Neblina Expedition part 2

From: Fernando Rivadavia Lopes (
Date: Tue Feb 23 1999 - 13:39:59 PST

Date: Tue, 23 Feb 1999 13:39:59 PST
From: "Fernando Rivadavia Lopes" <>
Message-Id: <aabcdefg554$foo@default>
Subject: Neblina Expedition part 2


        As we continued up the mountain, through the delicately beautiful and
even somewhat mysterious and spooky fairy tale-like cloudforest, with
its short trees drapped in dripping mosses which serve as soil for
numerous larger epiphytes, we found plenty of U.alpina on tree trunks
and even two plants in flower in sunnier spots.The flowers were white,
but one was very lightly shaded in lilac. All HUGE!.
        Higher up along the trail, as the trees became shorter and more
sunlight could get through, we came upon a huge bromeliad at ground
level. In it, our 2nd CP: U.humboldtii. Only leaves though, no flowers.
We began looking around for more, in hopes of seeing the beautiful
flowers of this species. Sure enough we found one, but curiously this
was inside a large bromeliad stuck up high on a tree, one of many
bromeliad-covered trees around us. I don\222t know if this is common, but I
don\222t remember ever reading about or hearing of U.humboldtii growing
inside bromeliads which in turn were growing on trees. An epiphyte of
another epiphyte!
        Our next discovery was the red jewel, U.campbelliana, with its large
orange-red flowers out of proportion with the rest of the small plant.
What a beauty! At around 2000m, we reached a hilly plateau with short
vegetation. Initially, it seemed like the only species up there was the
large bromeliad Brocchinia tatei, a whole \223plantation\224 of it, and
absolutely packed with U.humboldtii. We were soon tired of U.humboldtii
flowers, believe it or not. The bromeliads thinned out somewhat further
along th trail, giving space to other short Bonnetia sp. trees,
Stegolepis(?) sp., and plenty of D.roraimae and U.quelchii growing in
black and deep muddy-peaty soil. The local D.roraimae was very different
from the more commonly know form found in the Venezuelan Gran Sabana,
having shorter petioles, wider lamina, and erect (not ascending) flower
scapes. U.quelchii on the other hand had bright dark-pink flowers,
instead of the usual red color. I think I remember seeing such flowers
in photos by Shibata-san taken in the more western tepuys.
        But where were the Heliamphora?!?!?! I think I heard that question from
each and every group member as they arrived at what would be our camp
for the following few days at 2000m. We thought we\222d be seeing Helis all
over once we reached this open, high altitude vegetation, but there were
no signs of any. I was more worried about D.meristocaulis however, of
which there was also no sign. Where could they both be? I went for a
short hike before sunset around the camp, but found neither species.
        The following day we woke up to our first view of the actual summit of
Neblina, rising dramatically like a giant needle piercing the sky,
reminding me of the Matterhorn without any snow. What a view! But how
the hell were we supposed to climb that thing, I wondered. It seemed
impossible! Well, we had no intention of climbing it that same day,
especially because we had no guides. They both left that morning and
went down to where we\222d camped the night before to pick up some
important things we\222d left behind -- that is, which they\222d refused to
carry up the mountain, complaining that they were too heavy! They\222d only
be back later the following day.
        So for two whole days of hiking we were stuck with the 3 Indian porters
for guides, and they spoke very little Portuguese. Actually, they
understood me well, but were very shy to speak and hardly ever made any
sense of themselves. It seemed like they\222d always answer yes to whatever
I asked. \223So is the left trail the one that goes up Neblina?\224 \223Yes.\224
\223But isn\222t Neblina over to the right?\224 \223Yes.\224 \223So isn\222t the trail to the
right the one that goes to Neblina?\224 \223Yes.\224 AAAARGH!!!!
        On our first day we concentrated on simply exploring our surroundings,
hoping that we\222d find the right habitats for Heliamphora (and
D.meristocaulis). We hiked around all day along the muddy trails,
including over an hour\222s walk through thick cloudforest when we
accidentally strayed off a trail, having to slowly and laboriously open
up a new trail with a machete. The vegetation was really beautiful all
around and we saw lots of CPs, including a new species of Drosera with
small rosettes and large white flowers on long scapes -- somewhat
reminiscent of a D.brevifolia X D.montana cross. But no Heliamphora nor
        That night we all set our alarms to wake up just before midnight, to
welcome the new year. Only none of us woke up! We were simply too
exausted from all the hiking and from waking up every morning at 6am to
the cries of our guide Branco shouting \223Al-voraaaaaaaa-DA!!\224 (= DAWN!!).
So the arrival of 1999 was celebrated with a flare in the morning....
