, we got a good soaking.

Eventually we reached a clearing where Marlon pointed out an Arrojadoa. In 2009, we had been shown A. dinae subsp. eriocaulis var. albicoronata in the park at Grao Mogol where we had hoped to see Discocactus horstii. A few years ago, Leo had found the plants here and, finding them distinct from the plants at Grao Mogol, called these plants Arrojadoa hoevenii n.n. Leo had been growing these plants in the Netherlands and in England and had given me one of each. Too me, they did not look different. Neither did the plants here look different from the plants at Grao Mogol, not to me and not to Marlon who, as a result, had declined Leo’s invitation to publish a formal description.

I’ve forgotten the name of the small Discocactus that grows here too, on dark rocks, rich in iron.

S3752: Small Discocactus sp.
S3752: Arrojadoa hoevenii n.n.

At S3749 we enjoyed Alain scaling a metal gate as a true athlete, but in slow motion. On the other side we found a Melocactus sp. and a ceroid in flower that I have been passing off as Pilosocereus multicostata, except that the flower is wrong for Pilosocereus.

S3749: ID anyone?
S3749: The Tacinga inamoena was covered in mealy bug!

Compared to the azure blue Pilosocereus stems, the green bodied P. floccosus seen here was quite boring.

Pilosocereus floccosus

More of the same appeared at S3750 while S3751 was a site that Cliff and I had visited in 2009 with Coleocephalocereus (Buiningia) aureus subsp. elongatus. Beautiful and impressive plants!

S3751: Coleocephalocereus (Buiningia) aureus subsp. elongatus

S3745

S3746 was a triumph for creative solutions to conservation issues. On previous visits we would regularly come across roadside stands where locals displayed their crafts and produce for sale to passing tourist trade. The ‘produce’ included cacti, mostly Melocactus, dug up locally and disposed off if they started looking past their best by dates, to be replaced with a fresh crop.

S3746 – sponsored market stalls

Over time, the stall holders received training to produce higher quality souvenirs, the ramshackle stalls were replaced by a short ‘street’ of stone built stalls, kitted out like formal shops and wifi had been installed so that stall holders could advertise via the internet and accept credit card payments for their goods! No plants were offered for sale. Result!

In 1999 there was just one location for Coleocephalocereus purpureus. Now there are several more, but the original has been destroyed. This is S3747.
S3748: Sadly at this location, C. purpureus was destroyed.

After yesterday’s full on Coleocephalocereus explorations, today promised more of the same. S3737 gave us C. aureus as well as a Melocactus sp. (I’m sure that Marlon provided species names for Alain that he would share later, but not yet due to lack of time since coming home.), Pilosocereus pachycladus (?) and Tacinga funalis and T. inamoena as well as Bromeliads (Bilbergia sp. and Dyckia sp.). A large yellow flowering terrestrial orchid completed the roll call here.

Large yellow flowered orchid sp. and Tacinga inamoena

Again hot and humid at S3738 where I photographed Tacinga funalis or is it T. braunii? Pictures elsewhere on the internet are very similar to each other and may be mislabelled. Perhaps their photographers are as confused as I am. Marlon, please help! Here is what we saw:

S3738: Tacinga sp.

The cropped close ups of the inselberg look as though there are Coleocephalocereus growing between the Bromeliads, or are they burned Bromeliad stems? Very similar situation compared to S3739. Here there was competition from a small herd of cattle.

It started to rain so it became more difficult at S3740 to get useful images as light levels dropped. My guess is that what we saw were the sp. nova.

The sky had cleared again by the time we reached S3741 where we saw Pilosocereus sp. S3742 had the Coleocephalocereus sp. nova and the rocks were dry enough for the others to walk up to touching distance of the plants. I was happy to stay in the car.

S3742

The three images taken at S3743 shows that the inselbergs were again shrouded in clouds – time to get back to our hotel!

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.

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.

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.