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The countdown begins

BBC Weather announced this morning that today is (yet another) Start of Autumn (= Fall). As I live very close to Stonehenge these quarter dates take on greater significance. Daylight hours = no daylight hours and can trigger various events in nature.

As I dislike the dark days of winter, it’s time to escape to the sun, inspired by songs written by George Harrison: ‘Beware of Darkness’ and ‘Here Comes the Sun’.

The clocks in the UK change to Winter Time on the last weekend in October, so Angie and I are flying south on 23 October, once again heading to Chile, to spend some time with old friends, both people and cacti, and to make some new friends and to experience some new adventures. As usual, I aim to report here each day, as internet access permits.

As usual, once we land in Santiago, we’ll head north towards the Atacama Desert to photograph cacti in habitat and anything else that might be of interest to audiences in the UK and anywhere else in the world where I’m invited to present my ‘What I Saw Last Winter’ program, mainly to audiences at Cactus & Succulent Society meetings.

This time Angie and I will meet up with Pablo Weisser, a Chilean who moved to South Africa before retiring to Australia. He is known in the cactus world for discovering Thelocephala weisseri. When we arrive in Taltal, we’ll be joined by Brian Bates, formerly of Smethwick in the west Midlands in the UK who will have traveled by bus from Sucre, Bolivia, where he has lived since 1998. After three weeks we return to Santiago to enable Angie to catch her flight home, as work calls. We’ll ‘swap’ her for Jonathan Clark, a member of the BCSS Basingstoke Branch, who also traveled with us in 2013.  We hope to meet up with Florencia Senoret, probably around Santiago and with Juan Pablo Acosta, hopefully among the cacti in the Atacama and should meet up with another party of Brits headed by Roger Ferryman.

After five weeks, it will be time again for me to say ‘Cheerio Chile’ and fly back to England with my solar batteries fully charged until the next trip to Cactus Country in California and Baja California, Mexico.

I hope that you’ll join us here and follow this year’s adventures!

Another one of my regular annual appearances. For some reason I tend to refer to them as ‘Taunton Branch’ as they meet in the town by that name, in the County of Somerset. I’m due back again next year, assuming that travel plans do not get in the way.

BCSS Somerset Branch - Taunton

BCSS Somerset Branch – Taunton

As usual this year Part 1 of tonight’s presentation was ‘Presentations – Australian Succulenticon in Brisbane and February C&S Society meetings in California and Nevada’ and introduced the audience through my new hobby – pottery, inspired by seeing excellent plants in great pots at the USA meetings.

The Monthly Table Show (top left table in the background) featured a most unusual entry. Yes, it was in a plastic point but it would have been to check its pot size. The cardboard wrapping was aimed at protecting the plant in transit – the Crassula’s leaf was covered in attractive white farina. However, getting the plant into the box had proven more difficult than expected and its owner decided against taking the plant out of the box without damaging both plant and box. I awarded him second prize, even if under strict BCSS Rules I should perhaps have disqualified the entry. I believe that his effort to bring in the very nice plant should be awarded and checked with the Show Secretary that this was OK. I wonder if the plant had been potted in a heavier ceramic pot, reducing the risk of the pot toppling over, the cardboard box might have been redundant.

Table show entry I did not see a Novelty Pot class!

          Table show entry
I did not see a Novelty Pot class!

I am not quite sure when I first gave a presentation at Waltham Forest. I know that at the time I had to look up the address on Google Maps and was pleasantly surprised that although it was a fair distance away from home, I should be able to get back home at a reasonable time, some two and a half hours.

The journey from home was the usual night mare to be expected on a Friday afternoon on the M3 and M25, the London ring road. It took 5 hours and I arrived 10 minutes after the members had opened the hall, leaving 20 minutes to set up – ample time. It should take much less time to get home on empty roads.

Not this time! Just 45 minutes away from home, on the M3, we were unceremoniously directed off the motorway. I lost the diversion signs after the third roundabout with SatNav being very sure that I should go back and pick up the blocked road again.