and with the magnificent CPs found later that day.
        On that first day of the new year we hiked for about an hour in a new
direction. All of a sudden we finally found Heliamphora! They just
popped up in a habitat that seemed no different from dozens of others
we\222d seen the previous 2 days. Under the semi-shade of short Bonnetia
sp. trees and among bushes and grasses, there were some large green
clumps in boggy/peaty black soil. Yet it wasn\222t H.tatei var.neblinae,
but a smaller species possibly closer to H.ionasii, according to the
German Heli specialists present. The short pitchers up to around 15cm
had wide mouths and coarse hairs in the throat. Only one old scape was
found, no flowers or seeds. But a bit further ahead along the trail
there was another small group of this Heli, this time with green seed
        We then spent some time exploring different bifurcations of the trail,
giving up on any attempts to make sense out of the Indian porter
accompanying us. We headed along a new route which seemed to become even
boggier than previous trails, if that was at all possible. At least once
one of us had to be pulled out of the mud! At one spot we stopped to
rest and let the others catch up. As our eyes wandered around in
constant search of CPs, but suddenly fixed on a specific spot. \223What is
that mound?\224 \223I see a Heli on it!\224 \223I see many Helis on it!\224 It was hard
to believe what our eyes were making out and we had to walk up to it
before we realized that the whole mound was one mother of a huge
Heliamphora clump! It was the same unidentified species -- which we\222re
calling H.sp.\224Neblina\224 -- and there were pitchers EVERYWHERE (as well as
a few scapes with green seed pods) forming a massive mound up to around
1.75m high and over twice as wide at the base!!! It was simply
        Like small trees are often found sticking out through termite mounds
constructed around them, a Bonnetia pierced the Heliamphora hill, which
was also dotted here and there with D.roraimae and other small herbs
growing on the dead organic matter accumulated between and beneath the
Heli leaves. There were even some large Brocchinia tatei at the base of
the \223Heli hill\224containing U.humboldtii. It was anyone\222s dream CP
\223garden\224! How had this previously unrecorded phenomenon come into
existence? Could it have originated from a single plant which went
wildly crestate in its past?
        Eventually we were able to drag ourselves away from this heavenly
vision. Not much further on, H.sp.\224Neblina\224 was suddenly all over the
boggy ground, forming dense mats. And then, as we entered a habitat
which I won\222t describe for security reasons, there was H.tatei
var.neblinae!!!! We\222d found it at last! An area of approximately 200 X
50m was covered in H.tatei clumps in flower. What fascinated us all,
more than the size and beauty of H.tatei var.neblinae, was the
incredible variability. Each clump seemed to be a completely different
        There were all sorts of variations from long thin pitchers to short fat
pitchers, all green (to spotted) to all red, small lids to big lids,
long tongue-like lids to rounded lids, stems invisible underground to
visible above ground (either lying over the soil or leaning on
surrounding vegetation for support -- reaching 1.5m in height!), throat
hairs absent to thin and numerous to coarse and scarce, green tepals or
red tepals, and so on. It was just mind-boggling! I had to keep
reminding myself that some of the large clones with large lids were
*NOT* Sarracenia! To me it all of a sudden seemed like any attempts to
understand Heliamphora taxonomy was a useless task. There was obviously
some hybridization going on there between H.tatei and H.sp.\224Neblina\224,
but it seemed impossible to determine what was \223pure\224 H.tatei -- if any
even existed there at all -- and how much influence of each species was
in each of the many different clones observed. Taxonomic hell!!
        At the end of the day we all agreed that it was the best start
of a new year we\222d ever had. By the time I was able to drag our German
friends -- and their tripods -- away from this site, it was already very
late in the afternoon. We only arrived back at camp after dark,
exausted, but fulfilled.... except for one detail: WHERE THE HELL WAS
D.MERISTOCAULIS?!?!?!?! From the habitat descriptions I had, it was
supposed to be common in areas such as where we found H.tatei. I
searched all over, while everyone else photographed H.tatei, but found
nothing. I couldn\222t believe it! Where were they??? Could it be my
partial color blindness which makes it difficult for me to spot those
Drosera? No, D.meristocaulis was too big a species to be easily missed.
And with its long compact stem it surely isn\222t an annual. So we were
either in the wrong place or D.meristocaulis had simply gone extinct
there. DAMMIT!!!


Fernando Rivadavia
Sao Paulo, Brazil

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