Contents of the Summer 2013 Northants News
Copiapoa krainziana Trevor Wray
I was lucky to go on
a cactus tour of Argentina and Chile last winter. We visited the sites of many
rare and interesting cacti, the bus would stop and Guillermo our leader would
indicate a few of the local species so that we would know what we were looking
for. Then we wandered around finding and photographing the plants and scenery.
Just about all the plants were a short walk from the bus though some were up (or
down) precipitous slopes.
the species I really, really wanted to see was Copiapoa
krainziana and I
knew we would have to walk some way for that one. With its long, twisting,
glassy spines it is distinctive and desirable species, even in a genus of real
Approaching the coast of Chile we drove for hours across the most barren desert I have ever seen. No visible plants for miles and only the distant volcanic terrain for entertainment. The Atacama is a serious desert with zero recorded rainfall for many years, It has a claim for the driest in the World.
East of Paposo we made our first cactus stop for twenty-four hours; yes we were getting a bit twitchy! On our descent from the Andean foothills beautiful plants of Copiapoa cinerea ssp. haseltoniana, (the form that used to be called 'eremophila'), were scattered across the steep sides of the rocky valley. How can these plants survive in the desert with so little rain? The answer lies in ‘camanchaca’, the fog that sweeps in from the cold Pacific Ocean to saturate the hills with dew. The fog sustains islands of vegetation with many species that have evolved to utilise this form of water. Next, on cliffs overlooking the sea, we were to see many species of cacti, Copiapoa, Eriosyce and Eulychnia breviflora, the last draped in lichens and air-plant bromeliads.
Left: Our first Chilean cacti and what cacti! Two views of Copiapoa tenebrosa which they now call Copiapoa cinerea var. haseltoniana. East of Paposo
The hike started on a
‘fossil’ raised beach. This part of the world has been steadily rising and
all along the coast were traces of old beaches at different elevations that had
been formerly at sea level. I suppose if the uplift was sudden the jolt might
trigger a tsunami; there were plenty of warning signs as to the emergency
evacuation routes from the coast.
trail to such a famous cactus was somewhat inauspicious, starting through the
Taltal town rubbish dump. We quickly left this sign of civilisation behind and
soon the sides of the Quebrada started to close in. You knew, of course, that
‘quebrada’ is a ravine. It was a lovely day for a walk, bright and cool.
Perish the thought that we would set out to see krainziana in the fog, that must be frequent here, or even
|Above; Copiapoa cinerea near the start of the hike.|
There were fabulous plants of Copiapoa all around, even in the rubbish dump. Here I have to admit my ignorance; though I was told the names of the species that grew here, there was so much variation putting the correct name to the plants was a bit of a guess. But I have! These I thought were Copiapoa tenebrosa. We climbed steadily upwards pointing our cameras at all the best clusters and spectacular plants. If there were any small growing species there I would not have seen them. I cherry-picked the big’uns. I took pictures of Copiapoas with all manner of colour and length of spines, even spineless specimens. These were a mixture of C. tenebrosa and C. gigantea.
Left; Eriosyce taltalensis growing from a cliff
Middle; A fine plant of Copiapoa gigantea
the foreground. Something else behind.
Besides the cacti there were ‘other’ succulents: Euphorbia, Oxalis and Calandrinia. The last is a member of the Portulacaceae but without flowers were the spitting image of Adromischus, in another family and on another continent. (Below left)
|Left: A Calandrinia looking like Adromischus (until it flowers).||Middle: Copiapoa krainziana growing on a vertical rock face.||
a view down the Quebrada San Ramon. Note the mist over the hill in the
I saw, in the distance, the rock bluff that featured in friends’ pictures and
the home of Copiapoa
quickened pace, (that walk wasn’t so bad after all), I hurried up to see the
plants. They were magnificent! Clusters with long glistening spines were hanging
from the rocks. Were the best plants above that cliff? Oh well, here we go!
a pollinating bee flying from flower to flower and complicating the
taxonomic situation in the Quebrada.
spent about a quarter of an hour scrambling up and down the rocks to get
pictures of the best plants and angles and I rate that time among the best
habitat cactus experiences in my life, (and I have seen a lot of very rare
American cacti). Classic krainziana was mixed with gigantea, although we saw plenty of the last in flower I saw no krainziana in flower. That was perhaps the only negative of
the afternoon we went on to see acres of Copiapoa
columna-alba, more C.
cinerea and C.
rupestris, a pretty good day really.
probably know that ‘tenebrosa’ is now considered to be a form of Copiapoa
cinerea and both C.
gigantea and C.
varieties (in the modern style) of this species. So a very variable species in
the Quebrada San Ramon as you might guess from some of the photos I took. Copiapoa
columna-alba is also
a variety of cinerea.
It took 4˝ hours for the round trip taking photos of everything interesting. I kept 203 pictures taken on two cameras. I walked 9.98km (6.2 miles) with a climb of 280m (918 ft), and a few more on diversions up the slopes. Oh, and two more to capture the image of Eriosyce taltalensis.
spent many, many weeks in cactus (and succulent) country in the World, this part
of the Chilean coast rates as my all-time favourite. The cacti are sublime, from
the giant Copiapoas; hundreds of years old? to the tiny Copiapoa
lauii hiding under the quartz pebbles. The more you learn of these species
the less you realise you know. The weather, (for a desert), is warm and
buoyant. (Rather than hot and humid.) All the local people I met seemed pleasant
and happy, I never felt threatened walking out alone. Also the basics of
accommodation and eating were cheap. Northampton seems a very long way away. One