A1AG Argentina Expedition Log
February 21, 2002 March 10, 2002
Plant Delights Nursery, Inc.
9241 Sauls Road
Raleigh, NC 27603
Shop for Perennials at Plant Delights Nursery
- Tony Avent, Plant Delights Nursery, NC
- Linda Erdman Guy, Carolina Nursery, SC
- Scott Ogden, Independent Garden Writer and Designer, TX
- Sean Hogan, Cistus Nursery, OR
- Parker Sanderson, Cistus Nursery, OR
- Carl Schoenfeld, Yucca Do Nursery, TX
- Wade Roitsch, Yucca Do Nursery, TX
- Bob McCartney, Woodlanders Nursery, SC
- Chris Pellett, OR, formerly of Paulson's Roses
Background and Purpose:
The purpose of our trip was to study the Argentine flora and to obtain specimens for further study for US adaptability and potential use in commercial horticulture.
Our Argentina trip had been in the works for nearly 4 years, prompted by previous trips by two of our participants, Bob McCartney and Sean Hogan. Bob had made several short trips to Argentina over the past few years, and Sean Hogan had spent months in Argentina when he was a curator at the UC Berkeley Botanic Gardens in California. I had traveled to California to visit the UCB collections, where it seemed like all of the interesting plants had a origin of northwest Argentina. Sean's partner Parker Sanderson runs their amazing nursery near Portland.
Carl and Wade had both traveled extensively in Mexico and interesting in exploring the range of Mexican plants that extended into Argentina. Chris and her husband had lived in Mexico for many years and was fluent in Spanish (a tremendous help). Scott had a strong knowledge and interest in bulbs as shown in his book, 'Bulbs for Southern Gardens', and Linda is a true plant lover who was looking for plants to fit into a wholesale niche.
The group was assembled so that we would have a wide range of expertise but still share an interest in similar climate plants.
The timing of the trip could not have been better or worse, depending on where you stood. We arrived in Argentina only weeks after the collapse of the value of the Argentine peso. Only two months earlier, the value of the peso had been tied to the US dollar at 1.40 pesos to the dollar. By the time we arrived in Argentina, the rate had dropped to 2.10 pesos to the dollar, and it continued to plummet during our visit to a low of 2.30 pesos to the dollar. As you can imagine, prices on everything were far less than we had budgeted. We had timed our trip based on the best time to see plants and collect. In northern hemisphere timing, we were effectively visiting during late August and early September. Due to a severe drought in most of Argentina, the timing of plants were about 1 month behind normal, resulting in less mature seed, but more flowers.
We focused our efforts in areas that had hot summer temperatures combined with cold winter temperatures (0-15 degrees F). For this we primarily targeted areas of between 5,000' and 9,000' elevation.
As is the missions of all of our collecting expeditions, only seed, bulbs, cuttings, and divisions are removed from the wild. Plants are not collected in wholesale numbers, but just enough to trial the plants for their garden adaptability. All plants were collected with permission, and under a Convention on Biodiversity Treaty (CBD) agreement.
Friday February 22, 2002
We arrived at the Buenos Aires International airport on various airlines around 10am, after an all night flight. Bob arrived first and immediately left to begin his adventure and then meet us later. Waiting for the rest of the group to arrive, I discovered that my backpack had not made the connection from Atlanta. It had a similar problem trying to get to China in 1996. After arrangements were made for its delivery to our hotel in Salta, the rest of the group arrived and we were off to downtown Buenos Aires to meet Bob for lunch. Interestingly, all international flights into Buenos Aires arrive at the Buenos Aires International airport, while all domestic flights leave from a different airport on the other side of town.
As we rode in the shuttle to downtown, we were amazed at the diversity of trees that grew in the Buenos Aires...from tropical to temperate. The main street tree is Chorisia speciosa, a lovely tropical tree with huge pink flowers. Additionally, the streets are planted with eucalyptus, bougainvillea, Araucaria angustifolia and Araucaria. bidwillii (monkey puzzle tree), and Phoenix canariensis (Canary Island palm). Growing alongside are temperate trees, including Cedrus deodar (deodar cedar), Salix babylonica (weeping willow), Magnolia grandiflora (southern magnolia), Liquidambar styraciflua (sweet gum), Taxodium distichum (bald cypress), Photinia x fraseri (red tip), and Gleditsia triacanthos (locust). While Buenos Aires rarely sees a severe freeze (an all time low of 19 degrees F has been recorded), they have four months of temperatures that average in the low 40's. It seems that they get enough cool weather for chilling many temperate plants without actually freezing the tropicals. This made for a truly bizarre mixture of multi climate plants.
The airport shuttle dropped us off downtown at our pre determined rendevous point, where one of the fancier hotels where we stopped to unload offered to store our luggage until we returned. After a quick lunch, and a stop to change dollars into Argentine Pesos, we were off at Bob's suggestion to the Buenos Aires Botanic Garden. The gardens are more like a city park than a botanic garden, but it did have some amazing old tree specimens, including 60' tall Podocarpus nagi, large Trithrinax campestris, and many other trees with which we would become familiar over the next few weeks. The gardens are unfortunately not being well maintained and have been run over by both weeds and cats. After a leisurely visit, we were off again, this time to the Buenos Aires regional airport for our 6:10pm flight to the northern town of Salta, where our expedition would officially begin.
We arrived in Salta at 8:30pm, after a short 1.5 hour flight, where we met our final two expedition members, Sean Hogan and Parker Sanderson, who had flown in via Chile. This was the first opportunity to meet our host, Dr. Alfredo Grau, a professor at the University of Tucuman. Dr. Alfredo Grau brought his brother, Dr. Ricardo Grau along as our second driver. Alfredo told us about his terrifying experience just prior to picking us up at the airport. It seems that our rental truck that Alfredo was driving had been broadsided by a lorrie (a cross between a dump truck and a tractor trailer) carrying a load of sugar. The rental vehicle was smashed beyond recognition. Only Alfredo and the driver side door remained. Although quite sore, Alfredo was still ready to lead us into the wilderness. We loaded our gear along with Sean and Parker into the back of the two remaining four wheel drive pickups, and off we went to find our hotel for the night.
