October 2013 - Minas Gerais and Bahia, part I - Minas Gerais

The second October trip included the states of Minas Gerais and Bahia. This is the best time of the year to go to the areas we visited, as there is a lot in flower and the rains are usually just starting. At this time of the year, we were able to see eleven species of rupicolous laelias in flower, besides the rest of the stuff including lots of orchids and other things. It was also a good time to check the flowering season of several species that I pulled from memory, with mixed results. During this period, we continued to have Stig Dälstrom as companion. As this was a long trip with lots of places visited and corresponding orchids, I decided to split it in two: one for Minas Gerais and the second one for Bahia. So here is the Minas Gerais part.

As I was going to speak at the AMO Orchid Show in Belo Horizonte on the 19th, we decided to start the trip on the 17th so we drove from Rio to Minas Gerais on that day. We left early so to be able to stop and see something on the way to the Caraça, which would be our night stop. The obvious choice would be to see the liliputianas which I thought would be in full flower. Well, not so much as the flowering season was almost over but we did find several plants still in flower. The next four pictures show what we found, it was drizzly and foggy to the point that sometimes we could barely see the rocks let alone those little plants. And of course it was very wet, like in "nicely miserable". But hey, these things happen and as it turned out on only the first two days of the trip we got bad weather. The picture of the Hoffmannseggella liliputiana in flower shows well the size of the flowers and plants, tiny they are. A very positive thing is that we could find quite a few plants of Sophronitis brevipedunculata although of course they were not in flower this time of the year. Here we see one, growing on Vellozia. Lesson learned (hopefully, really) is to double-check the camera's battery charge before you start a trip... In conclusion, the first four photos here are from Stig Dalstrom.
habitat liliputiana 1 habitat liliputiana 2
habitat liliputiana 3 habitat brevipedunculata
We arrived at the Caraça pretty late, just in time to enter the park before the gates were closed. But all in all the first day was pretty good (except for the camera battery...) and we had hopes for better weather and the chance to see lots of orchids. So we had dinner and waited to see the Maned Wolves as this was high on the list of expectations for Stig. The wolves always come after our dinner time, as they are fed every night. Well, we found out that sometimes, very very rarely they don't show up or do it very late. So we waited, and waited until about 11PM and wolves, nada. We went to sleep and found out that the wolves did come... about 5 AM. So, chalk this as frustration #1 for Stig but as we are going to see that was hopefully the only one. Mind you, I have been there dozens of times and never failed to see the wolves... I guess this was the exception to confirm the rule.

Next day, we got up early expecting a nice sunny day so we could see and photograph a lot. But alas, it turned out to be another miserable day. Thing is, the wet season arrives first in the southern part of the mountain ranges, and as we were going north from this point on things were expected to improve. But you know, expect little and enjoy a lot what you get. I have been visiting orchid habitats for a long time, and even with bad weather you still can have fun and see a lot.
Caraça Laelia sanguiloba
The Caraça range is know for being the richest mountains in the Serra do Espinhaço in terms of orchid variety. This is mainly because the range is in a transitional area and the vegetation mixes components from cerrado, altitude forest, grasslands and tropical rain forest. The area is also the richest in species of rupicolous laelias, with at least six. This time of the year, the only one expected to be in flower was Hoffmannseggella sanguiloba so the idea was to find and photograph some. As it turned out, the miserable conditions didn't help much although we did find a few plants in flower. The pictures above tell how wet the conditions were. But we found all the other species, just they were not in flower. Below we have one of the numerous large clumps of Hoffmannseggella fournieri (have to go there in January to see them in flower) and of course Bulbophyllum weddellii which is very common in the region; also none of these in flower at this time, as expected.
fournieri habitat Bulbophyllum habitat
milleri habitat 1milleri habitat 2
On the 19th we didn't do anything but to stay at the orchid show. I gave my presentation, which worked out good, and we spent the afternoon meeting a lot of good old friends. Lots of walkerianas in flower also, this is the right time of the year for them.

On the 20th however, we restarted the trip and it would be non-stop for the next ten days. The first stop was actually a bit to the south so we could visit a place where we used to find Hoffmannseggella milleri, and wanted to check if the plants were still there. The mountain is now almost in the city but fortunately we still could find some plants as we can see on the right. On the left there is one of the bright red vellozias (Pleurostima?) growing on an impossible place. In the afternoon we drove all the way to Diamantina, arriving there at night.
briegeri habitat 1 briegeri habitat 2
After a good night's sleep and an always excellent breakfast, we went to look for Hoffmannseggella briegeri. I knew several places where to find them so it was just a matter of luck to find lots in flower. It was a beautiful day and that would be the norm from now on which allowed us to take tons of nice photos. The briegeris were all in flower and this was one of the few times that I was so lucky. Because the rainy season had already started, the plants were in very good shape and flowering well. We can't take this for granted, last time I was there in 2010 it was the end of November and the weather was really stormy. It was raining so much we could barely get out of the vehicle so I appreciated how nice it was this year. The plants need the rain though, after a long dry season.
briegeri habitat 3 On the two pictures above, we see the plants growing more protected by vellozias on the left and more exposed to direct sun on the right. Plants grow equally well under both conditions.

