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Seeking nightshades in South America

56 Posts tagged with the species tag

From Tiina:

Today we started early again – destination was Paucartambo and beyond. Paucartambo is on the western side of the Andes west of Cusco, and beyond Paucartambo in the Amazon lowlands is Pilcopata. We wanted to collect on the montane forests again on the western side (Solanum heaven!), but in order to do this we needed to drive over a pass to cross the mountains to the other side.


The slope to the east from Pisac to Paucartambo is not as steep as in Abra de Malaga. The pass this time is ONLY 4000m high (everything is relative!).

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The road from the pass down to Paucartambo descents slowly, and past Paucartambo the forest is still relatively dry. Paucartambo itself is a lovely village with a really organised looking market – labelled as to types of produce – here is the “tuber section” – where they sell potatoes and other Andean tuber crops – Sandy went in and had a long conversation with a woman about her potatoes – so many different types!



It only gets really humid once you get to the point where the road forks to Tres Cruces, where the Manu National Park begins. We got as far as the forking point and had to turn back in order to get home in time. We did find Solanum “morel-malaga” again – a sign that we had reached the humid eastern slopes again.  This individual of “morel-malaga” was a giant: the stem was 2.5 cm in diameter at the base. Again it was growing in a landslide site in very disturbed rocky soil. Everything was the same as in the previous collection we had made in Abra de Malaga, but just bigger!


Manu  National Park is wonderful. It’s massive, stretching from the high elevation moist pre-puna to the lowland Amazonian rain forest. We couldn’t collect in Manu despite how wonderful it looked – collecting in Peruvian national parks requires a special collecting permit, which we don’t have, so instead of collecting we chatted to the park rangers that were at the main reception were we stopped to turn around. They recognised Sandy by her name, as she has collected along the Paucartambo – Pilcopata road before. What a temptation to be that close to the park and not to be able to go in and collect! Maybe we’ll get to see it one day… we promised the rangers we would be back…..



After the excitement of our collections along the road to Quillabamba, we began today with a very prosaic collection  - in the garden of our hotel! They had a species of Tiina’s Morelloid clade growing right in their window (one reason we chose this particular hostal) – Solanum polytrichostylum. It was also growing along the stream, so it is defintely native here. It is great that people (not just us!) like solanums enough to cultivate them for ornament – this one is called “suyttu ccaya” in Quechua.

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We packed all our stuff (including the plants that had arrived via the encomienda from Andahuaylas) and set off up the Sacred Valley, as the valley of the Río Urubamba is called. The valley is the site of many Inca and pre-Inca ruins and settlements – many of these are famous, but many more are not excavated and are just part of everyday life. We decided to look for one of Tiina’s mysteries up a small dirt road out of the town of Urubamba; the collection locality was a bit vague and was from the 1960s so we didn’t really know what we would find.


Well, we didn’t find the mystery, but did find one of my favourite species, Solanum maturecalvans, at the end of a logging road. Its waxy white flowers seem not quite real, and the crinkled leaf base gave rise to the name of one of its synonyms – Solanum crotalobasis – the rattlesnake tail base! 

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Synonymy is one of those things that seems like a mistake – naming the same thing twice, but is really good evidence of how science really works. In the case of Solanum maturecalvans the German botanist Georg Bitter named two plants he thought were different Solanum maturecalvans and Solanum crotalobasis – they were from different places, looked a bit different, and he really didn’t have many specimens to compare in the early part of the 20th century.  Now I come along, some decades later, and decide that those two type specimens belong to the same species – therefore one (the later one described) becomes a synonym. Not a mistake, just a re-interpretation of the evidence, along with decades more collecting and specimens to look at.


In the same bit of forest we found Solanum maturecalvans we also saw a lovely Jaltomata with blood red nectar – how cool is that!

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Coming out of the mountains down through the town we saw Streptosolen jamesonii growing by the side of the road – it is really native to northern Peru and Ecuador, but we collected it anyway. It is a very interesting plant with a twisted corolla – essentially it has an upside down flower.

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We then headed up the Urubamba valley to the town of Pisac, the site of another massive Inca fortress.

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Here the excavations and restorations are still on-going – it was amazing to see the terracing being restored using ancient techniques, down to mixing the mud used as mortar by foot power!

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We got caught in a torrential rainshower, but afterwards explored the hills behind the town and found the wonderful Salpichroa weberbaueri – named for Augusto Weberbauer, the author of the wonderful book The Vegetable World of the Peruvian Andes, who had collected the type specimen.See an earlier post from Lima for more about him.....