Our first hotel in downtown Salta wasn't exactly the picture of comfort. It did have running water and toilets...even a bidet (posterior washer). Hot water was questionable...warm water was actually as good as it got, and if you waited too late in the evening, you could enjoy...and I use the term loosely, an ice shower. As you can imagine at the 25th parallel (equivalent to south Miami, Florida), the nights were warm and muggy. An air conditioner would have been nice, since our rooms were street side, where cars and musical bands continued their racket through the night.
Our first exciting moment came as Wade announced at dinner that he had lost his passport either at the airport or between there and the hotel. We decided to stop by the airport on the way out into the field on Saturday.
Saturday February 23, 2002
The next morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel...sweet croissants, small pieces of ham, chased by coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. We weren't very concerned with food, but instead were ready to head into the field. Our new third truck had arrive at 1am, so off we went with Parker agreeing to be our third driver. Wade and one vehicle went by the airport, but his passport was not to be found.
I should mention something about the traffic and driving in Argentina. Stop lights are minimal. As best as I could figure, there was about 1 stop light per 200,000 people. Yes, there were plenty of stop signs, but no one paid them any attention. During our entire stay in Argentina, we did not see one traffic or highway patrolman. People literally drive like maniacs. Speed limits are not enforced, which is probably because 1965 Renaults can't reach anywhere close to the speed limit anyway. Despite the fact that old cars were common, the larger cities certainly had a decent number of newer vehicles. Passing on a double yellow line is quite illegal in the US, but in Argentina, such a line must indicate a fast passing zone. I'm very glad that someone else is driving, and yes, my seat belt is buckled tight!
For our first botanical stop, we headed southwest out of town, then due west, first stopping at a roadside fruit stand, then not again until we reached the first valley. Up the valley we went on the main dirt road. Less than a couple of miles after we left the paved road, we reached a sharp curve, where we disembarked. It took less than five seconds for shrieks of excitement...probably mine. Our guides look dumbfounded as they first witnessed American plant nerds in action.
Ferns were everywhere, from maidenhairs (Adiantum lorentzii) to cloak ferns (Notholaena nivea). Very narrow lobed oxalis and dwarf selaginellas were everywhere. The star of the stop was an amazing gloxinia, G. gymnostoma, which was adorned with brilliant tubular red flowers. At 5531' elevation, we should see reasonably good winter hardiness with our collections from this site.
As we crept forward down the roadway, Bob discovered an amazing fern that we would see several more times throughout our trip. The fern, Trismeria trifoliata, looks like a whorled pteris fern that we found growing to 3' tall in wet soils near streams. Nice bush eupatoriums as well as ball moss (Tillandsia sp.) also regularly dotted the roadside.
Further down the road, someone screamed for me to come quickly. Actually, screaming became pretty commonplace as we continued to find more cool plants. The group had discovered what appeared to be an amorphophallus growing in a shaded area off the road. Alfredo explained that this was actually Gorgonidium vermicidum, a Taccarum like aroid that was native to the region and often used to make a potion to kill flies. What a cool plant! Fortunately, seed were very plentiful, formed in heads that resembled a giant skunk cabbage. Not far away, we began to find hardy begonias growing in the cracks of roadside cliffs. The flower colors ranged from pinks to white, but all look like great potential garden subjects.
The ferns became even stranger as we made our first encounter with the strap leaf fern, Camplyoneuron aglaolepis. Growing on the road bank, this bizarre fern with fronds like blades of grass will make a great textural addition to the garden. Just past the fern, Scott discovered what would be the first of many hippeastrum species growing on the grassy hillside.
As we approached 6,000' elevation, we still found bromeliads growing plentifully, including the wonderful dwarf Abromeitiella...a splendid terrestrial specimen forming 5' masses, worthy of hardiness trials. Following this was our first salvia...a splendid 3' specimen with large green leaves and terminal spikes of dark blue flowers.
Exhausted, we stopped in a dry stream canyon for lunch and to enjoy the first of many cold pre made ham and cheese sandwiches that we picked up at the Petrol station. Even the local livestock was so friendly that they joined us for lunch. While the sandwiches might not have been great, lunch was a smashing success as we found a clump of bomarea (climbing alstroemeria) in flower beside our vehicle.
As we continued to climb above 6,000' elevation, the annual rainfall decreases. Excitement filled the vehicles as we saw our first plants of Trichocereus terscheckii, the Argentine saguaro cactus. These magnificent specimens began to dot the landscape, becoming more plentiful as we climbed higher.
As we got out to photograph, we were amazed to find what plants grew beneath... both Verbena peruviana and rain lilies (zephyranthes or habranthus). Short roadside banks were dotted with barrel cacti, oxalis, along with ferns and selaginella. Wonderful clumps of hardy jasmine (Cestrum aff. parqui) also dotted the hillside, flowering with a nice yellow orange color.
As we drove higher, rounding curve after curve, we ran up on a lorrie that had become the poster for excessive speeding.
On one of our many stops to look at cacti, we discovered more amaryllid bulbs growing in the desert. Alfredo identified these as Hieronymiella, a bulb that we would see many more times during the trip. The dominant large cacti in this region is Trichocereus pasacana, a slightly smaller but hardier relative to the giant Trichocereus terscheckii. Scattered around the trichocereus were clumps of a smaller cactus, parodia.
The other exciting find for me was Nicotiana glauca...the blue tree tobacco. While this is already in the US, it has not proven reliably winter hardy. Surely a form growing at 8716' elevation will be much more winter hardy. I collected seed from a wonderfully ruffled large leaf form that will be trialed for climate adaptability. About the only tree in this region was the lovely Schinus gracilipes in full fruit.
As night quickly approached, we turned around to backtrack our way to the hotel to begin cleaning our collections. Alfredo drove our vehicle back first, so that we could stop by the Salta airport and check on my bag and Wade's passport. Although my bag had arrived, the airport was closed for business...7:15pm. Still no sign of Wade's passport.
