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Making order out of chaos

Posted by Tiina Apr 10, 2012

29th March – Good bye to Freddy our car

Today we had to say goodbye to Freddy, our lovely and most faithful car. We are finally back in Lima!


The day passed sorting things out, and clearing and cleaning Freddy. Presses went back to the Museum’s store room, specimens into our preparation area, and so on. Most importantly, Paul re-united with his family – his 2 year old daughter Fabiana was full of smiles! In the evening we all went for a nice cake and ice cream to celebrate our safe homecoming.



30th March – Digitalising field notes

I have been typing our field notes bit by bit into our database. I started the job whilst we were in Arequipa. Yesterday I used the long drive to type some more in the car. Today I have spent all day doing this, and now as the typing has finished I am focusing on preparing herbarium labels. Our database software has a great interface for designing your labels – but you need to do some technical stuff to get the labels look perfect. It is pretty much like programming language, that is how it feels. Quite nice, very nice balance after all the field work.




Once the label design is correct, the labels need to be proof read. It is good to make sure they look perfect – they will remain with the specimens for years to come!! Sandy sent us acid free paper from UK, so that we can print the labels properly. For long term storage, it is important to use acid free paper. These specimens are going to be five star top quality!



2nd April – Applying for an export permit

Our labels are ready now! We printed them out, and then cut them neatly.


label making (Mobile).JPG


I sorted the labels into numeric order and then off we went to the herbarium to put them with the specimens! It felt great, we were very excited seeing the specimens all ready to be mounted and processed into the museum.


We had a small party to celebrate us finishing. Lemon pie and passion fruit limonade, yum yum! Here is the crew of the San Marcos herbarium, you can see the beautiful garden just outside:


herbarium party (Mobile).JPG


Celebrations were also due as we handed in our export permit application this morning. We had prepared all the documents, and the museum’s secretary at the San Marcos herbarium had helped us to prepare another document necessary for the application. All that hard work paid off, and now we are just waiting to hear back from the Environmental Ministry.



3rd-4th April – Back in the herbarium with plants

Time to catch up with herbarium work. With all our experience now from our field trip, it is great to be back in the herbarium identifying specimens, and studying the material with more time in our hands.


Lima has two other herbaria in the Universidad Nacional Agraria Lamolina (MOL). We visited one of these herbaria today, the Weberbauer herbarium. The collection is rich in types, as many taxonomists used Weberbauer’s high quality specimens to describe new species. Unfortunately, the top duplicates used for describing these species were deposited in Berlin. These duplicates were destroyed during the Second World War, and now the remaining duplicates, many of which are in the Weberbauer herbarium in Lima, are extremely important. If they exist, they can be used to lectotypify the names for which types have been destroyed.


I needed to search through the material to find if some duplicates of Solanum sandianum or Solanum planifurcum might exist. I managed to find three specimens which are types of Solanum names, but none of them were the ones I was after. Good job done though, now these specimens can be scanned and put online for other taxonomists to use.


Here we are in the midst of annotating and databasing the material, with Professora Vilcapoma in the background.


DSC_3763 (Mobile).JPG



5th April – Beautiful Lima

It is officially Semana Santa! The museum is closed today, and we are taking some time off to explore the city.


Lima is going through a heat wave. Generally in late March Lima is foggy. The fog enters from the Pacific, and takes over the city. With fog, there is less sun and the atmosphere in the city is cold, humid and dim. This year, however, the fog has not arrived yet despite it being April already. Instead, it is +35 degrees celcius every day, full sun shine.


We took a walk on the beach to touch the Pacific. Emilio Perales, a junior lecturer from the forestry department of the Universidad Nacional Agraria Lamolina, joined us on our walk – and got into a water war with Andrew!


sea accident (Mobile).JPG


Emilio explained to us how the local public transport system works. Lima’s famous micros are mindboggling to most tourists. Busses do not have numbers or routes, but instead, they are colour coded. The bus system is not that official even – it seems bus lines are just born out of necessity, rather than planned by the council. Anybody can become a bus driver as well, there is no licence involved.


Here are examples of the bus lines: the blue white line:


blue white (Mobile).JPG


These busses go from Avenida Arequipa through the Ovalo in Miraflores to Chorrillos via Barranco. It’s a great bus as it takes the more scenic route through Larcomar along the coast.


