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

In the Bahia part we were also joined by Cassio van den Berg. The highest level of a group and I should say it was great to be part of it. And of course we had memorable discussions on taxonomy, morphology and DNA - lots of educational enlightenment and fun. So here we go...

After we left Porteirinha, the drive is long to the Sincorá, and we passed quite a few cities and a vegetation that was getting drier and drier. We actually paassed through areas of Caatinga vegetation, a type that occurs in areas where sometime there is no rain for more than a year. It was interesting to see, as long as you don't have to stop as there is nothing in terms of orchids.

We finally started to climb the chapada a bit late in the afternoon, the road is quite impressive as the climb is steep and the mountains are all around us. The first stop is where I was hoping to find some plants of Hoffmannseggella pfisteri, I was not so sure as they were quite rare when I last looked for them in 1987. Amazingly though, the population seem to have recovered nicely and the species was in full flowering season. As a result we saw countless plants in flower, from single individuals to large clumps. That was a good start to the Bahia part of the trip.
pfisteri habitat 1 pfisteri habitat 2
pfisteri habitat Stig

Stig was quite happy to see all these plants in flower, and so was I. Plants were so plentiful that we actually spent almost all the afternoon photographing them. That was fine, as the only thing left to do in that day was to reach Mucugê which was going to be our night stop. That is where we were going to meet Cássio and be based for the next four days.

In the end, we were able to stay only one night in the city as there was a big mountain bike festival starting the next day and all the places to stay were booked full. With this, we would have to find somewhere else to stay, and wisely we choose Ibicoara. This is a smaller (well, used to be) town about 100 Km. south of Mucugê and where in my memory there were no places to stay. Fortunately for us, three decades change things a lot and now there are good options to stay and in the end we were glad to be far from busy Mucugê. Lesson learned, next time call in advance to make reservations...

The south end of the Sincorá is comprised of fairly isolated tabletops as the one in the right, with passages between them where sometimes roads cut through. These are mostly dirt roads that can cause a lot of stress on the vehicles as there are lots of loose rocks. As we go north there is a long continuous range until we get to the interruption when there is the fairly narrow passage where Mucugê is located. Elevation at the base of these tablelands is about 3K' to 3.5 K' and the tops range from 3.8 K' to 4.5 K' on average. Highest elevations rarely exceed 5,000' so the climbs can be steep on the few trails that exist but they are not that difficult. Unless of course it is Spring/Summer and you are carrying a lot of stuff including photo equipment. The picture on the right is close to Ibicoara, which ended up being our base after we left Mucugê. Sincorá 1
Sincorá 2 North of Mucugê, the chapada is essentially one big tableland. There are also several higher peaks on top of the tableland that can add a couple hundred feet in elevation as we can see on the left. Essentially, very easy walking after you climb to the top. Several terrestrial orchids are found there, not so many in flower at this time of the year though. Of significance, the gorgeous orange-flowered Sterrhynchus species shown below in the middle.

Besides orchids, there are lots of other things to be seen in flower this time of the year, including several species of Melastomataceae on the drier areas. On the roadside, species on the Fabaceae family (Leguminosae) are also plentiful as this colorful Clitoria shown below on the left.

On the embankments of small streams, insectivorous species of Utricularia like the one pictured below right are abundant.
Clitoria sp.stenorrhynchus 1Utricularia sp.
Sincorana habitat 1 bahiensis habitat 1
There are plenty of orchids in the region, many of them being specific as to growing at the base or at the top of the tabletops. The two species of hoffmannseggella, H. pfisteri and H. bahiensis (this one shown at the right) tend to be found in more quantity at the lower elevations at the base of the tabletops although sometimes they can also be found at the tops.

Hadrolaelia sincorana (pictured here at the left and below), on the other hand, is found (almost) exclusively on the tops, where plants are plentiful over Vellozia shrubs or directly over the ledges. The sequence below shows the different ways the plants grow. Those 4" flowers are a beautiful sight in the habitat, and they were in full flower at this time of the year.
sincorana habitat 2 sincorana habitat 3
sincorana habitat 4 sincorana habitat 5
Leptotes 1 Leptotes 2
There are several other orchid species around and in some places the tiny Leptotes vellozicola is abundant. The photo above left shows the way they are most commonly found, on large Vellozia shrubs. Above right the plants look like miniature bats hanging from a Vellozia branch. We can see the plants produce lots of seed pods.
Encyclia alboxanthina Another very showy and common species on the ledges is Encyclia alboxanthina, mostly at lower elevations and almost totally absent on the tableland's tops. I have seen plants in flower at different seasons, but from previous visits I remembered the flowering was very heavy at this time of the year. And we were not disappointed, as most of the plants were in bloom. These plants produce tall branched inflorescences and the flowers are strongly fragrant.
Oncidium 1 Oncidium 2
There are also a few species of Oncidium, and the two we saw in flower were both terrestrials. The one above left was almost impossible to photograph as the plants were on the open and the wind was very strong. We didn't have a chance to explore the altitude gallery forests on top of the tablelands, but from memory these forests are very rich in orchid species, including a few other Oncidium species.
Cyrtopodium aliciae Cyrtopodium flavum
Cyrtopodium is very common genus in the region, not so much in terms of variety of species but instead due of the quantity of plants. Cyrtopodium aliciae (above left) is very common in lower elevations and rarely found above 3,000 ft. The pseudobulbs are very robust but no so tall and the inflorescences are very tall, branched and can produce several dozen flowers. These are about 1.5" across and extremely colorful as in the picture.

Above right we have Cyrtopodium flavum, another very common species that can also be found up to the top of the tablelands. The plants are taller and the pseudobulbs not as robust as on Cyrtopodium aliciae, but the inflorescences can be even taller and produce even more of those bright yellow 1.5" flowers.
vellozia 1 bromeliad 1
Then again, the flora is extremely varied and colorful and by no means restricted to orchids. Vellozia shrubs are everywhere and represented by dozens of different species. The one above left is produces extremely large and colorful flowers that can be up to 6"+ in size. Those were in full flower but getting to see lots of vellozias in flowers is a matter of luck as the flowers last 1-2 days and the plants tend to flower all at the same time. It is a magnificent sight when they are all in flower - we were lucky. Quite a few bromeliads are also found, and at the top of the tablelands the showiest one is Orthophytum albopictum. Above right there are a few individuals in flower and that is the time they get really colorful.

So after four days at the Chapada Diamantina it was time to start our return to Rio de Janeiro. The drive back would be about 1,300 miles through Bahia nd Minas Gerais states so we would have a couple of days to talk about the very successful trip we had. And more so then in past trips, now I fully realized how vast and rich the region actually is so several more trips are in the plans.