One of the quirks of life in Argentina that we have already discovered is that Argentines eat their dinner meal quite late. Most of the restaurants don't even open for dinner until 8 or 8:30pm, with peak eating time around 10 or 1030pm. We were actually a bit early as we arrived at the restaurant around 9pm. The happiest moment at dinner came when Wade announced that he had found his passport in his room under his luggage...a huge relief. After dinner, we were faced with the prospect of cleaning seed and plants collected during the day. With the number of collections, this was indeed a daunting task. Just prior to 2am, the last seed was cleaned. Bob had gone to bed a few minutes earlier, but I opted for a quick shower, made quicker when I found the hotel out of warm water.
Sunday February 24, 2002
Today, we would head east of the city of Salta into a lower elevation area. At our first stop down a dirt road, we were greeted with one of my target plants, the aroid Synandrospadix vermitoxicus. This dazzling plant looks like a cross between a giant skunk cabbage and collard. The powder blue foliage was amazing as we photographed the plant growing all along the roadside in full sun and bone dry soils. Fortunately, the plants were in full seed...although green. For those that did try to dig the plants, the huge tubers were usually about 18" below ground.
Alongside the synandrospadix were two amazing ruellias, R. ciliatiflora and R. macrosolon, whose pastel blue and pink flowers range up to 2" across. Further down the road as we scrambled under dense brush, we stumbled on eleutherines, oxalis, habranthus, cacti, and a variety of terrestrial orchids.
As we made a loop south of town, we entered a much drier region and cacti started to dominate the landscape. Every now and then, we would stop at an amazing hillside with blue flowered evolvulus and several interesting bromeliads. One of the few river crossings that actually had any water, also yielded an amazing water logged soil loving asclepias species, that was 3' tall with lovely white flower heads. Fortunately, seed was abundant.
It was now time to head back to the hotel, via the airport in a final attempt to recover my lost backpack before we departed Salta. Thank goodness, we arrived to find the airport open and my backpack waiting for me. It wasn't just the backpack, but all of my collecting gear, especially my new Martha Stewart root cutting knife that I'd purchased at a bankrupt K-Mart just for this trip.Monday February 25, 2002
On Monday, we checked out of our hotel and loaded the trucks for the ride due west to the small town of Cachi. As we loaded the truck in front of the hotel, Wade suddenly turned around to find that someone had just stolen his bag with his passport and collection notes from the truck seat. This time the missing passport was for real. Pickpockets are plentiful in Argentina and work in pairs. In this case, one pickpocket pretended to fall to the ground screaming. While everyone was distracted, the other partner grabbed Wade's bag from the front seat of the truck and ran. After a long delay caused by filing police reports and trying to contact the American Embassy in Buenos Aires, we were on our way at 11am. Travel tip...If you need to contact the American Embassy in Argentina, forget it. I don't know where our taxes go that pay for Embassy staff, but they only work from 9am until 1pm and almost never answer the telephone.
After a sobering start to the day, we finally began our trek for more plants. Driving past fields of poorly grown tobacco, corn, soybeans, and lots of Melia azederach (Chinaberry), things weren't looking very good on the interesting plant front either. Once we were well outside of Salta, we drove until we entered a wet stretch at 4,300' elevation, where the vegetation suddenly became remarkably rich. Hanging from the roadside cliffs were plants of Begonia boliviensis. Each weeping clump ended in huge flower heads of bright reddish orange. If only this would be hardy back in zone 7. The valley was filled with mallows, from tree like abutilons (flowering maple) to the most stunning pavonia I've ever seen...3" bright yellow flowers highlighted with black maroon centers.
Ferns were also quite plentiful at this site including several of the strap leaf types, Microgramma squamulosa and Camplyoneuron aglaolepis. I think everyone was dazzled with the beautiful ornamental grass that hung off the cliffs...Lamprothyrsus hieronymiella. We can only wonder what a great garden plant this might make. As we drove further, Scott hollered for a stop for a huge clump of Equisetum giganteum. This amazing prehistoric plant looked like a winner for Scott's harsh Texas climate, and a weed to the rest of us.
Nearby grew another potential winner...a 3' tall asclepias with large flower heads of bright yellow hanging off high cliffs. Seed was not available, but a small division was secured, as this has real garden merit.
Soon, it was time for lunch, so we stopped at a shaded spot by a small stream under a Chorisia speciosa. Lunch was eaten as most of us walked looking for more cool plants. Nearby, we found more gorgonidium including some magnificent clones with very cutleaf foliage and some with bright purple stalks. I was excited to find a nice clump of Pellaea ovata...a stunning fern that I had collected in Texas only a couple of years earlier. It will be interesting to compare the two collections for similarity.
As we climbed to nearly 6,000' elevation, we again found Begonia boliviensis, but this time growing beside a second species and producing intermediate hybrids. Most everyone was able to secure a tuber of the hybrids to trial back in the US.
Ricardo remembered a spot where they had seen a Hippeastrum species on an earlier trip, so off we went. At a small curve in the road, we stopped and began to climb. As our climbers (Scott, Sean, and Ricardo) reached the top of the rocky cliff, they indeed began to find huge bulbs of hippeastrum growing alongside the giant Trichocereus cactus. I will admit to not realizing that hippeastrums grew in this type of habitat. Although we didn't see the plants in flower, Ricardo assured us that they had large pure white flowers on 3' tall stalks.
Departing the hippeastrum site, we climbed higher and began passing clump after clump of Cestrum aff. parqui. Unlike most of the clones in the US, these have bright orange flowers with black tips. They were in good seed, so this should be fun to grow out when we return. Another amazing plant that we began to see in large isolated patches is a stunning perennial cosmos, Cosmos peucedanifolius. Growing like a dahlia from large tubers, the 3" purple and pink flowers appear identical to the common annual. What a find this would be if it proved to be hardy, which from 7,000' elevation should be a given.