Another one is the red white bus that comes to Chorillos too, but it takes a different route throught Avenida Tacna.


red white (Mobile).JPG


Then there are the more complex bus lines, like the green bus with black roof, two green stripes, one white stripe, and red at the bottom. Who knows where it goes …


black green white red (Mobile).JPG


The yellow white bus comes to Chorrillos through Abancay


yellow white (Mobile).JPG


I wish there would be a guide to these busses, but there isn’t. You just have to learn them as you go. It is quite an anarchistic public transport system. The bus drivers are not licensed either. I suppose you wake up one morning, decide to become a bus driver, hackle for a bus, buy it cheap, and paint it (this is the important part!). The next most important thing you need to become a successful bus line is a fierce assistant. We call these assistants bus pimps. The assistant’s job is to shout the route aloud from the moving bus, by hanging from the open bus door and by making as much noice and hand waving as you possibly can. If you accidentally make an eye contact with the bus pimps, you will quickly find yourself inside a bus on a route to somewhere – they are very keen on getting more customers!


Once you’ve got your head around the general system, you are off. The busses drive extremely arrogantly, which means you get to your destination fast.


People don’t believe me about the colour code when I try to explain it to them, so I hope the blog will help to de-mystify the system to any confused tourists in Lima.


24th March – Night in the mountains


The night was cold in the car. Time passed slowly. At five thirty, suns first rays become visible, and by six the rays warmed us enough through the glass to tempt us out of Freddy.


By 7 am we had set up our field office. We started with our fruits first, as there were lots of them to do:


7 am (Mobile).JPG


Then we prepared all the specimens we had collected before yesterday’s accident, ready to be dried under our gas fire. Once that was done, we continued with the seeds. Sandy has a clever technique for drying seeds: you squeez fruits onto newspaper, then fold the newspaper and let the seeds dry onto the newspaper naturally in air over a few nights before bagging them into proper envelopes for long term storage.


By 9 am we were back at the fruits, there were still few to be done.


9 am (Mobile).JPG


Then we started to clean the car, and to re-organise our things. Whilst clearing our things, we realised we could ring Paul to ask how things were. We were so excited about this! We took our british mobile, charged it with my laptop which had nearly full charge, and rang Paul. He gave us great news: he had two tires with him, one new and one fixed, and he was on his way to us!


By 12 am we had eaten our lunch, and had nothing left to do except play with stones.


12 am (Mobile).JPG


By 2.40 pm we saw a bus – this was it! Paul was on it!!! Happy re-union, and before too long, Freddy had new shoes!


new tyres (Mobile).JPG


That night we were happy to be in a hotel, sleeping in nice beds, and eating lovely food in Arequipa. Ahhhh.



25th March – One man down

Paul has been conquered by bacteria – he has tonsillitis!! Lucky that we are in a big city with great doctors. Paul is now resting and all is well. We are feeling bad that all this drama with the tyres might have caused him to fall ill …



26th March – Herbarium visit

Arequipa is big – it’s one of the biggest cities in Peru. There is a great university, with a great local herbarium. Paul and I had planned a visit, and despite Paul’s poor health, he demanded to come along to the herbarium today with me.


Going to a new herbarium feels like opening a treasure chest: what will the folders contain? Will there be something weird but wondeful, perhaps some potential new species hiding away? Here we are looking:


herbarium (Mobile).JPG


Indeed we found something curious – a specimen similar of the tiniest of all solanums, Solanum chamaesarachidium, which we had seen earlier in our trip in Puno as well as in Argentina. But it wasn’t quite the same, there was something different – different leaf shape, larger calyces where lobes are more fused, and larger inflorescences with longer pedicels and peduncles. The specimen was without flowers though, leaving more to the imagination!


mystery (Mobile).JPG


We decided that the next day we would go and see if we could hunt it down – locality: on the way to Canyon de Colca from Chivay!



27th March – Hunting for the rare one

We were so hopeful yesterday! The trip to Canyon de Colca was a long one, and by the time we got to our destination, we had only little time to explore the area by foot. Temptation took over, and we spent until 5pm walking around the hills, trying to find a minute species of Solanum hiding behind rocks and shrubs.


We found other stuff, like my favorite Solanum excisirhombeum, the usual suspect in high elevations:


excisirhombeum (Mobile).JPG


In the lower elevations, in dry sand dunes, we collected Exodeconus, genus of Solanaceae that is adapted to extremely dry conditions:


exodeconus (Mobile).JPG


See how the anthers are light blue, just poking out from the flower in the above picture, and more clearly visible in the lower one:


exodeconus (2) (Mobile).JPG


But we did not find the rare specimen we had seen in the herbarium yesterday. What was most fustrating was that the specimen came with exact latitude and longitude position, and with the help of our GPS, we should have been able to find it! But it turned out that the position given on the label was 5 km from the road, and we did not have time to walk that far. It was difficult turning back…



28th March – Sea, finally!!