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A bit of culture, a bit of botany – what a great day!


from Tiina:

Staying at an Inca ruin has been a great experience, and today we made it even more special by heading over the clouds to the Amazonian side of the Andes.


Early in the morning we got to the pick-up, ready packed with lunch to drive along the road from Ollantaytambo towards Quillabamba. The road crosses the eastern cordillera at c. 4400 m elevation at Abra de Malaga, and the road then turns down towards the Amazon basin. The Amazon basin side is much more humid than the inter-Andean slopes we have seen thus far, but Paul, Andy and I had never seen these humid montane forests before so we were very keen!


Heading off on the road from Ollantaytambo towards the pass we were looking out for Solanum sumacaspi. This is a species of the Geminata clade of Solanum, a tree with remarkably glabrous leaves. Solanum sumacaspi only occurs in the Urumbamba valley, and only few collections of it are known. Luckily we did find it in flower AND fruit, which was fantastic. Sandy has described the species but never seen it in the wild, so this was a moment to cherish!

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Close to Solanum sumacaspi we also found Solanum probolospermum, one of my morelloid solanums. This species is nearly like Solanum pallidum, except that Solanum probolospermum has only simple unicellular hairs, whilst Solanum pallidum has branched hairs. We are yet to find out what the exact limits of these species are – more on that later when we get to see Solanum pallidum itself in Puno hopefully!

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We found more and more Solanum probolospermum when we went up the road. It was great to observe the large variation present in the species in terms of growth form. In some populations, we also observed some fantastic mutations – flowers with six corolla lobes, fasciated corollas, and super-numerous inflorescences. It was all a bit too much for Paul, who started doubting our taxonomic expertise when we said it was the same species. Observing natural variation can be mind boggling at times!

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Once we crossed the pass and started going down the eastern slope of the Andes, the air became more humid and clouds surrounded us. The humidity from the Amazon basin hits the Andean mountains on the eastern slopes, which creates moist montane forest habitats as well as special pre-montane rain forest habitats lower down. This time did not have time to go as low as the pre-montane forests unfortunately. Just as well, as many solanums are found growing in the higher elevation montane forest habitats. First, we found a fantastic species of Morelloid solanums, which we have named as “morel-malaga” for now. This species shows very unusual characters for Morelloids: it has enlarged pedicel apices, calyx with reduced calyx tube and tiny lobes, and most unusually, oval-shaped fruits. We observed this species growing along the eastern side from 3600 to 3450 m elevation, at which point we had to turn around to get home in time. As usual for solanums, this species shows great variation in habit and size, but it clearly likes disturbed microhabitats such as landslides. On our return to herbarium in Lima, we’ll keep our eyes open for this species, as some of the field characters such as pedicel size and fruit shape are not obvious on dried herbarium specimens.

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Second find of the day was Salpichroa didieranum. Generally Salpichroa flowers are c. 1-2 cm long, but this species has long yellow tubular flowers up to 12 cm long! Paul was well pleased, this genus is his favourite!

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Best thing of the day was a bunch of mad cyclists we saw. They passed us when we were collecting our final “morel-malaga” populations in the humid montane forest. It was raining at this point, the moisture was engulfing us in a thick fog, and we could barely see more than 30 meters ahead. First we saw one mad cyclist passing by. He was ecstatic with joy, rolling down the slope, and before we knew it, he had disappeared in the clouds. Second cyclist followed, this time he greeted us with joyful “hello” with a hint of Irish accent. At this point we thought these were just eccentric tourists. But then followed a whole crowed of them – cyclists coming down the hill, some silent some screaming for joy rolling down the hill in rain! What a bunch of mad but happy people, I wish I could do a similar downhill cycling route one day! I bet they just kept rolling down until they got to the Amazon lowlands!

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We decided to have a day off from driving madly across the Peruvian countryside and to explore the amazing ruins of Ollantaytambo. This is a small town with a huge ruin attached that is on the banks of the Río Urubamba.

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It was here that the Inca Manco Capac defeated the Spanish army, only to have them come back in more force later and over-run the fortress – he then retreated to Machu Pichu and beyond….  Today trains run from Cusco to Ollantaytambo to Machu Pichu several times daily (last time I was here it was once a day, starting at the crack of dawn! – how times change).

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Part of the site of Ollantaytambo is a temple to the sun (or so the guidebooks say) hewn of gigantic stones that were transported from across the river and high in the mountains. This temple was never finished, and one can see gigantic stones left along the trail from the quarry across the Urubamba. Like all Inca stonework, you can’t put a piece of paper between these stones – what is amazing about Ollantaytambo is the sheer size of these blocks (see Paul for scale in the picture). How did they do it?

