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Road botany on a day of rest, so to speak…

Posted by Sandy Knapp on Nov 9, 2013 9:11:08 PM

After our hard day finding Solanum paralum we decided to take it a bit easy before heading into the forest again. Looking up at the hill we climbed, it didn’t seem so far away…

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We found Solanum paralum in the valley behind the first peak, just under the arrow.

 

We decided to have a day of searching for plants along dirt roads leading from inland to the coast – in the hopes of finding an enigmatic species I am looking for, Solanum evonymoides. I treated this as a member of the large and complicated section Geminata (with more than 150 species, one of the biggest groups in Solanum), but have always worried about whether or not I was right. Now was my chance to see it in the field and check!

 

We set off down the road to Una from Såo José de Vicente, winding through farms and patches of forest. On the other side of the river was the Una Reserve, a pristine piece of forest which is the type locality for a species I described in 2002, Solanum cordioides. It has been collected many places since, but many collections come from around the area of Una. We did not find this species today – but might another day – I’d love to see it in the field…

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The contrast between the cut over areas in the non-protected area with the high forest across the river was quite striking; human impact on the landscapes of southern Bahia is great and forest only exists in small protected reserves of many different types.

 

As we came closer to the coast the vegetation changed and all of a sudden plants of Solanum crinitum appeared along the road. This large species is an absolute beauty, with flowers the size of saucers and fruits like baseballs – it is hard to miss! It is characteristic of slightly drier, sandy soils and is common throughout Brazil from the Amazon to northern Minas Gerais. I had never seen it growing in the field before, so of course was excited – Lynn and Leandro on the other hand were more blasé, but still, it is a killer plant.

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Solanum crinitum is a small tree with big, felty leaves – hard to miss.

 

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Both the flowers and fruits of Solanum crinitum are over-sized; the fruit looks creamy and edible, but definitely is not, the flesh is quite bitter.

 

Although Solanum crinitum doesn’t have any obvious prickles, it is a member of the spiny Solanum clade (subgenus Leptostemonum); the main distinguishing character of this group is the long, tapered anthers in the flowers. We did find a super-prickly member of this group though – Solanum polytrichum. This is another common plant in these habitats along roads and in disturbed places.

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Solanum polytrichum has long, stiff hairs and many prickles on its stems and leaves. The calyx grows after flowering (a bit like the ground cherries or Cape gooseberries in the Solanaceae genus Physalis) to enclose the fruit, perhaps protecting it from unwanted predators.

 

In these slightly drier forests we also saw many different types of chili peppers – among them one of the cultivated species mostly found in South America. There are five species of cultivated chilis, all of them native to the Americas. The peppers we have in the UK are almost all of the species Capsicum annuum, but Scotch Bonnets are Capsicum chinense (not from China, despite the name). Brazil is the centre of diversity for the genus Capsicum, so we hope to see many more of this fascinating genus as we go to more different habitats.

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Capsicum baccatum is a cultivated species rarely found outside South America – the fruits are blindingly spicy! These are still green and unripe, so we didn’t have a try…

 

We found Solanum evonymoides in a small patch of forest at the edge of an old cacao plantation – nothing at all like its type specimen I showed you in the post before I left! It is a beautiful plant - much prettier than in the dried herbarium specimen, but that is part of being a plant taxonomist, being able to translate from dried to fresh, sort of like origami, making something 2D into 3D. Collecting plants, of course, is the reverse – so collecting yourself is essential to being able to translate from herbarium specimen to live plant with any degree of accuracy.

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Solanum evonymoides sure looks like a member of section Geminata, but still has some peculiar features, like where the inflorescence originates; there is something interesting going on in this species. More work needed...

 

So all in all a successful and rather relaxing day – tomorrow we head out for the forest again, this time north and a bit west on the hunt for, among other things, a new species Leandro will describe as part of his thesis work – currently its name is “the fan thing” – we MUST think of something better soon!

 

We stopped in Itabuna for petrol and saw this bar – a new take on drowning your sorrows! Fortunately after many very successful days of collecting we have no sorrows to drown, but lots to celebrate.

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The bar is named Friend’s Meeting Place, and the bottle is labelled “A cana que amansa” – essentially the drink that soothes.

 

Looking forward to three days in the woods in the wonderfully named Serra de Jibóia (Boa Constrictor range) – how many novelties will we find? Lots I hope...

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