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Ariocarpus bravoanus at El Herrero

Ariocarpus bravoanus at El Herrero

Today’s breakfast in the wifi restaurant was a real shock: my laptop refused to start up despite having been charged all night. Had I lost all my Australia images and all Mexico images to date? Rather anxiously I got back to the Hotel, plugged my charger back into the mains and try again – Bingo!!! I quickly backed up all the files that I had worried about to my plug in HD drive.

Great! I was also worried that the data for future stops during the trip would be inaccessible, so quickly wrote down coordinates for a stop I had made with Eunice in 2011 and where after some searching we found Ariocarpus bravoanus, or was it subsp. hintonii? Without Internet access I can’t get to the relevant data in Google Earth. A task for the days back in England. Not only did we find it again, but not at the exact spot, but in the same area and Ian found it some 500 m farther along as well all recorded as S3170.

From this site I saw and recognised the large white cross on the hill at El Herrero, where again in 2011, Eunice and I went to have a look for Ariocarpus and Turbinicarpus, but where on that occasion a group of Mexican young man started following her as she searched for the plants. This time (S3171) we were not bothered by any of the local people and therefore found the plants (Ariocarpus bravoanus and A. retusus ‘horachecki’, in flower and a Turbinicarpus reported as T. frailiana by previous visitors. A good stop with excellent spots by Ian and Cliff. Alain spotted the A. bravoanus plants in flower – what did he have for breakfast?

For S3172 we drove 84 km south of Matehuila to El Huizache, the famous road junction often visited by Charlie Glass and Bob Foster. Again, Ariocarpus retusus were in flower – the best being a plant with eight flowers! All the other cacti were as in March, but not in flower.

Again, we had a great day!

 

It had to happen, by going to a cheaper hotel in Matehuela, we missed out on wifi, making it more difficult to issue the daily missives. Never mind, the restaurant where we had dinner had wifi, but when we returned the following morning, so that I could post this record of our adventures, my laptop refused to switch on, despite having been on charge all night long. Never mind, here a bit later than planned is what we did on Wednesday.

We made five stops and missed out on a sixth because two pick up trucks with a number of fine burly men told us that we were not allowed to look at the Pelecyphora strobiliformis near El Refugio, because they were sure that we wanted to steal their peyote. We were not about to have a punch up, particularly as I had been there twice before already, once last March with Cliff and Ian and once in 2011 with Eunice Thompson.

But let’s focus on what we did see.

S3165 was near Miquihana where we took a turn off the very nice newly made asphalt road, to Villa Bustamante, just to look what grew on the low hill. Sarda was nominated as cactus spotter extraordinaire as she found two Ariocarpus retusus in flower. There were some huge Mammilloydia candida and some very fine Thelocactus conothelos. Not bad for an ad-hoc stop!

S3166 was another random stop rewarding us again with A. retusus in flower, Mammillaria formosa, Coryphantha sp.

S3167 was past Miquihana and still on lovely new asphalt, we saw some huge Ferocactus pilosa that were taller than Alain ‘Fero’ Buffel, so a ‘must see’ stop.

Near Doctor Arroyo we made stop S3168 and found lots of Thelocactus hexaedrophorus, T. conothelos and a Dasylirion sp.

Next we were turned away from the Pelechyphora site and so went on to S3169 where I spent three previous times to find a Turbinicarpus (I forget which) and of course failed again this time, but ironically, given the previous stops objections, we found lots of Lophophora – and did not eat or steal any!

 

HOORAY – ARIOCARPUS FLOWERS AT LAST!!!

Ariocarpus trigonus in flower

Ariocarpus trigonus in flower

The rain had stopped during the night so our car party went for breakfast ‘next door’ while Ian and Cliff got over the previous night’s rum headache.

First stop (S3161) was at the second site where we had seen Obregonia denegrii in March, some distance past the village of San Antonio. As expected, the plants again looked pumped up after the recent rain, high humidity and high temperatures. The water had caused quite a bit of erosion here, with some plants growing isolated on small ‘islands’ during a hard rain. The Obregonia looked in great shape with many huge mature plants balanced by lots of young seedlings. Then there were the Arios, A. trigonus here, but still no flowers or buds on the first plants we saw. It was not until we climbed the low hill where we had seen plenty of them in March that Sarda (again) became to spotter of plants in flower.

Also here, some magnificent Astrophytyum myriostigma, with one or two still in flower. When added to our March pictures, we have of course much too many images than ‘needed’, but can you ever have too many pictures of nice cacti?

