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Seeking nightshades in South America

2 Posts tagged with the elevation tag
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18th March – Amazonia here we come!

 

We are just recovering from yesterday night – we were driving along the Carretera Interoceanica thinking there will be plenty of places to stay. Darkness here comes at six, and by the time it was 7 pm we were desperate to find a nice place for the night. Unfortunately the route we are taking is not touristy at all. So there we were, without a place to stay and all options we could find looked dim. So dim it seemed the hostals we saw had front wall and an open back to them. Andrew came up with a new saying – always check your hostel has walls…

 

The local police in Ocongate told us that the best place in town was 5 km away along the main road. We took his advice, and found the amazing “Parador del Ausangate”. They had everything! The place is most immaculate, the owners most welcoming, and we really enjoyed our night.

 

The views in the morning were breath taking. Parador del Ausangate is next to Cordillera del Ausangate, a popular destination for hicking and mountain climbing. The highest peak is Nevado Ausangate at 6384 m. All peaks are covered in snow, making the scenery fantastic.

 

morning mountain view (Mobile).JPG

 

Once on the road again, we were heading to Amazonia. First we had to drive through the pass at 4780 m. As usual, puna vegetation means finding Salpichroas. A few kilometers after the pass we found a beautiful specimen of Salpichroa glandulosa. Paul had to get his boots wet to collect it along the stream. I kept dry and took pictures

 

salpichroa glandulosa (Mobile).JPG

 

The road descended to Amazonian lowlands quickly. Before we knew it we were at 500 m elevation. The houses changed shape: now everything was build from wood, whilst in the puna houses are made of clay and straw. We took some side roads in order to explore the forest, and bumbed into a small hydroelectric dam and its keeper señor Juan Cruz. Juan is a keen entymologist, and new everything about the local insect fauna. He had recently found something he had never seen in his 55 years he has lived in the area. It was big, with a large horne with stiff hairs all along it. If any insect experts can identify this, names are welcome, we are fascinated!

 

insects (Mobile).JPG

 

insects2 (Mobile).JPG

 

Juan told us that these insects, and particular rare butterflies sell for up to 400 soles. That is a large sum of money here. Some collectors even come to him regularly to see what he has got, and offer to buy anything of their interest. On his small farm around the dam Juan had some interesting plants too. Solanum sessiliflorum, locally known as cocona, was growing next to his fire hut, a species native to Peru and much cultivated for its delicious fruits that can be used for jams, juice and preserves. It’s related to the other cultivated species, Solanum quitoense, known as naranjilla, commonly eaten in Ecuador.

 

sessiliflorum fruit (Mobile).JPG

 

We enjoyed some juicy sugar cane stem with Juan and offered bisquits in return which we had bought earlier. We made some nice collections around the dam, but as time was ticking we had to return to the main road. Two of the most interesting collections of the day were things we didn’t quite know. Before Sandy left we promised to her to post any pictures of things we can’t name, so here they are, hopefully something exciting! First, Solanum tree with unusually large calyx:

 

large calyx (Mobile).JPG

 

large calyx 2 (Mobile).JPG

 

And another one, this time a tree species of Solanum from the Geminata clade:

 

unknown flowers (Mobile).JPG

 

unknown fruits (Mobile).JPG

 

Where did we stay the night this time? Well that is another story in itself, read on tomorrow to find out!

 

 

19th March – Rare finds

 

The night brought us trouble again. There was nowhere to stay in most towns we passed, or at least there were no hostels with both front AND back walls . So we kept driving until 8 pm. It was dark and we were desperate. Originally we had planned to stay in Puerto Inambari, a city where the Carretera Interoceanica meets another large road connecting the Amazonian lowlands to Puno and Juliaca near the Bolivian border. We assumed Puerto Inambari would be a bustling town ready to receive passing by passengers. We blinked and Puerto Inambari was gone… Another 17 km further down the road was another town, same case, there was nothing. We decided to continue on the road until the provincial capital San Gapán. Provincial capitals often have more accommodation available, and our hopes were high. Another 64 km later we arrived to San Gapán and stopped at first hotel we saw!

 

We woke up slightly later to recover from last nights errors. The lesson we are quickly learning is that never assume there are places to stay, unless you are heading to tourist areas like the Sacred valley in Cusco.

 

Today’s route included an exciting climb. The road from San Gapán to Juliaca and Puno crosses the eastern cordillera. Once you are up in 3500 m elevation, the uplands begin and seem never to stop until you get to the coast another 1000 km away. These uplands are not homogeneous though: the best ever microhabitat in the high elevation are the sand dune habitats near 4000 m.


sand dunes (Mobile).JPG

 

We passed one of these dunes, just like beach sand, and stopped to see if Solanum chamaesarachidium would be there – and it was!!! This species is a minute Solanum species, the whole plant is barely the size of a thumb. What a specialised niche it has as well: sand dunes at 4000 m elevation are not common!

 

chamaesarachidium (Mobile).JPG

 

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Today’s unidentified Solanum was one that Sandy knows like the back of her hands – species from the Geminata clade. We didn’t know what it was, but will use Sandy’s key to identify it once back in Lima.

 

geminata flowers (Mobile).JPG

 

geminata fruits (Mobile).JPG

 

Other species we found included the weedy but wonderful Solanum chenopodioides.

 

chenopodioides (Mobile).JPG

 

Many people confuse it with Solanum americanum, but Solanum chenopodioides has larger calyx lobes, corolla with black eye, larger anthers, generally fewer flowers per inflorescence, pedicels that become strongly reflexed in fruit, and dull black coloured fruits. Here is Solanum americanum for comparison – it takes careful looking but the differences are there!

 

americanum (Mobile).JPG

 

Last but not least comes the most challenging collection of the day. Andrew and Paul had to use some robe, seceteurs, and clever thinking to get this one! Solanum grandiflorum grows up to 6 m high, but what makes it tricky is that it lacks low lying branches – flowering shoots especially are all in the crown of the tree. Collecting big trees is defenetely much more time consuming…

 

grandiflorum flowers (Mobile).JPG

 

grandiflorum fruits (Mobile).JPG

 

We are only a few days into our latest tour, but have made it already to Macusani. Macusani is a big provincial capital, and we had no trouble finding a nice place to stay. But internet is still difficult to come across. There are places but full of youngsters playing video games online!

 

 

20th March – Through the highlands

 

Today was all about making the miles, and getting to Sandia. We are heading to the southeast corner of the department of Puno to visit some type localities of names for which types got destroyed in Berlin during the Second World War. It was a long day, with highland scenery.

 

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We were driving on top of the mountains all day – this was my clever plan to avoid dangerous mountains roads, ascending and descending all the time with plenty of curves that turn your belly around. The strategy worked, and we made the distance. Sleeping well tonight in Sandia. Hoping tomorrow to find a cash machine as we are running out of cash. Or will we have to succumb to washing dishes after dinner???!!

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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!

 

nicandra (Mobile).JPG

 

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.

 

fiebrigii (Mobile).JPG

 

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!

 

insect (Mobile) (2).JPG

 

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.

 

tripartitum (Mobile).JPG

 

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?