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Seeking nightshades in South America

63 Posts tagged with the collecting tag
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After a fantastic couple of weeks here in Argentina tomorrow we head for Peru, and more solanum hunting. We have spent the last few days since returning from the field in the herbarium here in Córdoba - a real treasure trove. We have added some 800 new records to the Solanaceae Source database - some very old specimens, but all new to us! Field work is great for sorting some problems, but the herbarium can bring specimens together in a way so that all the variation is laid out in front of you to see and decide what to do!

 

We have solved a number of knotty problems - realised that some of the species we were confused about were in fact only variants of a single widespread species - Solanum salicifolium - that can grow just about anywhere. Feels good to have sorted that out.

 

Tiina has gone out dancing with the post-docs - Gloria and I are making sure everything is in order for our joint treatments of Solanum for the Flora of Argentina, and generally just catching up. The list of things we will leave to do "next time" just keeps getting longer; it is clear there will another field trip next year, we are hopingn to go to Patagonia. We will be sad to leave this wonderful country and out great friends, but are looking forward to Peru, where we will arrive just in time for the Museo de Historia Natural's birthday party!

 

More solanums await in Peru - first we must sort out the permits for collection in Lima..... I am sure surprises await!

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Return to Cordoba

Posted by Tiina Feb 20, 2012

Today was the final day of our field trip. We all sat in the car doing nothing – except Leo of course as he was driving – chatting about what we have found during the past 10 days. The plants we have seen have been most amazing, all flowering AND fruiting which is excellent. They have also been the first nighshades I’ve ever collected, and the trip has brought home how diverse the family is!

 

The two day drive from Jujuy down to Cordoba has also brought home how far we have been. We have driven nearly 3000 km only in 10 days! Argentina is a large country and it takes some stamina to cover all of the northern parts in one trip. You can imagine how all my muscles are aching by now from sitting in the car for hours on end… During long drives I have struggled staying awake, the calm humming of the engine lulling me into sleep. Leo’s safe driving has helped too of course J. Lunch times are the worst, because after a full stomach there is a very high likelihood of finding me snoring on the back seat!

 

On a trip like ours, day-to-day mood of the team greatly depends on three things: car, the driver and roads. Leo has been amazing, and has made our trip. Our pick-up has been great too, and the roads, except for a few instances where sudden rains have flushed down parts of roads blocking our way to intersting localities. So given that the plants are blooming and there are flowers or fruits to look at, it’s all about cars, really. It doesn’t sound as exciting as trips trecking in the jungle, which focus on collecting in a single locality over number of days. But the most amazing thing about a longhaul trip like ours is that you get to see so many different species in one go! This is worth every moment and aching muscle!

 

We counted the number of Solanaceae species we have seen in 10 days – we’ve reached 100 by now! As I said, these are my first nightshades ever. Although I’ve worked in the Andes before and know already some plant groups well, I have never looked at nightshades before. The reason for this is that the group is so diverse that it feels inpenetrable to a non-specialist. Learning from Sandy and Gloria has been great, and I can now tell apart the large main groups within the family and especially within Solanum. I have also learned that there truly is great morphological variation in the family. Look at Nicandra for example: it’s a monotypic genus with a single species that occurs throughout tropics in the world, N. physalodes. The species has tomato like berries, but unlike fleshy tomatoes, Nicandra berries dry out!

 

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Other favorites of mine are the campanulate flowered Solanums, one of which is S. fiebrigii which we collected in Jujuy in the National Park of Calilegua.

 

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Then there is of course the Episarcophyllum group of Solanums, these are high elevation species, some with fleshy succulent leaves. We have found several of these, Sandy mentioned these earlier (see one about high elevation sand dunes). Here is another one of the Episarco’s from Catamarca yet to be identified. You can see in the picture that whilst I was filming, a lucky insect took the opportunity to get the photo!

 

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And then there is of course the Parasolanum group of Solanum, which consist of four species, some of which are prostrate creeping herbs growing amongst stones near rivers and streams in high elevations. My absolute favorite thus far in this group is S. tripartitum.

 

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During our trip we have not only seen over hundret species of nightshades, but sorted out some very important taxonomic issues. There are a bunch of names we now understand as we have been able to visit the type localities of these species. We have also observed how some species vary enourmously in leaf shape and growth form, and based on these observation we can synonomise names and simplify things on our return. We have two days remaining in Argentina. These will be spend in the herbarium annotating and databasing specimens, studying type material and editing species descriptions based on what we have seen. On Wednesday we will be heading off to Peru where Andrew Matthews is joining our team. Sadly we have to leave Gloria and Leo behind - but it’s not so sad as I’m sure we will return to Cordoba before too long.

 

Having seen over 100 different species of Solanaceae in Argentina, what will we find in Peru?

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We devoted today to exploring Calilegua National Park, an area that protects some of the rarest forest types in Argentina called the yungas. The forest is wet and mossy, and has big trees of walnuts and podocarpus – and of course, many solanum species. Argentina has a very efficient park system with professional park rangers, our day began with a visit to the ranger’s office to show our permit to collect. Once we were cleared, we set off up the mountain.

 

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One of our big finds for the day (we knew it was there) was Solanum huaylavillense – a very unusual little plant with yellow flowers known only from Argentina and Bolivia. Most Solanum species have white or purple flowers (except of course tomatoes), but this little beauty has translucent yellow flowers about half a centimetre long.

 

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We have had a “vertebrate of the day” ever since the vicuñas – today we had two, the first a toad so well camouflaged it took several minutes to point out to the others, and the second a bright orange and black toad hopping gaily amongst the rocks in a little stream. Can’t wait to figure out what this little chap is called!

 

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The spider was also gently minding its own business crossing the road – Jan Beccaloni I am sure can tell me what it is! We ate lunch to a chorus of parrots - loro alisero (Amazona tucamana - not sure what the name in English is, but here is the scientific one - universal!!); beautiful birds, with red beaks and a little yellow nose tuft.

 

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Our disappointment of the day was not finding Solanum calileguae, a vine endemic to this area. We looked and looked, but it clearly was not in flower or fruit, and amongst all that green would have been impossible to see. Another trip is clearly in order! Actually, it is good every now and then to realise that one never really finds everything every time, collecting is efficient if well-planned, but plants are on their own time schedule and may not flower or fruit at the same time every year. Some are also so rare that even finding them is difficult – it may be that Solanum calilegueae is one of those.

 

Passing through the town of San Francisco, we came upon the celebrations for Carnival – the week of feasts before Lent. Here in the mountains the people were offering gifts to Pachamama (Mother Earth), singing and dancing – and drinking! We were offered chicha (fermented corn drink) and beer, but managed to convince the festive crowd that we had a long drive ahead. All through the Andes there is a subtle and complex mix of Christian and indigenous celebrations; people have kept the things that are important to them.

 

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So tomorrow we head up to the puna again to look for some special high elevation plants (more Solanaceae of course) – it is a little unclear if we can really do this – it involves going up to 4500 m and driving a very long way. Can we make it?

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