The flowering desert

Thu, 13 Oct 2011 22:14:18 PDT
Dear Jane,

Thank you for the summary of what you saw recently on the north central
portions of the Chilean coast. I was curious as to whether you had come
across Rhodophiala laeta and R. uniflora in Antofagasta Province. You said
you saw the former. Any images to be forthcoming? Flowers in their
environment are always so much more exciting. It must have been exciting to
see the deep blue form of Tropaeolum azureum.

By rare bulbs I was referring to those that appear at long intervals in
unusually wet years. Last year the area around Copiapo and further north had
400% of normal rainfall. It is unusual for two years in a row to have high
rainfall. Of course, even 400% does not mean a lot fell in a region where
rain may not come at all in several years. 

Bulbs and plants from the area are indeed of interest to me and, as you
point out, to others in Southern California.  

San Diego

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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