Finally internet connection! Five days in the field and five more to go!
Day 1 – Sandy:
We set out from Cordoba – Tiina, Gloria and I, plus our wonderful driver Leonardo – and headed west, to Catamarca. Along the way we passed some amazing salt flats – huge expanses of flat salty land; when we stopped to take a picture, we found our first Solanum – Solanum euacanthum – whose fruits burst open to reveal black seeds when they were touched! We press the plants on a back of the truck, Gloria has a very efficient system.
We carried on, looking for a particular species called Solanum mortonii – we have no collections of this in the Museum, and I was particularly interested to see it. Once place we passed it right by, but then, going up a beautiful valley to a village called Los Angeles, we found it all over! It turns out that Solanum mortonii is partial to steep rocky slopes, and has a much wider distribution than people previously though. Our find of the day though was an enigma called Solanum reductum.
We’ve never known what this plant really was and who it was related to, but finding it in the wild made it all clear! It is clearly a relative of another enigmatic species only described a few years ago by our colleague Lynn Bohs from Bolivia (Solanum clandestinum). We decided to spend the night in Los Angeles, as a policeman told us there was a hotel there, but once there, we found it wasn’t open yet – a long trip back down the valley at the end of a long but really productive first day!!
Day 2 – Tiina:
More mysteries solved! Solanum salicifolium seems to be one large variable species. We observed amazing variation in leaf shape in local populations, even within individuals. The picture tells it all – one branch can have simple, entire leaves as well as deeply pinate ones! Having observed this we are convinced that Solanum incisum, including all its varieties, are synonyms of Solanum salicifolium.
Lesson of cultural importance of the day was Gauchito Gil, a local Robyn Hood legend who stole from the rich to defend the poor. As we were driving along, we saw shrines build for Gauchito everywhere in the north, often under trees with red flags hanging from the branches.
Day 3 – Sandy:
The search for solanums continues apace….. we slept in a wonderful hotel that was someone’s house – full of old photographs and memorabilia. Our goal was the Cuesta de Randolfo, an area of puna – high Andean vegetation composed mostly of grass and low shrubs. I continue to be amazed at the variety of landscapes that we have seen in Argentina – an amazing country. To get to the Cuesta de Randolfo we had to drive across several rivers but once there – how incredible! We stopped to collect a species I was interested and suddenly Gloria yelled “Solanum chamaesarachidium!!!” She had found a very rare, tiny annual plant growing in the sand right by the truck. This entire plant is only about 5 cm in diameter and the flower is minute – what is that mite doing in there? Wow.
Higher up, there were huge sand dunes – a strong wind blows here much of the time and the sand collects in various valleys.
Here we were in real puna, and much to my excitement saw the rarest of the South American camelids – vicuñas. I had seen them once before in Peru, but there they ran away – here in Cuesta de Randolfo they just stared.
What a day – vegetation like I have never seen before and wonderful plants – this is what plant collecting and field work is all about….. we spent too long up high though, and had to leave one place we wanted to visit out though in order to meet our colleagues in Tucumán – it was well worth it.
Day 4 – Tiina
Today we found Solanum annuum, Solanum glandulosipilosum and a mysterious other Solanum species! Solanum annuum is a tiny plant at 3000 m elevation, it’s hard to find but we found it! A mysterious species was found just nearby - it has very distinct clusters of hairs alongs its stem. This plant needs to be looked at properly when we get back as we don’t know what it is at the moment!
Further down the valley in Tafí we found Solanum glandulosipilosum – a distinct species of the Morelloid Solanum with glandular hairs and a distinct smell of insecticide! Of course it started to rain hard by this point… We just had to keep working, but taking photos became difficult! Dried boots on the plant dryer over night.
In the evening we met up with our Chinese colleagues in Tucumán, and had great dinner with much to talk about. They are heading back after a two week visit in Argentina with a 30 hour flight ahead of them! Durig their first trip to Argentina they have had a chance to see Patagonia in the south, Iguazú falls in the east, and the Andes in the north – what a great trip!
Day 5 – Tiina
Good luck continues – today we found another plant that has remained a mystery to us. Having seen Solanum collectaneum in the wild, growing along in montane forest edges in Tucumán, it seems a very close relative of Solanum aloysiifolium, if not the same thing. Another thing to investigate further back in London. The fruits are so cute: they are tiny with a fantastic colour of deep dark blue-purple!
Tomorrow advancing further north, towards the National Park of Calilegua!