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We climbed high on trails around the entire site, and managed to see some really amazing scenery, take some silly pictures of all of us, and see some interesting plants.

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To collect, we went across the river on an old Inca bridge (recontructed of course) and walked amongst terraced fields of maize and other crops.

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We of course found some solanums – the msot exciting of which was what we called Solanum “pseudoexcisirhombeum” – like our friend from the high puna, but a bit different.  For a start it has smaller flowers….

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Hot off the presses (several days later) – on downloading the original description from the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL), we find that it matches this Urubamba plant better than the puna plants from Ayacucho – so we will need to figure out what those are now! Being able to look at the literature in the field is truly amazing…


Landslides are a fact of life in Peru (as you will have seen from earlier posts!) and the Ollantaytambo area is no exception – this river of mud came down the mountain last October or so (we were told be a resident) at night with a huge whoosh. It hadn’t even been raining apparently, a piece of mountain just fell off. Wow.

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Ollantaytambo of course is more than just ruins, it is also a lovely village, and prides itself on retaining its Inca heritage. It also has some lovely Spanish touches as well, like these bulls on the rooftop for good luck, along with a bottle of champagne for celebration!

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Having a day off from driving was good for all of us – we have recharged our batteries and are ready to go again…  what will tomorrow bring? More solanums we are sure!


Crossing the Apurimac

Posted by Sandy Knapp Mar 16, 2012

from Tiina:

Yesterday’s landslides were scary. This morning we thought we have seen it all, but today we saw something different. We were driving down the valley of Apurimac, when we came across a bit of road next to the river where the cliff side was hanging over us – not under like in most landslides! The river had clearly eaten away rock underneath the hillside during a flood some time ago. Now what was remaining was a whole cliff side loosely hanging on to the mountain, and a road going underneath it. We had to take it, there was no detour. We did not even stop to take a photo – trust me, better that way.


Once pass the scary cliff side, we came to a bridge to cross Rio Apurimac. Sandy thought the bridge would make a nice lunch spot, so we stopped to enjoy the scenery, to take photos and to eat a watermelon we had bought earlier. We found Solanum americanum growing at the bridge site just as Sandy had predicted earlier that morning – her philosophy is that every stop brings new discoveries. She is right: whenever we have stopped to take a photo, we have also managed to find good solanums!

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The trouble with this plant at the bridge was that it was growing out of the bridge. In order to get it, Andrew had to lower himself down one of the bollards of the bridge. Luckily we did get a photo of this!

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Later that day we took a side road to Mollepata. This detour was recommended to us by Alberto Salas who is expert on potatoes. We met him before heading to our trip in Lima, and we were following his great recommendations to check out some good side roads. Mollepata turned out to be a great side road. We found a new population of Solanum anomalostemon as well as Solanum physalifolium.

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The road to Abancay.....

Posted by Sandy Knapp Mar 10, 2012

Yesterday’s road probems were tiny compared to today….. sometimes Peruvian roads must be seen to be believed.  Andahuaylas awoke to pouring rain, not a great result for the festival, but loads of people were outside getting organised. Off we set into the cloud, again climbing to more than 4000 m elevation to cross over a pass to get into the valley of Abancay, our next port of call. As I jumped out to take a picture of potatoes being grown at 4200 m, I realised it was actually snowing! Even the llamas looked wet and miserable, but stoic all the same, just like botanists, but we smile more!

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The entire area between Andahuaylas and Abancay, both in the department of Apurimac, is highly populated, and heavily cultivated – every square inch had a field or animals grazing.

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As we came down in elevation the vegetation became drier ( repeat of our experience a few days ago), and we began to find solanums and other exciting Solanaceae. My top plant of the day was Nicotiana tomentosa – a wild tobacco that is a small tree up to 10 cm in diameter! I have seen what has been called this species in Bolivia before, but these plants were very different – I am going to need to re-think the species limits here.

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The torrential rains of the last few days have made collecting difficult, but have made travel even more so….  The road to Abancay had been reported as having several landslides (or huaicos); the heavy rains loosen the soil and the steep slopes the roads are carved into just slip and slide down, sometimes with quite alarming results. Some people who had come from Cuzco to Andahuaylas for the festival had warned us that there were many vehicles stuck. Well, eventually, after passing many places where rocks and mud had fallen across the road we came across a lorry that had got well and truly stuck in deep mud right on a corner. As we got out to check it out, we heard and saw large rocks falling from the cliffs above; they were so big that it took Tiina and I both to move them out of the way – Andy drove by next to the lorry with aplomb (secretly hoping the mud didn’t slide out from under him!).