BCSS Waltham Forest Branch

                                                BCSS Waltham Forest Branch

As in previous years, my second ‘gig’ of this mini tour of The Potteries took me to Stoke-on-Trent where a friend of many years, Maurice Williams would be my host. The number of glasshouses had greatly increased since my last visit a few years ago. The main feature was still a large collection of Matucana. There were many plants that looked very similar but with large labels recording many of the locations where the ex-habitat plants had come from – very mature plants from the days when it was still legal to import such plants and younger plants raised from ex-habitat seed a real collection aimed at studying the plants and to learn the similarities and affinities between the taxa and how to distinguish each from the other. I have a similar, but much smaller collection given to me by my good friend Bart Hensel from the Netherlands.

As is the case with most hobby collections the rarest thing to find is ‘Space’ Although I have visited Peru, they area where we travelled south of the capital Lima, the Matucana occur farther to the north and to the east. Another good friend, Leo van der Hoeven, had shown me pictures of his Peru adventures, one of which had been with Maurice, so I was at least in broad terms familiar with the genus and its habitat.

I grow my plants outside from mid-May to late September / early October, depending on when I set out on my own cactus adventures. During the winter, the whole collection is squeezed into my conservatory where the display crates are placed on racks, 3 to 5 shelves high with every other window panel able to tilt or fully open to provide plenty of air circulation as and when the weather allows. My new pottery hobby encouraged me to combine a stock take with an exercise of moving some plants from sometimes oversized plastic pots and trays into smaller ceramic pots. When I looked at the dozen or more Matucana haynei and M. weberbaueri taking up my display trays and wondered how they would all fit back into the Conservatory in months to come. I decided to surprise Maurice and make him a gift of these plants. Sadly, most had lost their labels – not important for an expert who had grown the many plants in the genus for many year. Sadly, with the names, the all important habitat data had also gone. Still, Maurice had soon found enough space to give my gift (originally Bart’s gift) a good home and once thoroughly studied might join the sales plants and perhaps benefit the Branch.

After a nice bite to eat at the local Toby Carvery we thought that we might be pushing it a bit, arriving at 19:10, but in fact turned out to be 20 minutes early.

Again the What I Saw Last Winter turned out to be a great success and resulted for another visit this time next year that I was happy to accept, subject to my travel plans falling into place.

BCSS Stoke-on-Trent branch

       BCSS Stoke-on-Trent branch

After the meeting we returned to Maurice’s where he impressed me with a nice bottle of Italian wine – I normally prefer Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon or Argentinian Malbec must will readily admit that I am by no means a wine buff and that much of the pleasure comes from the memories of visits to the countries where the wines hail from.

As the sun was now in a better angle we returned to Maurices greenhouses where it seemed that not only had his collection grown, but also the range of plants that now included Ariocarpus, Thelocactus and Stenocactus/Echinofossulocactus, many with ex-habitat information before setting off on my journey back to Wiltshire.

Maurice Williams and part of his collection of Matucana

Maurice Williams and part of his collection of Matucana

BCSS Macclesfield Branch

                                   BCSS Macclesfield Branch

The Macclesfield Branch is the first of my annual trip to the Potteries – an appropriate name given my new found interest in pottery, related of course to cactus pots.

It just so happens that my recommended supplier of clays is Valentine Clays who are based in Stoke-on-Trent. They were extremely helpful when I returned from my little speaking tour in California, where I picked up the Pottery bug and after some research came up with suitable clays available in the UK that compared to the clays used in California by Tom Glavitch who was kind enough to give me some insights to making the pots he makes. ‘It really is no rocket science!’ he told me, before admitting that he work at the Mars Project for NASA. However, he is not on the rocket building side! He also warned me that the first 1,000 pots that I’d make would not be good enough to use, but probably due to the teaching of our private potter in the UK, Jennie Gilbert, my first eight efforts have all proved good enough for me to use for plants in my own collection.

So it comes as no surprise that I made a quick visit to Valentine Clays to buy a special clay that I had seen a sample of at their Exeter distributor. Time only allowed a brief visit but it was good to check out the place as it is a small but well stocked industrial unit rather than a large shop and showroom where I could have shopped for pottery tools and some of the pottery samples displayed on their website. I had planned to come back on the way home if there had been any exciting browsing facilities.

I arrived at my hosts for the night, Margaret and Alasdair Glenn. One of the nice aspects of my presentations is the great hospitality I am treated to at every branch. I really don’t want to single out any one in particular as I’m bound to overlook somebody but will mention any special collections that I come across and where I obtain permission to share the experience – not everyone is willing to show off their plants – unfortunately there have been some incidents where plants have been stolen.

