The flowering desert

Jane McGary
Thu, 13 Oct 2011 08:49:33 PDT
In reply to Andrew's questions --
>As the
>one who pointed out here the early high rainfall in the Atacama a few months
>ago I would love to hear how far north you ventured. Rains in that area are
>very rare, possibly inducing the appearance of bulbs not seen for any years.
>Did you go as far north as Copiapo, or even as far north as Antofagasta?
>Cacti such as Eulychnias amd Copiapoas and even some bromeliads persist in
>those regions . If you went up there did you find rarely reported bulbs?

We went as far north as Paposo (just north of Taltal). We had thought 
to go to Antofagasta but found lodging in Taltal so didn't have to 
drive so far. Paposo is a famous botanical
"hot spot," which I had visited without knowing that at the time, in 
the previous moist year, 2002. I was in the area in 2008, not a moist 
year, and saw almost no bulbs or annuals in flower in the north, 
except a few Rhodophiala bagnoldii in a drip-irrigated olive grove. 
We also stayed in Copiapo, and we visited most of the notable parks 
and national monuments on our itinerary, as well as drives and walks 
described in "Flora nativa de valor ornamental, Zona Norte." I don't 
know about "rarely reported" bulbs, because the bulbous plants of the 
area are well known and not very numerous in terms of species, but I 
think we did see all the amaryllids we could expect in bloom, and a 
few of the earlier Alstroemeria species. It was a little early to see 
cacti in flower but there were a few just opening, in the genera 
Eriosyce, Eulychnia, Echinopsis, Copiapoa, and Cumulopuntia (I think 
I may still have a thorn of the last in my calf). Bromeliads seen 
were Puya chilensis, P. coerulea, and Deuterocohnia chrysantha. We 
were able to photograph a lot of color variation in Rhodophiala 
ananuca and R. bagnoldii, and also the less variable R. phycelloides 
and R. laeta. Also spectacular and variable were Leucocoryne 
coquimbensis, L. purpurea, and Zephyra elegans. Other geophytes seen 
included Tropaeolum tricolorum, T. brachyceras, T. azureum (very deep 
color forms), Oziroe biflora, Pasithea caerulea, Leucocoryne 
appendiculata, Pabellonia incrassata, Trichopetalum plumosum, 
Aristolochia chilensis, and Placea amoena. These mingled with a great 
number of colorful annuals and flower-covered sclerophyll shrubs, as 
well as cacti.

For members like Andrew who live in southern California, not only 
these bulbs but also the annuals would be a terrific garden resource. 
One rarely sees, for example, the showy blue Nolana species or the 
annual Solanum species grown in gardens, but they're obviously quick 
to produce large, floriferous specimens.

Jane McGary
Portland, Oregon, USA

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