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The road was partically blocked by many landslides further on down the mountain, but traffic (and there was a lot of it, mostly buses and lorries) passed through, often at quite a clip.


The unusually heavy and prolonged rains have also caused the rivers to swell. We came across one “small stream” that had turned into a torrent, for once, the adjective raging fit perfectly – we could see the boulders being taken down the streambed as we doesn't look like much in the picture, but trust me, it ws amazing!

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Abancay sits up above a low valley with a river we had to cross, and in the dry forest vegetation in the valley we found two more exciting Solanum species. Solanum neorickii is a wild tomato relative with tiny little flowers, it has green fruits that look just like minature green tomatoes – the plants we collected were in full fruit.

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Further down the splendid dry valley we came to the bridge over the Rio Casinchihua – where Tiina found her plant of the day, Solanum physalifolium. This species has a wonderful speckled fruit that is translucent when it is ripe – you can see the brown seeds through the fruit wall. In England we have a species we call Solanum physalifolium, but it is nothing like this little plant. As with the tobacco, we will need to rethink the species boundaries here!


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On our way into Abancay we were delayed by various road crews clearing away huge rocks that had fallen onto the (now paved) road…  but as we began to climb up the hill we were surprised by a long queue of vehicles, all stopped for some reason…  Paul jumped out to see what the story was and came back with the news that there was another huaico and that vehicles were only being let through in small batches, and then only some could make it. The road had turned into a rocky river bed… the tractor was fixing it constantly as sets of three or four vehicles went through.

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We had to cross the river twice – the second time was easier and we made a big splash!

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Tomorrow we head up again in order to descend again into the canyon of the Rio Apurimac, said to be even deeper than the Grand Canyon. Here we are seeking the rare and exciting species Solanum anomalostemon, known only from this canyon – with my colleague Michael Nee of the New York Botanical Garden I described this a few years ago, but I have never seen it alive and in its habitat – can’t wait! We can see that it is still raining in the mountains, so we wonder what we will find on the road?



Our permit has come through, we are awaiting the confirmation of our rental vehicle....  so while we wait and get organised, we are entering the data from specimens in herbarium collections here in Lima into the Solanaceae Source database. Solanum is such a large genus that botanists fear to tred (we, of course are a bit crazy, so here we go!!) - with 1500 species, it is hard for a non-specialist to get a handle on identification, so many many collections end up in the unidentified cupboards - our first port of call. What a treasure trove! At the Museo we have reduced this backlog by more than half, and in doign so, managed to enter very important collections to the database. Many recent collections have latitude and longitude recorded, so with these data, we can calculate species ranges. This will contribute directly to our new project on the correlates of extinction in the Solanaceae of Peru - THE hotspot of diversity in the family.


a small part of the now identified Solanum collection at the Museo!


Before we leave Peru, we will copy the records from each herbarium to a new file and leave it with those in charge of herbarium management - taht way, no work is duplicated and our colleagues can use the records to enable their own research as well. As we sit madly entering data, students and visitors from elsewhere in Peru constantly arrive bringing small piles of dried plants in newspapers - their own collections for us to identify. Most of the time we can identify things to species, but when we can't it is frustrating to not be able to help. People are very tolerant of our failings however, and we have many very interesting conversations.


The other evening the Museo held its 94th anniversary celebrations - with the dedication of a fossil of Purussaurus - a huge crocodilian from the pre-Amazon basin discovered by palaeontologists on the staff.


Purussaurus - reconstructed!


Peru does parties exceptionally well, and this one was no exception. There were several speeches, including a lvoely one from the widow of a prominent Peruvian grass taxonomist Oscar Tovar whose library has been donated to the Museo. I named a species in honor of Dr. Tovar (Solanum tovarii - from his native department of Huancavelica) in the 1990s - I am hoping we will find it when we go south into the mountains.


Today we visited the herbaria (there are two, but confusingly they are advertised as only one) of the Agricultural University in the outskirts of Lima in La Molina. Here one can see the dry hills that surround the city - the coast of Peru is part of the Atacama desert and is very dry. The summer (now) is hot and dry, but the winter is damp, cold and wet with fog all day coming in off the Pacific Ocean - this "garua" creates a very special vegetation type called "lomas" in the hills where the moisture collects. Several endemic Solanum species are found in this habitat - like Solanum montanum (see the entry in Solanaceae Source for pictures of this species, - which makes an underground stem like a potato, but they are not related.