A quick visit at the Pemex in Jaumave to milk the ATM machine and I was solvent again. And on to the track to EL Cielo where we had been surprised by some really nice plants before. We headed straight for the farthest away stop from March, with a brief stop where the track crossed a river, so that I could take some pictures of huge groups of butterflies. The Monarch butterfly’s migration route is supposed to go by here (S3162). And so on to the farthest away spot, but 2km before we got there, the track, very muddy and wet in places, proved too much for our ‘townie cars’, so we parked and enjoyed a 2 km march (S3163). It was not too hot, but boy, was it humid! Cliff struggled as a result. Again the cycads looked magnificent and although the vegetation was much more dense, I still managed to find the huge clump of Mammillaria klissingiana that the audience at my presentations had enjoyed.

One more stop on the way back (S3164) where in March we had found Neolloydia ‘grandiflora’, then in full flower, now just looking pretty without flowers. Theleocactus conothelos was also here, but partially hidden in the tall grass, and a very nice small Coryphantha.

Got home safely and just about to get ready for dinner.

We reached S

 

The rain was still pouring down as we woke up. It was a quick swim to the restaurant and a full breakfast. So instead of the planned activity of driving to El Cielo National Park, a cloud forest, we decided to make it a driving day and head for Tamaulipas in the hope that things might be drier at lower altitudes. Soon after we crossed the border with TAM, the wipers could indeed be switched off.

Before that, we had driven down the long and winding road, passing by trees covered in Tillandsias, rocks covered in ferns and trees covered hillsides that included Beaucarnea recurvata with its large panicles waving above the tree canopy. Very difficult to get a descent picture. There are nine species, but B. recurvata is the only one listed for San Luis Potosi and Tamaulipas, so that will do. True giants.

It was dry when I eventually spotted Cliff’s car from MEX 85, parked along the track.  It took no time to find Thelocactus bicolor subsp schwarzii but they seemed at least twice as large as in March. Lots of Ariocarpus trigonus, and a few of Sclerocactus (Ancistrocactus) scheeri, all looking as if they were on steroids.

Whereas in March the village near where they live had seemed to have been deserted for some years, allowing plants to recover from the damage done by the goats and cattle that the villagers owned, this time the village was populated again and the cattle were back, but ‘parked’ in a field outside the area where the cacti grow. So where was Astrophytum asterias? By now, Ian, Sarda and Cliff had returned from their explorations and soon showed us the first few, so that we could get our eyes in. Wow, they had also grown, happy to grow in mud! But at 27C in October, the conditions are different enough to suggest that we should not try this in the UK. Tomorrow the temperature is forecast to be 30C with 100% humidity. Boil in a bag cultivation should work!

Astrophytum asterias

Astrophytum asterias

 

Today we repeated the trip from Rio Verde to Palomas and repeated the stops from previous occasions, starting with the Ariocarpus retusus ‘scapharostoides’ stop. Again, I searched in the ‘forest’ around Pylon #1, to no avail. The vegetation was too lush, hiding the thorns on the Acacia trees, while trying not to slip over as the cows had ensured that often I was almost ankle deep in manure. The others had walked straight on to Pylon #4 where the same plants seen in March were photographed again, this time surrounded by grass and Tagetes with their yellow flowers, but no flowers, or buds or evidence of spent flowers on the Arios – we’re still not sure if we have missed the flowering season or are too early (S3153).

S3154 was a quick stop for a mass (or mess?) of epiphytic cacti hanging from the tree branches – Disocactus? Hylocereus? Also lots of Tillandsia.

S3155 was for a location for which Ian had data for Lophophora viridiscens. He came back to the car disappointed, as the coordinates were now at the bottom of a reservoir, under meters of water. While he had been tracking the location down, we had wondered about the place and had found Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus, Lophophora viridescens, Mammillaria sp, Coryphantha maiz-tablensis and Echinocereus enneacanthus and E. pentalopus.

S3156 was a random toilet stop, but while we were waiting for Cliff to catch up (their car had low ground clearance so could not keep up unless risking losing the exhaust), Alain had managed to find some Lophophora williamsii ‘koehressii’ – I remain unconvinced about these form names. Aian there were epiphytic cacti, E. enneacanthus, C. maiz-tablensis and large Sclerocactus uncinatus.

For S3157 we were back at ‘michelinman’, a massive Echinocactus platyacanthus, growing close to the largest Ferocactus histerix that I have ever seen.

