Minas Gerais Expeditions: part 1

From: Fernando Rivadavia-Lopes (frl@mtecnetsp.com.br)
Date: Tue Oct 05 1999 - 00:32:22 PDT

Date: Tue, 5 Oct 1999 04:32:22 -0300
From: "Fernando Rivadavia-Lopes" <frl@mtecnetsp.com.br>
To: cp@opus.hpl.hp.com
Message-Id: <aabcdefg3441$foo@default>
Subject: Minas Gerais Expeditions: part 1

         I haven't been too good at sitting still in my chair for too long
to write about my two latest CP expeditions. The first was in early July and
I drove 4000km in 10 days. The second was in mid September and I "only" did
2000km in a week. The main objective of both trips was to try and collect in
flower two new species of Drosera at the Serra do Cipo in Minas Gerais

         (Because the internet does not allow me to use the letter "c"
that little squiggly leg dangling below \226 what is this called in
English? \226 I will substitute it for the phonetically equivalent "ss"
in the following two location names: Serra do Cara"ss"a, Espinha"ss"o
Highlands, and Mt.Carapu"ss"a. This is an attempt try and promote
correct pronunciation of these location names, especially in the case of
Cara"ss"a, since I find that the incorrectly pronounced "Caraca" is
often mixed up by CPers with "Caracas" (the capital of Venezuela).

         I also visited some other familiar places on the first trip like
Itacambira and Diamantina, where I wasn't really expecting to find many new
things. Was I to be proven wrong! I am constantly surprised on my trips with
the amazing biodiversity of the Brazilian sandstone highland vegetation
known as "campos rupestres". I may have passed by an area dozens of times in
the past, but if I take a few steps further to the right or left of that
well-known trail, I end up finding an amazing CP species I'd never seen
anywhere around there before \226 or sometimes even a completely new species!
Just when I think I've seen it all...

         I left Sao Paulo on July 7 with my friend (CPer and cacti-lover)
Marcelo Fontana, driving to Belo Horizonte where, before finding a hotel to
spend the night, we went to check out the herbarium of the Universidade
Federal de Minas Gerais. The campus is beautiful, but we unfortunately saw
only a few (more or less) interesting CP collections at the herbarium,
nothing special. The following day we went to the airport to meet Charles
Clarke and his wife Jackie who were visiting Brazil. Although they're
Nepenthes freaks, they wanted to check out some of the native Brazilian
CPs \226 as well as see wild hummingbirds, toucans, Laelia orchids, and a few
other S.American natural curiosities... From the airport we drove straight
to the Serra do Cipo, arriving there in the early afternoon.

         After dropping our stuff off at the hotel, I took everyone to
best D.chrysolepis site I know in the region, where plants were abundant
and reached over nearly 50cm in stem length. Well to my surprise, for
the first time since I first found that site in 1994, I could see that
the whole area had been burned! Apparently last winter (Southern
Hemisphere) was exceptionally dry \226 maybe because of El Nino.
Wildfires are common in campos rupestres during the winter dry season,
but this site, although not boggy, was always humid and overgrown with
tall grasses \226 which is why the D.chrysolepis were so long-stemmed.
So although D.chrysolepis at that site had already had several months to
recover and grow back from the roots, we found few plants, none higher
than 10 or 15 cm. The advantage was that with the shorter grasses, we
could easily spot them on the hillside, especially with the setting sun
shining in the background, lighting up the thousands of dew drops and
making each D.chrysolepis resemble a small fireworks display.

         From there we went to check on G.sp."Cipo giant", a G.uncinata-like
new species known from a single site on the Serra do Cipo. Unfortunately,
after intensive searching, we could find none of these giants in flower.
Since the leaves are small and uninteresting, I didn't even waste much time
searching for them either among the tall grasses. This was really a pity
since Charles and Jackie had yet to see wild Genlisea. Just before we left
this place though, we did find a small remnant G.violacea still hanging on
although the dry season was quite advanced (it usually grows as an annual in
the wild).

         The last place visited that day was an exploratory stop to search
for a new Drosera species belonging to the D.montana-complex. I'd first
"discovered" this new species several years ago as a herbarium specimen, a
sheet with several specimens from the Serra do Cipo with small rosettes
which did not match anything else in the D.montana-complex. The leaves were
too narrow, too numerous, and too hairy \226 not to mention that the scape was
also too short. I suspected it could even be an artifact, nothing more than
D.montana growing in very abnormal conditions. You can never really be sure
from studying herbarium specimens, therefore I always try to hunt down and
study in the wild anything weird I seen in herbaria. But unfortunately the
collection information on this herbarium sheet was too vague and over the
years I was never lucky enough to stumble onto these weird plants while
hiking the Serra do Cipo.

         The breakthrough came in August 1998 when my friend Shibata-san
from Japan visited Brazil, including the Serra do Cipo. I gave her tips on
where to find CPs and when she returned to Tokyo (where I was living at the
time) she asked me to identify the plants in her videos and pictures, as
well as the herbarium and live specimens she'd collected. While flipping
through the picture book, I was suddenly aghast to see in full color and
detail live flowering plants of that elusive new species I only knew from
the single herbarium sheet!

         Jumping up and down with excitement, I asked Shibata-san to give me
precise details on where she'd found it. Fortunately, she not only
remembered where she'd photographed those plants, but I was also lucky
enough that she'd found them at a place which would apparently be easy for
me to relocate as well (it's often very difficult to describe to someone how
to find a specific natural location unless you have GPS data). She had
stumbled upon the new species close to the main road which crosses the Serra
do Cipo \226 not surprisingly, a place I'd passed by countless times before.

         So for the past year I'd been dreaming of this new Drosera, just
bidding my time since my arrival back in Brazil last November, waiting for
the onset of the dry season to go search for it and hopefully catch it in
flower. July sounded like a good time to go since it is winter vacation
around here and it would be easier to convince my CP friends to go along.

         With Marcelo, Charles, and Jackie in the car and about an hour to
waste before sunset on our first day at the Serra do Cipo, we drove along
the main dirt road until we found what seemed to be the right place. It was
a nearly undetectable side road where cars used to pass through but were now
impeded from doing so because of a fence. We continued on foot and I believe
it was less than a kilometer to the end of the trail. All we found were a
few small D.montana var.tomentosa. Could we have missed the new species?
Could they be dormant? Were we even at the right place?

         Disappointed, we headed back to the car. The sun had already set
and darkness was quickly engulfing the landscape and us. Suddenly somebody
(Jackie?) shouted out that there were some Drosera right in the middle of
the trail, which we'd missed while heading out from the car. I sprinted over
to the spot and my first impression was that they were D.sp."Congonhas" (the
one with the huge tentacles on the leaf tips like D.burmannii), because of
the compact rosettes of greenish leaves with red tentacles. Even the soil
was right for it: quartz gravel in fine white sand.

         But when I plucked out a leaf to show the large tentacles to
Charles and Jackie, I realized that it not only didn't have them, but that
the leaves were very narrow and hairy underneath... HEY! This was the new
species I had been searching for! Fooled by the darkness I guess \226 I
remembered the one in Shibata-san's pictures being a darker red, maybe
because she found them further into the dry season.

         Anyways, it was a bit dark for pictures already, but I got a few
good ones nonetheless. None of the plants were in flower unfortunately, but
I collected a few which began producing scapes a few days later. We didn't
find many plants, only scattered groups along the trail, maybe because of
the darkness. I decided I had to return there, maybe in early September,
just to search for more of this new species \226 which I am calling
D.sp."Shibata's jewel" \226 and hopefully photograph them in flower in the

To be continued....

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