The next day Margaret and Alasdair take me around some member collections and this time, as often in the past, we visited the collection of Chair Person Julia. She has a large Auracaria tree in her garden and in the past had given me fruits (or are they seeds?)  that sadly failed to germinate. This time I was given some seeds that had already germinated in the tray where they had been left and forgotten after coming from the tree. They have been potted and look to be enjoying life.

These visits are often followed by lunch at a nearby pub. This time, due to a comedy of errors I lost contact with the lead car, turned back to Julia’s who had already disappeared. The nearest pub/restaurant with the same name was reported by SatNav to be 51 miles away – so clearly not where we supposed to lunch. I do not possess a mobile phone, so had no numbers to contact or anything to contact them with – phone boxes have all but disappeared and if found are usually vandalised.

So I resolved to go to my next contact point in the hope that he would be home so early – he was!

Original Publication

Copiapoa ahremephiana N.P.Taylor & G.J.Charles Syst. Init. 13: 15. 2002 [Apr 2002]
Cactaceae Systematics Initiatives: Bulletin of the International Cactaceae Systematics Group. England

Original Description

‘Full descriptions, illustrations and commentary for two new species from the Quebrada Botija will be published in a forthcoming issue of the British Cactus & Succulent Journal. Names for the species are validated below, with grateful thanks to Mrs Christine Barker (Herbarium, K) for checking the Latin diagnoses:

14001 Copiapoa ahremephiana N.P. Taylor & G. Charles species nova fortasse C. cinereae affinis sed habitu dense caespitoso et caulibus 3-4-plo minoribus pulvinos hemisphaericos formantibus differt. Holotypus: Chile, Antofagasta, c. 70 km N of Paposo, Quebrada Botija, Caleta Botija,Ferryman RMF 53 (K, in spirit).’

note: the promised article was published in BCSJ 22 (1) 23-27

Distribution (Map)

References in Literature

The Chileans: 16(53):86 Finding which sort of Copiapoa?
The Chileans: 16(53);91 Copiapoa paposoensis
The Chileans: 17(55):10a
Copiapoa variispinata
Roger Ferryman suggested that the Copiapoa sp., now known as C. ahremephiana, may be Ritter’s Copiapoa rarissima.
The Chileans: 17(55):10b The Quebrada Botija
Schulz, R & Kapitany, A, (1996) Copiapoa in their Environment The authors were at the time of the opinion that C. ahremphinana was in fact Ritter’s C. varispinata
Charles, G (1998) Copiapoa, Cactus File Handbook 4:6 Reports that the plant in circulation under field collection number RMF 53 needs to be described as a new species.
Doni C (2001) Quebrada Botija, Cactus & Co V (4) 211-218
Rebmann, N (2002) Copiapoa sp. nova Botija Valley, Succulenta 25(2):30-31 as C. ahremephiana
Charles, G (2004) The identification of the Copiapoaspecies from Quebrada Botija, Chile BCSJ 22 (1) 23-27 as C. ahremephiana
Hunt D. (Ed.) (2006)
The New Cactus Lexicon
as the most northern member of the cinerea group.
Schulz, R (2006)
Copiapoa 2006
as C. ahremephiana
PK Comments

The official naming of the species at the mouth of the Botija Valley was very welcome. Our impressions on visiting the habitat on two occasions in 2001 was of a plant that, in habitat, was unlike any that we had seen before (or afterwards).  However, I was very surprised to see plants raised in the UK from habitat seed – their appearance in cultivation is so different from the plants in habitat, that they may as well be different species – which, uncomfortably, brings us back to possible links withC. varispinata.

Copiapoathons: We saw Copiapoa ahremephiana at Caleta Botija and at the mouth of the Quebrada Botija, recorded at:


All material, except where otherwise credited, is Copyright
© 2001-2015 Paul Klaassen

Oops, quite a break since my last posting so suffice to say that I’ll fill in the gaps in days to come and confirm that I’ve arrived safely back in the UK where Spring has arrived causing an explosion of tree pollen so that I’m again battling itchy streaming eyes with antihistamine tablets.


Thanks for your patience.


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