One more stop, S3158 for Leuchtenbergia principis was nearly at the crossroads for the main road to Ciudad del Maiz. By now it had started to drizzle. Ian not only found the Leuchtenbergia but managed to find it in full flower – another candidate for my wall back home! (It’s picture that is).

Leuchtenbergia principis

Leuchtenbergia principis among the Agave lechuguilla and Mammillaria perbella

The drizzle became harder once we were back in the car and was quite persistent when we found a hotel with running water (through the yard) and a good restaurant almost next door. Let’s hope the weather clears a bit, I don’t really fancy ‘cactus in the rain’ as a theme for a future talk.

 

Just 12 km from the hotel, heading north on Mex 120, we reached our favourite Strombo disciformis stop. Cliff had parked on an earlier pull over and so we slotted in too, always nice to see a ‘different’ location, even if it’s only some 200 m away: S3150a and S3150b. Again the density of Strombocactus here was fantastic and lots more pictures were taken, including of a bright coloured snake, still asleep, that relied on its camouflage until everyone had taken its picture and we prodded it with a stick. It’s waved its little rattle as it slid into the bushes, but I could hear no noise – too young to have fully developed a rattle? or me too deaf to hear it?

S3151 was again a stop from March, but again the scenery was so different with lush vegetation and the occotillos in full leaf, but yellowing.

Next it was a long drive along Mex 120 through the Sierra Gordano, high through the clouds, with fog and drizzle to keep us in the car.

By 4 p.m. we were again at the Stop for Turbinicarpus lophophoroides (this time S3152) near Rio Verde where this time the plants were very turgid and mostly growing above ground, some with the remains of recent flowering, looking quite different from previous occasions.

We completed the day with one of the best meals to be had in Mexico, rib-eye steak and a remarkably nice Mexican Cabernet Sauvignon. Yum yum.

Sunday we should see E. platyacanthus ‘My Old Friend’ again, and ‘Michelinman’!

 

Once again the LHR – MEX flight took exactly one hour less to land than scheduled. So we had to wait for Alain’s flight that was now due one hour after us and for Bart, who had set his alarm clock ion the hotel airport for our published arrival time.

Neither mattered, as Ian had switched car provider to Dollar, who were slightly cheaper, had to wait for their stand to open at 7:00. So Alain, Bart  & I were off after arranging to meet at a set of GPS coordinates along the MEX 120.

Bart drove for the first day, taking the more than tricky Mexico City stage. Some how we managed to avoid all the cars that seemed sure to be aiming for us. I heaved a sigh of relief as we found ourselves on MEX57 and at least all the cars were going the same way.  Around 9:00 we stopped for fuel and breakfast and it was still early as we turned off on to the 120 at San Juan del Rio.

We had were overtaken by Ian’s car party with Cliff and Sarda, but passed them again when they stopped to buy a month’s supply of oranges at a roadside stop. It appeared that there were two tracks to the site, we overshot the first one and took the second and so missed meeting the others at the first stop (S3147). Stenocactus sp , Myrtillocactus geometrizans, Corypantha sp and Ferocactus latispinus (just one plant, in bud) were found, with Mammilaria painteri also reported by the others.

With still plenty of tome to spare, we decided to drive on to the Zimapan lake and repeated last March’s experience stopping at the same spot (S3148) as in March to find Mammillaria perbella, M. elongata subsp echinaria, Neolloydia conoidea, Coryphantha octacantha (I have not yet counted the spines to confirm the name). I surprised myself by retracing a small Ferocactus glaucesence, growing in the shade of an overhanging rock, with a wonderful glaucus epidermis. In nature they tend to look more beaten up when exposed in full to the Mexican sun.

We drove down to the lake, passed through the tunnel and turned back again, along the road we had come, to the last stop made in March, full of Thelocactus leucacanthus (not in flower this time) and Ariocarpus kotschoubeyanus ‘elephantidens’. These are the target for this trip, or rather, catching them in flower. They had had the required rain and the whole scenery was much more lush than in March, making it much more difficult to find the Arios. Once we got our eyes in, they were quite easy to find again – there were so many – but only few plants were in bud. One plant had flowered – pale pink – but wildlife had nibbled away most of the petals. Good tip – don’t expect the plants too look as they do in pots in our collection, unless slugs and snails visit your collection.

And on to the Hotel Boca Sierra in Vizzaron where Ian, Sarda and Cliff had already secured the rooms to our liking, so a quick shower and off to dinner, where Cliff and Bart had two very interesting looking fish.

It seemed as though we were here only yesterday!

 

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