At La Molina (as the university is called) we especially wanted to see the specimens collected by an amazing German botanist who lived and explored in Peru in the early part of the 20th century - Augusto Weberbauer. His book (in Spanish called El Mundo Vegetal de los Andes Peruanos - loosely translated as The Plant World of the Peruvian Andes) is still a classic for the understanding of habitats and vegetation in the country. Many of his specimens were used to describe new species by the great German solanologist Georg Bitter, but were tragically destroyed (along with many others) in the bombing of Berlin in the 1940s. But, fortunately for us, duplicates are held in the La Molina herbarium; to me, this is the single biggest advertisment for spreading the collections around, they are so easy to destroy and lose forever. Expert and careful curation is so important for future generations - thisis why we will be collecting duplicates of everything, half will stay in Peru, half will come to the NHM. These Weberbauer specimens are critical for understanding these names - some of these are the only specimens collected by him in existence. We were kindly received by the curators, and examined the type specimens that had been identified, but as I looked into the rest of Solanum - I saw at least three more Weberbauer types, lurking unknown inthe cupboards - a return visit is indicated!


Just as at the Museo, we identified many of the Solanum specimens without names and entered then into the database (well not all, there just was not enough time). We found some real oddities - like a minature species from the north of Peru, a bit like our friend Solanum chamaesarachidium from Argentina, but quite different; a new one? Only more study and collecting will tell......


Andrew Matthews - slightly crazed from doing to much specimen databasing; without him we couldn't have done it!! He definitely deserved a cold beer......


A botanist's life if full of contrasts! Tiina and I have been invted to a conference on the use of crop wild relatives at the International Potato Center in Lima, quite a change from crashing through the underbrush in search of wild solanums! We are discussing how to use the wild relatives of the potato - Solanum tuberosum - to help combat climate change.


The attendees are from all over the world and are potato breeders, ethnologists and modellers - quite a group. The discussions have been fascinating, and have really helped us to see how the research we do in the delimitation of species of Solanum can help with problems like the changing climate's effect on crop productivity and pest resistance.



Coffee break at CIP


I will give a talk about the diversity of Solanum tomorrow....  should be exciting.


The International Potato Center (Centro Internacional de la Papa in Spanish - or CIP) is an incredible place, and really modern research centre in the middle of the cahotic city of Lima (well, outside Lima really, it took us 1/2 hour to get here in a taxis, but the traffic was incredible).



Lima from the air on arrival yesterday!


A little aside - the flight from Cordoba to Lima is totally the best ever - meringue mountains aboud - absolutely fantastic!!




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?


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?


Sierra de Santa Barbara

Posted by Sandy Knapp Feb 16, 2012

Another wonderful day exploring and hunting the wild solanums of Argentina! Some might think we were a bit crazy – but not as crazy as the chaps we met up in the puna near the dunes a couple of days ago (forgot to write about them) who were traversing Argentina on motorbikes from Tierra del Fuego to the Bolivian border – 5000 km each way!! - in 15 days; this definitely makes botanists look sane.


Today we went to a small mountain range in the eastern part of the province of Jujuy – specifically to look for a plant known only from its type specimen (Solanum fabrisii), to see if we could recollect it. We did – it turns out to be the same (we think) as a species someone described earlier (Solanum glandulosipilosum – great name); this makes it a synonym – not a mistake, but a different interpretation of the evidence to hand (a story for another time!). On the way – we saw spectacular scenery, this huge canyon had no roads or trails leading to it – tierra incognita – or so it seemed to us.


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Today has made us both think about why field work is so important for the science we do at the Museum; not only do we find new things and sort out who is who, but field work is essential for looking at the natural variation of plants in the wild. Take, for example, a species we saw all day today – Solanum “aloysiifolium” (in quotes because we are not quite sure what its correct name is yet!). We saw this plant all over the Sierra de Santa Barbara (and have before today), but each time it looks a little bit different – just like individual people look different in small details. Big leaves, small leaves; white flowers, purplish flowers….. This is variation – the very stuff of evolution. Seeing this species in many different places, and looking a little bit different every time lets us calibrate how we are defining species, and shows just how much variation there is in nature. Doing this together, all three of us can discuss what matters, what we see (and we all do see very different things!) and just how we might deal with the complexity of what we observe. Collecting specimens that we will later look at carefully in the herbarium will let us connect the differences we see in the field with the data we take from pressed specimens and from DNA sequences to come to decision about what constitutes this particular species – is this one species or three or seven?


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Collecting a species more than once is definitely NOT a waste of time! It does, however, mean we have more plants to dry every night on Gloria’s field dryer – here set up in our hotel in the town of Libertador   General San Martín; we set it up every night and it works a treat. Looking for electric sockets in tiny hotels in villages in out of the way places can be a challenge though…..


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