As we reached 8,000' elevation, the vegetation changed into an Andean Cloud Grassland. A roadside stop yielded habranthus, Notholaena squamosa and Woodsia montevidensis (ferns), a nicely variegated Helianthus species, and a splendid clump of dark blue flowered Salvia meyeri. This bulbous salvia should be a real winner in zone 7.
Just a short way up the road, the plants once again beckoned, as one of our group had spotted a dazzling orange and red plant that appeared to be a lobelia, and another bright orange Ranunculaceae family member. Nearby were more ferns, lots of verbenas, lupines and even a tuberous Bidens...a perennial form of our typical annual fall blooming sunflower. What appeared to be a penstemon was in fact the hemiparastitic agalinis, which began to appear with regularity in this region.
As we continued to 12,000' elevation, passing roadside memorials to more bad drivers, we drove toward the Parke de Cardones. Although we stopped for photos at the high pass, the cold winds as the clouds blew in from Chile made that stop a quick one. As we dropped in elevation back to 10,000' , the huge preserved Parke de Cardones natural area provided quite a few Kodak moments as the Hieronymiella titanensis were in flower in the desert.
No digging was allowed since we were in the park. We stopped further in the park in time to see the bright yellow flowered Hieronymiella aurea...or at least that was what we think it was. This bulb was amazing with clusters of very fragrant bright yellow daffodil like flowers. Alfredo assured us that we would see the plant again outside the park, as the collecting urge was quite strong. True to his word, the area just outside the park was loaded with these bulbs. The seed was so plentiful, that everyone walked away with plenty without even making a tiny dent in the population. We were also able to dig a bulb, which was indeed an experience for those of us that had never dug desert bulbs. Each 5 6" diameter bulb was buried 2' deep. This is truly a plant that was designed to survive in a dry desert.
Since it was getting late, we called off further collecting for the day, and headed straight for our hotel in the town of Cachi (7,500' elevation). Although we arrived in Cachi just past dusk, we could see a small, very poor town. We were really surprised, however, when we rounded the curve at the top of the hill to find the most amazing of hotels. Our beds for the night were in a newly renovated very modern European style hotel that was to become one of favorites of the entire trip. If you plan to go to Cachi, I should mention the bizarrely uncomfortable dining room chairs that were so tight that when you stood up from the table, the chair came with you. At dinner, one could only imagine what it feels like to be strapped into an electric chair.
Monday night was a long night of cleaning and processing the day's collections...1am in my case. It's at this point that the adrenaline high of the first few days excitement begins to wear off and fatigue takes over.
Tuesday February 26, 2002
After our breakfast that featured their special morning banana milkshake, we opted to get a late 11am start, in order to allow everyone to catch up on their seed and plant processing. After we departed the hotel, we stopped at the town square for food, unproductive telephone calls to the US Consulate, and a brief visit the Cachi museum. I called home to find that one of well pumps that fed our nursery had burned up during the day.
We had now entered a much drier vegetation area called the Monte...not to be confused the Full one of the same name. In short, this was very dry desert type scrub land. The highlight of the morning drive were the plants growing along the wet streams, Cortaderia selloana (pampas grass) and Sporobolus maxima (Giant Dropseed).
While we are all familiar with pampas grass, it was neat to see it in the wild and look for unique forms. It did not grow in very dry areas, but only in and near seasonally flooded water courses. No one in our group, however, was familiar with Sporobolus maxima. This dazzling 8' tall grass with stunning rigidly upright silvery plumes would indeed be a grass lovers delight and has tremendous horticultural potential.
The other plant that struck me was a composite, Senecio rudbeckifolia, that dotted the roadsides. The dissected leaves, bright red 3' tall stems, and nice yellow flower clusters could be a real winner in gardens. Cestrums were also quite prevalent, and many cuttings were taken of superior clones...let's hope some of them survive.
To seek out a change in vegetation, we took a side road up to the top of a very dry mountain, where we found what turned out to be one of the most exciting plants of the trip. As we wound our way up the very steep hills, we stopped at a flat area at 9,000' elevation. Surrounding us were huge vehicle sized boulders, dotted with more Trichocereus pasacana and amazing clumps of silver blue. The clumps were one of the many bromeliads of the region, Puya yakespala. This saw tooth 3' wide rosette was truly one of the most stunning bromeliads that I've ever seen. Each rosette was part of a larger clump that could reach 15' across. We did manage to find a couple of plants in flower with 6' tall spikes of bizarre lime sherbert blue green petals. There were no seed to be found, and the plants were far too well armed for anyone to try to secure a division. Between the puyas were beautiful clumps of grindellia...one of the many attractive yellow composites that we would see.
From here, we dropped 200' into a valley to the Alpine Lake Brealito. Alfredo had a hunch that we might be able to find seed of the puya. As we walked along the canyon stream, we decided to spread out for a hike up the hillsides. Both Bob and Scott returned with viable seed of this amazing puya. I also made several collections of what turned out to be my favorite fern of the trip, Cheilanthes pruinata. This diminutive sun growing fern has very narrow but rigid dark green leaves that can reach heights of 10". However, many of the selections that I found never exceeded 2" tall. They most closely resembled those fake trees that architects put on landscape plan models.
My other favorite find from this site was viable seed on Cassia aphylla. We had been seeing this amazing plant earlier in the day, but had yet to find good seed. Cassia awfully is one of the cassia species that grows without foliage. Thick green stems resembling a pencil cactus, make an attractive 6' tall shrub, topped with clusters of bright yellow flowers. Alfredo made my day when he returned to the truck with small gorgonidium bulbs. Even he was surprised to find gorgonidium at this elevation...almost 9,000'.
From here, we backtracked to the main road NR#40 to continue on to Cafayette for the night. The incredibly winding road took us through dry deserts, accented by stunning rock formations in the background. A short stop for a stretch break yielded seed of the stunning orange flowered Tecoma garrocha, a new hieronymiella...possibly the white flowering species, and nice clumps of a pine cone cacti (Tephrosia) with long paper spines. This is the same species that I used to grow as a kid during my cactus phase.