This morning it was time to head home – it has been 27 days traveling through the south of Peru now, and we are all missing our families and friends. It feels good to look back. We have found great things, many which require more work in the herbarium to figure out if they are perhaps something new.


We have also done some silly mistakes from which we have learnt a lot. The big tour we did after leaving Sandy in Cusco was not, afterall, all that exciting. The road did not pass great Solanum habitats, and hence, we did not collect as much as we expected. With hindsight, we should have taken another road. But then again, if we would have done that, we would not have found the isolated population of the white flowered Solanum chamaesarachidium near Marcapata!


When we saw the sea this afternoon around 3pm, it was a great moment. The Panamerican highway descents from Arequipa slowly to the coast at Camana – what a view. We have made it to over so many mountain passes, it felt that seeing the sea symbolised safe homecoming.


sea finally (Mobile).JPG


21st March – Neotypifying, and yet again, neotypifying


Panic over! We found cash and didn't have to wash any dishes. It was the well known classic "going to the bank" method that saved us . Lucky we had some US dollars to change into Peruvian nuevo soles. Still running strong, fuel in the car, food in the stomachs, and money burning in the pockets .


Yesterday we drove all day for nearly 300 km on small mountain roads just to get to Sandia. The reason we so desperately want to collect around here is that there are two species described from around Sandia that need re-typification. This is because the material that was used to describe these species, i.e. their type collections, were destroyed during the Second World War in the Berlin herbarium. To replace the lost types, new types need to be made, and this process is called neotypification.


The two types we wanted to recollect were for Solanum planifurcum and Solanum sandianum. Both species were described by Bitter, S. planifurcum from the outskits of Sandia from 2100 – 2500m elevation, and confusingly, S. sandianum from higher up above Cuyocuyo, a town c. 20 km from Sandia, at 3800 m elevation. Some claim these species are synonyms, and represent just extreme variation of a single species. Today we shall see!


We started our morning from Sandia near S. planifurcum type locality, and luckily found a population just outside Sandia in 2100 m elevation.


planifurcum neotype (Mobile).JPG


We kept collecting populations until 2500 m, and observed variation along the elevational gradient. Further up, all the way to 3200 m we could observe populations of S. planifurcum. Then gradually, things started to change. At 3400 we found what Bitter would have called S. sandianum, just outside Cuyocuyo, in the local rubbish dump. Not a pretty collection locality, I admit, but there is was.


sandianum neotype (Mobile).JPG


Solanum sandianum seems to have narrower leaves, which are less hairy and shiny above. Flowers vary in colour, but in general they are dark purple rather than pale lilac as Solanum planifurcum. Calyx shape and size, corolla, stamens and style characters seem to vary less. But are the differences in leaf shape, size and indumentum enough to justify recognising two species? We discussed this with Paul and decided that this is a perfect case where molecular sequence data can help us to decide. If molecular data gives evidence that these taxa are not sister to each other, then we will look for morphological differences that could be used to distinguish them. If, on the other hand, molecular data shows these individuals from different elevations along the road from Sandia to Cuyocuyo to be all mixed within a single clade, I think the case is clear for sunking these names for synonomy!


Having done a good days work in collecting along the gradient from Sandia to Cuyocuyo, we were heading back towards Juliaca. As we got closer to the city, we opted to drive all the way to Puno for the night as the city is famous for its beautiful location on the shore of Lake Titicaca.


puno at night (Mobile).JPG


The roads weren’t great, and again, we arrived to Puno very late at night. We managed to find a hostel without trouble this time. It was time for some relaxation, and winding down after a long drive. Lucky for the boys, there was a footfall game on in the evening, Peru was playing against Chile! Tensions were high, it was 0-1 for Chile for long time, and although Peru managed to score before too long, Chile eventually won. The boys were sad, some tears were shed, but I consoled them by reminding them that there was the beautiful view of Lake Titicaca to see in the morning.



22nd March – Views over Lake Titicaca


I always thought as a child that Lake Titicaca was a hot place with sandy beaches and tropical fruits all over. Just to clarify, this was not the fault of the Finnish education system at all. I just had manage to form this image in my head that Lake Titicaca was a place for sunbathing.


