Since my first visit to habitat over twenty one years ago, I have spent well over two years and travelled over 200,000 km, in eight countries, searching for plants. I have visited over 1800 different localities, some of them many times. Some make the pulse race in anticipation whilst others remain purely for the record and are not worthy of revisiting. The most successful stop was BB 085 20+ km west of Morro de Chapeu in Bahia Brazil where I logged 18 “interesting” plants: 11 different cacti, 3 different Euphorbia, Jatropha, Bursera and Portulaca. I think if I revisit this site, there will be even more “interesting” plants, since my interests have got wider since moving to South America. In Bolivia, my favourite place is the school at Quiquijana (pronounced kicky harna). This is the place, BB 371 then BLMT 185, where, in 1998, I made the decision to emigrate to Bolivia.
As far as the Opuntioideae, my favourite spot is south of Macusani in Peru BB 774 (fig. 1), which I have visited four times. This is the site, with only three species of cactaceae plus an interspecific hybrid. The species are Lobivia maximiliana (fig. 2), Austrocylindropuntia lagopus (fig. 3 and 4), A. floccosa (fig. 5) and their hybrid (fig. 6). The things that make the site such a favourite are the number and variability of the plants. A. lagopus grows to about 4 or 5 metres long. The plant is so dense that an adult can stand on it (fig. 3). A. floccosa is very variable, but mostly white haired. It has clumps where the heads are little fatter than a thumb and clumps where the heads are like a forearm. There are also cristates of A. floccosa, but I have never seen a cristate of A. lagopus. With Chris Sherrah in June 2010, I found a hybrid between the two species. In November, I found another, smaller plant (fig. 6), but identical in form to the larger plant found in June.
Fig. 1. Austrocylindropuntia lagopus (BB774.01) and Austrocylindropuntia floccosa (BB774.03) south of Macusani, Peru
Fig. 2. Lobivia maximiliana growing in an A. floccosa (BB774.03)
Fig. 3. Brian Bates on Austrocylindropuntia lagopus (BB774.01)
Fig. 4. Austrocylindropuntia lagopus (BB774.01)
Fig. 5. Austrocylindropunttia floccosa (BB774.03)
Fig. 6. The hybrid Austrocylindropuntia floccosa x A. lagopus (BB774.04)
In Argentina, my favourite spot, or more correctly road, is the road west of Fiambalá, where Tephrocactus geometricus grows, BB 939 to BB 946. I’ve spent almost a week on this road, camping on two visits. Along this road, beside Tephrocactus geometricus, there also grows, Tephrocactus bonnieae, Maihueniopsis mandragora, Maihueniopsis glomerata, Pterocactus megliolii, Cumulopuntia pentlandii, Airampoa sp., Opuntia sulphurea as well as several non-Opuntioideae. The T. geometricus is very common, whilst the T. bonnieae needs some searching. The M. mandragora, like everywhere it grows, is rather cryptic, small clumps, level with the soil. The Pterocactus is also relatively common. The other gem which grows along this road is Lobivia bonnieae.
In Bolivia, my favourite spot is as already stated, Quiquijana. However, my favourite Opuntia spot would have to be the pass between Sucre and Oruro via Ravelo. Here at 5000m altitude grows the spiniest Cumulopuntia pentlandii I have ever seen, and I’ve seen this species at 190 different localities in four countries.
This article was originally published in Tephrocactus Study Group (the 'TSG Journal'), March 2011, Vol. 17, No. 1, pages 6, 8-10 and 15. © TSG and Brian Bates.