After completing our long and wearing drive, we arrived at our hotel for the evening around 9pm...nothing fancy, but okay for a quick rest. In case you were wondering about hotel prices, the hotel stay, including dinner and a continental breakfast, cost us 32 pesos each or just under $16 USD.
Wednesday February 27, 2002
We got an early 9am start from Cafayette on our drive south to Tafi de Valle. Our first roadside stop for the day was a chance for some serious boulder climbing. The lowlands at 5633' elevation were filled with shrubby acacias and other thorny shrubs, while the boulder laden cliffs were brimming with drought tolerant treasures including some crested forms of gymnocalycium. The array of desert ferns was amazing, especially the fern, Notholaena aurea, N. sulphurea and the grey leaf N. obducta. Anthericums, tillandsias, and of course cacti were everywhere.
The next stop was a quick one to collect a grey foliage juncus that caught my eye as we passed a seasonally flooded spot in the desert flora. After a few seed were gathered, we were on our way again to a site where Alfredo had previously seen white flowered hieronymiella.
As we turned off the main road down a dry deserted path, we wondered if we would find anything of interest. It wasn't long, however, before we struck the mother lode of bulbs. We began finding thousands of both white Hieronymiella growing along with Zephyranthes. Both plants had finished flowering and were in full seed. Another plant of interest to several of us was a nice dwarf casaelpinia, C. mimosifolia...also in full seed.
After baking in the desert, we departed to find a lunch stop in the nearby cooler mountains. After a nice lunch stop, which including sitting down with an Argentinian black widow spider and fire ant mounds, we were off again.
Our next stop was a transitional vegetation zone in an area called El Fermielo. Here the rocky desert made a dramatic switch to Fescue grassland. At our stop at 9900' elevation, we spent quite a bit of time hiking up and down the mountain. I was thrilled to find very dwarf ecotypes of many of the ferns that I had collected earlier. Others found an array of small bulbs including hypoxis, nothoscordum, and habranthus.
As I was making notes by the truck, Bob came running, out of breath, muttering something about Sean. As I ran over to the cliff, Sean had scaled about half way down a vertical cliff face to extract seed from a particularly nice blue flowered salvia. While the rest of the group looked on in horror, Sean calmly collected and then photographed the salvia as though nothing were wrong. Only a tiny mis step or dislodged rock would have certainly been enough to give us more room in the trucks.
With Sean finally back in the vehicle, we were off again, this time to a small stream between two very small hills. This indeed was an unusual area, perched in the midst of thousands of acres of native fescue grassland. The 9,320' elevation stream valley was rich beyond belief, despite the goat herd that monitored our visit, both with new ferns, Adiantum thalictroides, Cystopteris draphana, and Elaphoglossum lorentzii, all growing among the giant gymnocalycium cacti. Also in a moist seep was an amazing hardy geranium. While the plant resembled G. sanguineum with large white flowers, the stems were also a beautiful bright red. There was enough that we were able to secure a nice chunk of this tuberous species.
A curiosity that I also found while hiking up the watercourse was actually one of the rarer plants in the country, Bomarea macrocephala. Alfredo had heard of this plant, but had never actually been able to find it. I took Alfredo back to the spot, where he documented the plant so that he could return later during the flowering season. Alfredo was so excited in fact, that he climbed the cliff where the bomarea was growing, only to loose footing and plunge backward into the rocky stream. Although wet and scared, Alfredo was still able and willing to continue the journey.
We continued on to our hotel, arrived at an amazingly early 6pm...our earliest evening yet. We disembarked from the trucks in front of our hotel, only to find that we had to reload our gear and pull around back to the parking lot. Everyone reloaded their luggage except for my briefcase, which we found only after it was mauled by the right front tire of our truck. Oh well, nothing a little duct tape won't cure. After all, Michelle had been trying to get me to replace it for years.
At dinner, we discussed many options for Wade to get a replacement passport. Carl and Wade decided that it would be best to fly from Tucuman back to Buenos Aires, and then rejoin the group later in the trip once they had the passport replaced.
Thursday February 28, 2002
We got an early start from Tafi de Valle on the way to Tucuman. Just outside the town limits, we made a quick stop, that yielded a bright red stemmed Gorgonidium and a lovely blue flowered cynoglossum. Seed were plentiful on the cynoglossum, which seemed to grow virtually anywhere. Once we were back in the truck, we were all busy removing tiny sand burs that very covering our shoes, sock, and pants. It didn't take us long to realize that this was the cynoglossum that we had just collected. Quickly everyone began discarding their seed of these beautiful, but weedy Mediterranean native that had already colonized Argentina. We would later see this plant invading virtually everywhere we visited.
As we reached 8,000' elevation, we stopped to climb a wet and rocky hillside. The rock crevices were filled with ferns, sisyrinchium, hypoxis, cypella, habranthus, more begonias, and a perennial white flowered Petunia amplexicaulis. This was an amazing area at which we could have spent much more time.
For lunch, we stopped in a nearby lush valley (7280' elevation) with vegetation unlike anything we had seen before. According to Alfredo, the rainfall at Tafi de Valle is 18" per year, while our lunch stop saw 80" of rain per year. Also according to Alfredo, the area would experience minimum lows occasionally at 10 degrees F. The valley was amazing with ferns unlike anything we had seen before. Strap leaf ferns included the likes of Polypodium gilliesii, Camplyoneuron aglaolepis, Elaphoglossum gayanum, Elaphoglossom crassipes, Polypodium chrysolepis, and Elaphoglossum spathulatum, and Camplyoneuron lorentzii. Our favorite was probably the giant Dryopteris parallelogramma. While books list this as a synonym of D. wallichii, it is truly unlike any D. wallichii that I've ever grown. Begonias and much more were prevalent at this stop, but the ferns were certainly the highlight. The only drawback to our lunch site were these horribly biting horseflies that were relentless in their attacks. Even my trusty bottle of Deet didn't even help to discourage these pests.