The truth is very different. Lake Titicaca is the highest elevation lake in the world, and it is not that warm.


lake titicaca (Mobile).JPG

Again we had a long drive ahead of us, we had to make some miles to make it across the Andes for the final time. This time we were crossing the Cordillera Occidental to the coastal deserts near Moquegua. It’s a long 7 hour drive from Puno to Moquegua, and this is without any collecting or taking side roads. Of course we couldn’t avoid the temptation to take few sideroads, but just enough to collect few Solanum fragile specimens near Puno.


fragile (Mobile).JPG


Solanum fragile is the panda of the Solanum world – it’s flowers are cute as buttons! The calyx lobes are shy but showy, just a little bit recurved as you can see in the picture, and then the stigma! See how long it is, it’s excerted more than the length of the stamens! The species grows high up around 4000 m elevation, in rock crevases – despite this it has all the elegance of a high society lady with light blue petals, large corollas, and the showy appearance!


And of course there was Salpichroa hiding amongst the rocks as well! Salpichroa glandulosa is distinct amongst the genus having very densely hairy leaves.


salpichroa (Mobile).JPG


We dissected a flower in the field, and discovered that the nectary disk at the base of the corolla tube is orange!


salpichroa nectary (Mobile).JPG



The slopes on the western side of the Andes near Moquegua are extremely dry and sandy. At 4400 m elevation there was sand everywhere. We kept looking for our sand loving friend Solanum chamaesarachidium, but couldn’t find it. I doubt it occurs this far west, the only populations known from Peru are in Puno.


desert (Mobile).JPG


The western slopes lower down are home for the Regmandra and the tomato clade of Solanum. We collected Solanum peruvianum along the road at around 2500 m elevation, a wild species related to tomato.


peruvianum desert low (Mobile).JPG


peruvianum (Mobile).JPG


Today finding a hotel was easy – we hailed one from the car!!!! We got to Moquegua late, and we were tired. On a tight street just near the main Plaza of the city, whilst waiting for a traffic jam to clear, we manage to find a hotel on our left with their carrage door just a meter from our car, and that was it! We hailed the owner to open the doors before causing too much of a chaos on the street, and checked ourselves in. Sometimes it is easy, sometimes not…



23rd March – Flowers of the dry hills


Having slept peacefully, we headed out early to hunt for a collection I had seen in the herbarium in Lima. It was a specimen near Torata near Moquegua, that resembled Solanum arequipense, a species that has remained mysterious since its original description by Bitter. As for some other species of Bitter, the type of Solanum arequipense was destroyed in the Berlin fire during the Second World War. Without the type, the species has remained elusive and despite the name having been used in various floristic accounts, nobody really knows what the species is really like and what entity the name really refers to.


But there it was, just next to Quebrada Torata. This taxon is very similar to Solanum aloysiifolium, species that is found in northern Argentina and Bolivia. My colleague Gloria (see Argentina blog) will find these photos very exciting! Despite the similarity, this species is definetely something different. The leaves vary from entire to serrate, stamens are c. 3 m long, style clearly excerted, with a very capitate stigma.


arequipense flower (Mobile).JPG


arequipense leaves (Mobile).JPG


The calyx lobes are larger than in Solanum aloysiifolium, and most importantly, the fruits remain green when mature. The fruits are speckled with these white small dots, which I first thought to be nothing special. But every fruit, in every individual we have seen, seems to have them.

arequipense fruits (Mobile).JPG


We also collected another wild tomato species, Solanum chilense. It grows lower down in elevation.


chilense (Mobile).JPG


Another new species for the day was Solanum corymbosum, a member of the Solanum section Parasolanum group. These species are related to Solanum section Solanum. They all have small flowers with tiny anthers, but with large stigmas. Solanum corymbosum occurs in low elevation dry habitats, whilst the others occur at slightly higher elevation. Solanum corymbosum has cute red fruits that resemble mini-tomatoes.


corymbosum (Mobile).JPG


corymbosum fruits (Mobile).JPG


In the extremely dry habitats we passed near Omate we collected Exodeconus


Exodeconus 1 (Mobile).JPG


Exodeconus 2 (Mobile).JPG


and Nolana, both genera of Solanaceae specialised in desert habitats.


Nolana 1 (Mobile).JPG


Nolana 2 (Mobile).JPG


The day was getting late, and we were still in the middle of the desert, slowly ascending to the mountains on our way to Arequipa. It was getting dark, and we were aware that we would be arriving late to Arequipa that night. Except that suddenly we realised we were not going to arrive to Arequipa at all: we had a punctured front left tire! We also had a slow puncture in our back left tyre, and although this tyre looked still OK, air was coming out more and more rapidly.


