Twenty four hours after I left my house in London I finally made it to Belo Horizonte in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. A bit of a delay in Lisbon was caused first by waiting for a planeload of late passengers, then some tinkering on the plane engine, then when that didn’t seem to work, unloading us all and putting us all on another plane. All very good natured and organised – but a delay all the same!
I arrived at about 3am, woke Lynn up to get into the hotel room – then off we went to the herbarium what seemed like only minutes later. But it is warm and sunny – quite a contrast from the big storm predicted for London. I felt very lucky to be here in Brazil. The herbarium at the Universidade Federal do Minas Gerais is excellent, with many recent collections from the local region and this part of Brazil. Lots of new and exciting things – some we may get to see in the field, some probably not.
This is a HUGE country, with an equally huge diversity of Solanaceae, some of them pretty peculiar indeed. I found at least two new species of Solanum section Geminata (the group I did my doctoral thesis on) in the unidentified material, and numerous other excitements. Fortunately I will have some more time later on to spend really getting down to entering all these into the database.
Bella, Lynn and Bruno next to a small tree of Solanum lycocarpon - the wolf fruit. The fruits of this species are more than 10cm in diameter and are eaten by Amazonian Maned Wolves (a sort of lovely long-legged fox), supposedly to worm themselves.
We went on a little Solanum walking tour of campus – saw about 6 species, some of which were new to me, like this rather lovely plant of Solanum didynum, a Brazilian endemic.
A friend took us to the local (man-made) lake to see if we could see the capybaras – large South American rodents that look like nothing more than swimming rats; think of a stubby, furry, tailless rat about a metre high and you have pretty much got it. There they were, about 50 of them on a grassy slope – mothers, babies, teenagers – amazing. The water stank (they defecate in the water, and there are LOTS of them) and several of them were playing a sort of run-and-throw-yourself-in-the-water-and-get-out-again-then-do-it-all-over-again sort of game. Amazing sight in the middle of a big city!
Tomorrow we head north at the crack of dawn – first stop a new species of the genus Aureliana (being worked on by Bella) with extraordinary purple fruits. We won’t see it tomorrow though, the collecting locality is 800km away just on the border between the states of Minas Gerais and Bahia.
So now, more than 1000km (almost twice the distance from London to Edinburgh!) and 14 hours of driving later we are in the small town of Santa Maria do Salto where we will spend the night before going the last hour or so to our hut in the mountains. We drove the whole way across Minas Gerais today – passing through amazing areas of huge granite outcrops – inselbergs – covered with terrestrial tank bromeliads. It must have been amazing before the forest was all cut down; still pretty beautiful now!
Rest stops in other countries are always great places to see new and often amusing things – here are a couple I saw today! The food, by the way, is delicious everywhere – new favourite is pao de queijo, cheesy bread made from cassava flour. Best really hot and with lovely coffee…. Yum.
But what I am really excited about is the plants – everything will be new to me – I really cannot wait. As I said – Brazil is a HUGE country! I wonder what novelties we will find in the next couple of days in the back of beyond?