From here it was downhill to 5,700', as we entered the top of the semi tropical/temperate rain forests. As we passed areas of landslides past, we nearly jumped from the truck as we saw the first clumps of Chusquea lorentzii...an amazing heat loving clump bamboo. Nearby were more ferns including a number of blechnums hanging from the cliffs alongside Fuchsia boliviana. The fuchsia was in good seed, so we may finally have a good hardy heat loving fuchsia. Nearby was the tree plum poppy, Bocconia ioneura, from which seed were finally secured thanks to my trusty Martha Stewart folding saw. As one expects in a rain forest, it began to rain. This would turn out to be more than just a rain forest rain as we descended lower toward Tucuman.
Within 30 minutes, we had dropped to 2175' elevation and the rain had become more prevalent, but still spotty. We made a roadside stop to partake of a fully fruited tree tomato..a most unusual taste. Nearby was an amazing fern, Adiantopsis chlorophylla growing in the ditch. This cheilanthes relative grew to 2' tall with bright red stems. Everyone was by now digging into a huge patch of the fragrant and rapidly spreading Crinum erubescens that was growing in the same ditch. The flowers size was a good bit larger than any clone that we had seen in the US.
The closer we got to the town of Tucuman, the heavier the rains became. Visibility had virtually disappeared as we neared the town. By the time we got to the city, all of the streets were under 6-8" of standing water from what turned out to be a major flood. Fortunately, we finally arrived at our hotel to find an underground parking garage, where we could unload without getting soaked. Ricardo had come down the mountain just ahead of us and taken Carl and Wade to the Tucuman airport so that they could fly back to Buenos Aires and try to get Wade a new passport.
This was certainly our nicest hotel of the trip, with free Internet Access and a fabulous restaurant. After dinner, we agreed to take Friday off and remain at the hotel to catch up on plant and seed processing. Alfredo had informed us that his University could get a phytosanitary certificate in Tucuman, which was a big relief. Alfredo and Ricardo both left to go home to their families, while we had dinner on our own. This would be Ricardo's last day, as he had to prepare to fly to Arizona to present a talk. We would be joined by Alfredo's technician Flourencia, for the remainder of the trip.
Friday March 1, 2002
After meeting downstairs for breakfast, we all returned to get processing. At 10am, Alfredo called to tell us to meet at noon so we could go to get our plant phytosanitary certificates. By noon, Alfredo returned to the hotel to tell us that now he could not get the phytos that we needed and we could not ship from Tucuman. Oh well, back to plan A...Buenos Aires.
We stopped for lunch with Alfredo and Flourencia. After making plans for Saturday, there was still plenty of processing to complete, so we continued our work. Late that afternoon, Alfredo returned to the hotel with Dr. Alberto Slanis, a taxonomist at the University of Tucuman with a specialty in ferns. Alberto stayed in our room until he had identified over 100 of my fern accessions. If you've ever tried to get ferns or any plants id'd from a collection trip, you'll appreciate what an amazing help this was.
As we readied to eat dinner, we were surprised to find Carl and Wade already returning to the hotel at Tucuman. Their trip back to Buenos Aires had been swift and successful, if not quite an ordeal. Because of the flood the night before, they were not able to fly out of Tucuman, but had instead been bused to Santiago, Argentina for a flight. They had arrived in Buenos Aires at 1am. Despite being worn out and Carl having a very bad cold, they had been successful in acquiring a replacement passport for Wade.
Saturday March 2, 2002
For our Saturday trip, we opted to make a loop in the area just north of Tucuman and then return to our hotel. Alberto, the fern taxonomist, joined us for the day to help with plant identification. We would not climb to very high elevations this day, rarely rising much over 4,000' elevation. The first stop was to collect firecracker vine (Manettia cordifolia), which looked identical to the clone that is commercially grown in the US. In the wild, we found it growing in very rocky semi shaded banks.
The highlight of this day was to find more of the bright yellow pavonia that we had found earlier in the trip, but this time with abundant seed. There were also some new ferns, including the exciting Dryopteris lorentzii and Cheilanthes marginata.
For lunch, we stopped along a small stream that was banked with high cliffs. On the steepest cliff, we found nice clumps of hippeastrum growing among the cacti and bromeliads. Scott was so excited that he failed to see the huge nests of paper wasps that were lined up along the rock crack until it was too late. His recklessness did, however, lead to a new Hieronymiella at the top of the cliff that even surprised Alfredo.
The most humorous moment of the day occurred when one of our party, who shall remain nameless, returned to the truck with hundreds of cynoglossom burs lining their underwear. From then on, everyone became very conscious of their surrounding when answering the call of nature.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to visit a local garden center. As Alfredo had warned us, the Argentine garden centers don't grow any Argentine natives. Amazingly, the plants were quite similar to what one would see in a US garden center...roses and other typical fare.
As we prepare to leave Tucuman to head further south, I thought I'd share some truths that I had observed about Argentina from our trip so far:
Truth #1 Argentina is the place for beef. I will never look at a US steak the same way again. The steaks were huge, with each being at least 1.5" thick.
Truth #2...the Argentine women are extremely attractive in their colorful and very provocative attire. The opposite is usually true for the men.
Truth #3...all hotels in Argentina have bidet's...some very serious European influence.
Truth #4 Argentinians drive like maniacs. We never saw a single police officer performing any traffic law enforcement, therefore no one pays any attention to speed limit signs, double yellow lines, or stop signs.
Truth #5 Coca Cola is more expensive than wine. Everyone here makes wine! Homeowners make wine, vineyards make wine, the hotels make wine, the airports make wine, everyone makes wine. Not being a connoisseur of wine, our group rated Mendoza wines as the best.
Truth #6 Don't try to figure out the traffic check points. Traffic check points are everywhere, and seemingly without reason. We certainly couldn't figure out their purpose, and neither could our guides. Perhaps it is to give jobs to people who can't get real jobs.
Truth #7 Panhandlers are everywhere and often very organized. You can't even eat a meal without panhandlers making a parade to your table. Panhandling cartels are prevalent, specializing in using small kids. There seems to be no effort to discourage this practice.