So punctures in both of our left hand side tyres, what could we do? We took our spare out, thinking that changing the flat tyre from the front could get us as far as Arequipa, three hours away. Andrew and Paul took the spare down from its hiding place, and started changing the tyre. In less than 30 minutes, they were putting bolts on and tightening the spare – we were nearly ready to go again! Except that the spare turned out to be flat as well…


There was nothing else left to do except to take the spare and walk to the next village to get pumping. I stayed in the car, guarding our poor Freddy as we call our handsome 4by4. The spot were we had had to stop was a dangerous one – there was not adequate space to easily get pass our Freddy if busses or trucks would turn up. I was equiped with a powerful head torch, and hazards triangle which I put on the road.


By the time boys headed to the village with the spare tyre, it was pitch black. There I was, finally having an opportunity to breath, enjoy an evening by myself and watch the starts on the clear Andean sky. Beautiful! This is how it looked before going totally dark. I stopped taking photos in the dark as star skies never turn up nice but trust me it was beautiful.


tire problems (Mobile).JPG


Temperatures rocket down during nights in the Andes, so I stayed inside the car, keeping myself warm, waiting for any passersby. Nothing came for nearly an hour, but then I finally saw lights in the night sky, coming from behind the nearby curve. It was a truck!!! I took my headtorch, shone to indicate our poor positioning in the middle of two curves on narrow part of the road, and hoped that they would slow down before passing Freddy which was missing its both left handside tyres.


freddy (Mobile).JPG


The truck barely slowed down. It took a milly second to observe the situation and the narrow space before taking its decision to go for it. The truck passed well, which was good news. This meant buses might be able to pass as well, and we knew to expect a bus soon.


Boys returned with bad news: the spare tyre was not only flat but with a massive hole in it.


So with three flat tyres and two OK ones, we had no option than to split our team. Paul with his peruvian fluency offered to head to Arequipa with two tires, so that he could return by next morning with repairs. Luckily a car passed by to give Paul a lift. Andrew and I stayed with the car. How would our night in Freddy go – and would the busses get through? We were nervous, but the stars were giving us comfort.


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


scale (Mobile).JPG


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.


DSC_2390 (Mobile).JPG


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???!!


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?


First five days

Posted by Tiina Feb 15, 2012

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 SolanumSolanum 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.


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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.


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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!!


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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.

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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.

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Higher up, there were huge sand dunes – a strong wind blows here much of the time and the sand collects in various valleys.


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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.

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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!


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Tomorrow advancing further north, towards the National Park of Calilegua!


Cordoba, Argentina....

Posted by Tiina Feb 8, 2012



I am here at last; flying over the Andes this morning from Santiago in Chile was amazing - beautifully clear and I could see all the glaciers and snow-capped peaks. Not much snow now because it is summer here....


Cordoba is a beautiful town, a brilliant mixture of old colonial and new. The University where the herbarium is located is near the centre of town, we went over there this afternoon to have a look around. They are experiencing a heat wave in Cordoba - it is approximately 30 degrees and VERY humid! I am catching up on all the adventures Tiina and Gloria have been having last week - I'll had over to her now for the update!




It was great to get Sandy here with us to sort out some issues with Solanum! Like Sandy says, it's extremely hot and humid, which is why we've also had some big storms this week. A few days ago it was raining ice balls - yes I mean ICE BALLS!


I took pictures as proof of how bad it was: we had to mop water from the floor as the roof and windows were leaking in the herbarium! It was a real mixture of ice the size of table tennis balls, and massive rain.


It just goes to show that it's not easy to keep up a museum in tropical countries... While we were busy mopping water from the floor, the storm knocked down a large tree just outside. The sound was tremendous! Gloria and I went out to see the damage afterwards.

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The challenge of the coming days is to fit everything in. We have meetings to talk about our recent results, our work with molecular phylogenetics and taxonomy at NHM, and cytogenetic and taxonomic work here in Cordoba. It's a great chance to throw some ideas around, discuss what we have and plan future work.


We also have to plan the route for our longer trip in the north. We are heading to the big Andes on Friday, to the departments of Jujuy, Catamarca, Tucuman and Salta. There are many species we want to cover, and we can gather localities where to find them from the herbarium and our existing online Solanum database.