Hoffmannseggella briegeri
is one of the easiest species to see, for several reasons. To start, the places where they live are fairly flat or with a gentle slope and the ledges are very open. This makes it easy to walk as we can see on the two photos above. The plants are also very plentiful, and the tall inflorescences combined with large and bright-yellow colored flowers makes them easy to spot from the distance... even from a moving vehicle!
Constantia cristinae Around Diamantina, we can find two species of rupicolous Constantia. The one on the left is Constantia cristinae, we thought they would be in flower but we were about a couple of months late as can be seen by the developing seed pods. It is nice to see the plants though, and we saw nice populations of them.

On the other hand, Constantia microscopica was in full flower. If you can see them of course, as the plants are smaller than the lichens that grow around and over them. On the left below we can see the plants growing among such lichens and you can have a good idea of the scale as the flower is less than 1/4" across. Straight below we see a flower in detail.
Constantia microscopica 1  Constantia microscopica 2
Vellozia habitat Vellozia habitat
Melastomataceae habitat  There are lots of other things to see however, besides orchids. The region of Diamantina is extremely rich in species of Vellozia (above) and flowers come in all sizes from less than 1" on this little purple one above left to more than 6" and all sizes in between.

There are also countless species of Melastomataceae form several genera. Plants come in all sizes and so do their bright flowers. Colors vary a lot also, coming in white, yellow, pink, purple and red. Reproductive parts are almost always bright yellow. Species pictured here is likely from the genus Cambessedesia (C. salviifolia?), and produces nice open shrubs. Leaves are very fleshy and with an interesting texture.
On the next day we went to see Hoffmannseggella kleberi. Again, we were extremely lucky as the species was in full flower. I was really worried as the last time I went there at the same time of the year the rainy season was late and the plants were all looking almost dead and very few in flower. That was many years ago though, and the population recovered very well since. And as we can see on the photo below on the left, the rainy season was starting there in full force.
kleberi habitat 1 kleberi habitat 2
kleberi habitat 3 kleberi habitat 4
kleberi habitat 5 The species vary a lot in color, from almost white to bright yellow as we can see from the pictures. There are also several plants whose flowers have pinkinsh or reddish tones to the base of the segments, and in extreme case the flowers are very colorful. The individual on the left was the most colorful I've ever seen, and quite frankly it was a shock to find it. As (mostly) all the plants were in flower, we could have a good idea of the variation, and I am almost totally discarding the possibility of natural hybridization as there is nothing else there that can produce this color effect.

These last couple of days were so successful that even if we were not to find anything else in flower it would have been good enough. But we were not done with good luck, and on the way to Bahia we found everything we were hoping for.
Then on the 23rd we left Diamantina to continue on the way to Bahia, but we had a couple of places to stop. The first one was where I knew Hoffmannseggella tereticaulis grows. I was not expecting to find them in flower yet, but to my surprise they were all blooming. We couldn't stop for long as it was going to be a long day of driving, but we didn't need to as we found lots of plants in flower from a couple hundred meters away from where we parked the vehicle. As a result, lots of nice pictures and the thought that it was going to be a long but good day.
tereticaulis habitat 1 tereticaulis habitat 2
Later on the day, and after a few hundred kilometers, we got to the habitat of Hoffmannseggella mirandae. The first impression was terrible, as the area has been all burnt. However, where the fires didn't get to we found lots of orchids. Encyclia duveenii was everywhere and all the plants were in flower, but the plants of Bulbophyllum that I saw in flower in June past obviously were not. We found only one Hoffmannseggella mirandae in flower (see below) but it seems that all flowers got pollinated so hope the population keeps going.
Encyclia duveenii habitat
Encyclia diveenii habitat mirandae habitat
After that detour, we went back to the main road and got set for a long drive until our next place to sleep. We were not sure where to stop, so we just kept going all the way to Porteirinha, already somewhat near the border with Bahia. We got there late, but still could find a (fairly) nice hotel and even found a pizza place still open less than a block from the hotel... So pizza and beer it was, chalk this as another great day.

NEXT: to Bahia...