Truth #8 Pickpockets are everywhere. Once you graduate from panhandling, you get to try pickpocketing. These two person teams are very good as distracting the potential mark. Do not set anything down that has value.
Truth #9 Most government offices close at 1pm. Banks close at 2pm. Restaurants don't open for dinner until after 8pm. I can see why the Argentine economy has collapsed.
Sunday March 3, 2002
It was finally time to depart our cushy hotel in Tucuman and return to the road. We headed south from Tucuman toward the city of Catamarca. Before we could get far out of Tucuman, we were stopped at three different locations on the main road by groups of out of work factory workers. The workers would use tires and other obstacles to block the road, and then demand money before letting the vehicles pass. This is a practice that is seemingly allowed by the government.
Although the lowland Chaco (desert scrub) vegetation looked bleak, we finally stopped at a small stream with very tall cliffs nearby (2700' elevation). As we climbed down to the stream below, we were greeted with an amazing flora, from Hippeatrums to ferns to begonias and cactus.
As our drive rose in elevation, our next stop was at 4841' elevation in a rocky, windy roadside stretch. In addition to more begonias and ferns, we found lovely vines of araujia as well as some of the most amazing pampas grass that we had seen.
Clumps here were almost entirely pink flowered clones, some with huge flower heads. Wade spotted a very special clump that had dark brown flowers. What an amazing thing it would be to be able to make selections here for ornamental value.
Within minutes, we watched as the clouds charged over the mountains and before we could descend, we were shrouded in a thick fog.
For lunch, all we could find was a truck stop, but as had become the case throughout the trip, the steaks were incredible...imagine finding a 2" thick stake so tender you can cut it with a fork at a truck stop. The decor was also delightfully chic...especially the light fixtures. Sean made a quick friend when he shared his lunch with the truck stop feline. After fueling our trucks as well, we were on our way.
As we drove further into a drier habitat, the trucks came to a screeching halt as we spotted specimens of Trithrinax campestris...the blue Argentine palm in the field nearby. Being a palmophile, this was my first chance to see a mature specimen of this slow growing but magnificent silver blue foliage palm. Even a barbed wire fence couldn't stop the group from charging toward the palms. The land was being cleared for agricultural use and one of the 20' tall specimens had already been bulldozed and left to die. After a brief memorial ceremony, we scurried around the base of the remaining specimens gathering seed. Although we made another stop for cacti and desert ferns, the palm experience was hard to top. We ended a very long day in La Rioja City at a dumpy hotel, the Hotel La Tourisma. After a short walk to a nearby German restaurant, we finished eating around 11:45pm.
Monday March 4, 2002
Departing Lo Rioja City for San Juan, we were once again greeted with more military roadblocks. Again, there seems to be no purpose in each of these bizarre stops. This was truly a desolate drive, as we passed desert scrub vegetation for the entire day. (Each collecting stop still yielded interesting finds, but on a much diminished scale than earlier in the trip. Each stop yielded at least one fern and at least one rain lily. We dropped in elevation from a start of 4,000' to 2,000 by days end.
Tiring of pre packaged ham sandwiches, the group had opted for finding a restaurant for lunch. Well, it took until 3pm to find somewhere open, but finally we were able to locate a small restaurant that was willing to cook us lunch. After we left the restaurant, we were persuaded to make a quick 'tourist' stop at a rural artesian shop where they made crafts from natural materials.
At our final stop for the day, we found a nice narrow leaf zephyranthes, a portulaca, and a sedum like plant Talinopsis. From here, we headed off to San Juan for the evening. About an hour after the last stop, we took a Kodak moment break to photograph the splendid sunset. Only then did Scott realize that he had left his camera back at the last stop. Actually, it was a camera borrowed from Sean and Parker, since Scott's had died earlier in the trip. Alfredo took Scott and Bob back to the last site to look for the camera, while the rest of us headed on to San Juan.
We choose the first hotel that we could find entering San Juan, which turned out to be the new Hotel Vinas del Sol. Although the staff was a bit confused in getting our rooms straight, we were glad to have a nice hotel for the evening. The plantings around the hotel consisted of several Ligularia (Farfugium) tussilaginea 'Gigantea'. This was the first time that I had ever seen this plant used in a commercial landscape setting. This is a plant that we had grown in the nursery thanks to Marco Stufano, who at one time seemingly had the only plant in the US. While we were waiting for Alfredo, Scott, and Bob to return, we went ahead to a restaurant for dinner. Although it's still debatable what actually happened, Flourencia led us around in circles for nearly 1 hour, before we found the restaurant only a few blocks from our hotel. The rest of the group made it into town and joined us at 10:15pm...just as we were ordering dinner.
Tuesday March 5, 2002
On Tuesday, we spent the morning trying to arrange flights from Mendoza to Buenos Aires, as we had decided that this would be preferable to driving back to our departure city. We departed San Juan for the large city of Mendoza. We asked at the gas station if the road through the mountains was open, due to the dam building along the road, and were told that we could pass through if we arrived by 1pm. When we arrived at 12:30pm, we found that we were 30 minutes too late. The road was now closed and would not be open again until tomorrow. Since we now were hopelessly behind schedule, we opted to backtrack and head a different direction directly to Mendoza where we would pick up our airline tickets.
We arrived into Mendoza in late afternoon to find a beautiful city with large trees and nice city parks. This is all despite a history of devastating earthquakes. Somehow, we wound up at a fairly dumpy hotel, humorously named the Ritz. Our room had no usable phone, no shower head, one shower handle, and carpet that should have been replaced in the 1950's. There are great hotels nearby, so just be more careful than we were in selecting where you stay. Most of us spent the remainder of the afternoon checking out the town, picking up airline tickets, and enjoying the wonderful ice cream of Mendoza.
Wednesday March 6, 2002
Wednesday would be our final day in the field. Due to the maze of bureaucratic papers to be completed in order to ship plants from the country and into the US, we would lose four days of field work. Our journey today would take us to the west, nearly to the Chilean border. About an hour outside of town, we were stopped again, this time by construction of another dam. This project caused us to lose another two hours as we backtracked and chose an alternate route into the mountains. Once we got on the road, we made a quick stop, then off to more westerly locations.