During the weekend we did a short 3 day trip around the departments of Cordoba and San Luis and managed to find species which were previously only known from types. The three species we found in the field can now be studied in detail together with the original descriptions to fully understand the species.


Now off to bed, we are gathering strength for what's ahead! Thus far 253 specimens fully databased, c. 400 identified, and more to go!


Setting the scene...

Posted by Tiina Feb 2, 2012

We all like eating tomatoes and potatoes - what could be better than chips with ketchup ! But did you know tomatoes and potatoes are extremely closely related? Although a red juicy tomato looks totally different to a pale yellow potato, the two plants share much of their DNA.


Potato and tomato belong to a group of plants known as Solanaceae - the nightshade family. In actual fact, they are so closely related they belong to the same genus within Solanaceae, known as Solanum. Tomato is called Solanum lycopersicum L. in scientific latin, whilst potato is known as Solanum tuberosum L.



Other well known species in the group include the bell peppers, chili peppers, eggplants, petunias, and tobacco - yes, incredibly this strongly flavoured plant is related to commonly eaten yummy things! South Americans might know more fruits from the family, such as naranjilla (Solanum quitoense Lam.), or tamarillo (Cyphomandra betacea Sendt.) used for making preserves and juice. If you visit Mexico and indulge in local food culture, you come across another species from the family, tomatillo (Physalis philadelphica Lam.) which is used to prepare salsa for buritos, tacos and tortillas.


Below is a lovely phylogeny of the nighshades which illustrates how the species are related within the family. It's based on a small set of DNA data. It is still not complete as it only includes roughly 30% of all the species in the family. Our aim is to add more species as our research progresses. What you can see is that eggplant, tomato, potato and pepino are really closely related, and tobacco is the furthest relative of them all. Solanaceae_large_phylogeny_SMALL_for_blog.jpg



The nightshades were known to be a group of closely related plants before anybody even knew they are related based on their DNA. This is because all species in the group share a set of morphological characters. Some of these are very obvious such as flowers which are generally stellate, with five corolla lobes, and five stamens. The most clear character that unites the family is seeds. Seeds are small – think of tomato seeds! – flattened, kidney-shaped, and have puzzle-piece shaped cells if looked under a microscope. Most of seeds in the nightshade family have curled embryos. If you are curious, try looking at dried tomato seeds closely! You will see the impression of the curled embryo on the seed quite easily.



Other characters of the nightshade family are more hidden. For example, all nightshades have internal phloem which means that sugars produced in leaves via photosynthesis are transported down to roots inside the water transport system known as xylem. Most plants have an opposite type transport system where sugars are transported outside the waterpipe system.



Anyways, why all this ramble? Well, the thing is that we are about to go hunting for nightshades in the Andes! There are an estimated 4,500 species of nightshades in the world, and large number of these is found in the Andes. These are wild relatives of tomatoes and potatoes and such likes, some weirder than other, some with tubers, whilst other climb trees! There are still species remaining to be described, waiting in the forests and mountain sides for discovery. We will be travelling in the northern part of Argentina and in Peru over the next coming 3 months – our aim is to collect as many species of Solanaceae on our way. This time we are targeting the particularly poorly known species of the Morelloid clade in the genus Solanum, a set of roughly 60 species.


Preparing for the big trip!

Posted by Tiina Jan 31, 2012

Trip preparations have began with full steam! Having prepared and organised our collection permit applications for our trip, I am now focusing on gathering locality information. This means going through all specimens of my target species, which are the Morelloid species of the genus Solanum. These include about 65 species closely related to tomato and potato.





Museum collections can help enourmously in finding these species in the wild. Each museum specimen carries with it some information about the locality the specimen was found in. These localities can aid in finding these species in the wild again, as long as the habitats remain relatively undisturbed. The main reason for going to the field is to get a chance to observe species in their natural habitats, which inturn helps taxonomists like us to fully understand species delimitation - simply put, this means understanding what constitutes a species, and how species differ from each other. Often it is extremely difficult to understand where one species ends and another begins based on old material alone. Imagine standing there with a latin description in one hand ! and a poor quality specimen from 18th century in the other = It's not always so exciting to be a scientist !




Our second aim is to record as many occurrences of any species of Solanaceae in order to study how plant distributions change through time, and how species might respond to climate change in the future. Currently, many species are still only known from less than five specimens. That means we only know less than five populations for these species! This is just not good enough, and more is needed to analyse how species might respond to change - whether this is climate change or change in land use due to increased pressure from growing human population. There are many weeds in the world but majority of species are poorly known endemics that we need to

keep collecting.