As we headed up the windy switchbacks to one of the many ski lodges in the mountains, we made a nice stop where once again, we scrambled up large boulders. Despite being dry, this 7206' elevation site yielded many ferns, Libertia chilensis, selaginellas, nothoscordums, tweedia, Artemesia mendoziana, and the lovely orange flowering Mutisia spinosa. Perhaps from this location, we might have a chance at growing mutisia. As expected, cacti were everywhere including some amazingly beautiful spined opuntias once you made it past the thick roadside patches of Hyalis argentea.
After a lunch at a Ski Lodge restaurant, and a visit to near the top, we turned around and headed further west toward Mt. Aconcagua. Mt. Aconcagua is the tallest peak in the Americas, towering to nearly 21,000' elevation. Along the way, we made a couple of cacti stops and even in this barren desert still managed to find more rain lilies. Finally, 4 miles from the Chilean border, we stopped at the base camp for Mt. Aconcagua. It is certainly a sobering thought to see the cemetery of folks that have died trying to climb to the peak.
Since the season was quite late, the ground was still covered with alpine nasturtium, Tropaeolum polyphyllum. There were plenty of seed and even a few plants still in full flower. Although we didn't climb higher than 10168' elevation, we thought it was appropriate that we celebrated, and did so by having Bob cut our special occasion watermelon with my trusty Martha Stewart knife. Even after several weeks of digging through rocks and prying plants from cliff cracks, it still cut the watermelon like it was butter...thanks Martha. We took turns enjoying the watermelon, and snapping photos with the snow covered peaks in the background.
With a long drive still to go, we finally returned to our hotel at 10:15pm. Only a small handful of our group still had enough energy to eat dinner, which turned out to be the most eventful part of our day. As we set at a nearby restaurant enjoying our meal, a drugged out young man began muttering something behind us. About that time, one of the other restaurant patrons yelling that someone was stealing Chris's purse (with airline tickets and passport). Sure enough the partner of the pickpocket pair had jumped into an adjacent aqueduct and had already picked up her purse. Fortunately, the pickpocket was so frightened that he dropped the purse before he could pull it through the trellis separating us and him. Agreeing that we couldn't stand any further excitement, we quickly finished our dinner and were off to the hotel.
Thursday March 7, 2002
We had already agreed that Thursday would be a packing and processing day. The entire group was up early for breakfast and then to begin work. One thing that I continually notice is that plant collectors often get caught up with collecting and underestimate the time it takes to get collections processed and ready to ship. This was certainly the case here, resulting in the most hectic day of our trip. Seed pods were flying along with dead foliage not only in the rooms, but all down the hallway. We stopped for a quick lunch to discuss how to prepare our governmental forms.
Because of new USDA regulations, all plants would now have to get a phytosanitary certificate from Argentina before they could enter the US. Because of this, we would first have to obtain an export certificate from Argentina. Alfredo distributed the forms (in Spanish) and we were all told what and how to fill them out. Although we were to fax the forms to INASE before leaving Mendoza, the forms never quite got ready before time to catch our plane.
Before we knew it, 4pm arrived, and we had to leave to catch our 5:30pm flight back to Buenos Aires. Sean and Parker stayed behind to head on to Chile for more collecting, while Bob was off to visit friends before he returned. The flight, albeit quite bumpy, went off without a hitch, and we arrived back in Buenos Aires around 7pm. After finding a hotel downtown, those that had not finished processing their collections continued their work.
Friday March 8, 2002
The first item of business after breakfast was to go to INASE to get our export certificates. When we arrived at the INASE offices after a short taxi ride, we were informed that our forms were filled out completely wrong and we would have to start over from scratch. Keep in mind that this was only 4-6 hours of paperwork. With everyone chipping in to help, we were able to repeat the process this time in only 2.5 hours. After our forms were filled out correctly, we were then asked for our exporter number. Exporter number? It seems that to get an export certificate, you need to be a registered exporter. Guess what...we didn't qualify to become an exporter. Only with Chris's great Spanish and a seemingly heated exchange with the INASE officials, did they finally agree to issue us a one time exemption. By 11:30am, we were gone with our approved export permits.
After many phone calls from the hotel, we were able to determine that DHL would ship the packages for us and also serve as our broker to get the phytosanitary certificates. As quick as we could get our boxes sealed, we headed for the DHL offices. Arriving at 2:30pm, we spent the next hour filling out more paperwork. With our packages finally gone, we returned to the hotel to see if we could re-book our flights from the originally scheduled Sunday night to Saturday night. As luck would have it, all flights back into the US still had vacancies.
Saturday March 9, 2002
Saturday was our first day to relax, if you count shopping as relaxing. We roamed the streets of downtown Buenos Aires, stopping only for a wonderful lunch and goodbyes. I did make a final collection from the superb Ligustrum japonicum 'Tricolor' standards that lined the streets in downtown Buenos Aires. I can't imagine why this gem hasn't appeared in US nurseries. Back at the hotel for final packing, we were off to the airport for our long overnight flights back in the US.
Since we got our permits in Buenos Aires on Friday, the boxes sat there until Wednesday until they began to move toward the US. Most everyone's boxes arrived within 7-12 days. Due to such a long delay there was quite a bit of mush.
Before Sean, Parker, and Bob departed Argentina, they went from Mendoza to the nearby city of San Luis. This was to have been our last stop before we had to stop early and deal with paperwork. Sean describes the areas that they found as certainly the richest flora of the entire trip. Isn't that always the case.
We are very excited about the potential of Argentine plants for commercial horticulture in the US. Both the introduction of new species and well as making clonal selections both have tremendous long term potential. We look forward to a great working arrangement with the University of Tucuman and hope we can arrange for Dr. Alfredo Grau to speak in the US about the Flora of Argentina. None of this would have been possible without his excellent work and extensive knowledge of the Flora of Argentina. I'm also sure that a return trip is certainly in the cards.