del Toro - a cactophiles dream by Mats Winberg
For any cactophile, Quebrada
del Toro in northern Argentina, is a dream. This beautiful valley
begins south-west of Salta at an altitude of about 1500 metres
and rises all the way up to 4000 metres at San Antonio de los
Cobres, a dusty and cold mining village. I have been in Quebrada
del Toro twice, and I will give you a short introduction to the
many interesting cacti growing in these mountains.
Three red flowered Rebutia
are to be found at Campo Quijano at the entrance of the narrow,
winding valley. These are
Rebutia pseudodeminuta and pseudominuscula and the very variable
Rebutia xanthocarpa, the flowers of which may be red,
pink or yellow. They all prefer to grow in rich soil, often amongst
moist moss. Some are hardly visible under high grass and you
have to get down on your hands and knees to find them.
Echinopsis ancistrophora can be found hiding
among the outcrops of rock in this area. This species, with its
clear white flowers, occurs in many localities in the provinces
of Salta and Jujuy. The flowers vary in length from 10 cm to
almost 25 cm! Three varieties are to be found in the literature
reflecting this range: v. hamatacantha, v. kratochviliana
and v. polyancistra. Based on observations in the
field, I think that, at most, these should be considered as forms
of the single species.
The climate in this lower
part of the valley is more or less subtropical and the epiphytic
Rhipsalis tucumanense grows in the trees. The stem of
this species is mostly round and spineless and the small, shiny
flowers are cream-white. Rhipsalis tucumanense is easy to grow,
even in a rather dry and hot greenhouse. The town Campo Quijano
has expanded in recent years and, as a result, some species which
were native here can no longer be found. Gymnocalycium marsoneri
and Echinopsis silvestrii now seem to be absent.
The flora of the lower
part of the valley, other than the Cactaceae, includes Juglans
australis, Alnus jorullensis, Erythrina dominguensis, Sambucus
peruviana, Echeveria peruviana and Cassia spectabilis.
The tiny village of Chorrillos
lies at about 2200 metres but still the humidity remains rather
high. The population is only about 50, employed in farming or
at the railway station.The famous "Tren de las Nubes"
railway, which starts from Salta, passes close to the few houses
here on its way to San Antonio de los Cobres.
Among the bigger cacti which occur in
the vicinity are Trichocereus shaferi and terscheckii.
Trichocereus shaferi, looking almost like snowballs with
its clear white spines, can be found near the river together
with a green, rather weak spined form of Rebutia senilis (MN 221) which has small red flowers. On steep
slopes, there are golden spined Cleistocactus hyalacanthus (syn.
jujuyensis) growing among large cushions of Bromeliads (Abromeitiella
breviflora). If you climb for a couple of hours you will also
find plenty of Lobivia
haematantha v. chorrillosensis , a taprooted, greyish-green plant with
flowers in different reddish and occasionally yellow tones.
In December 1990 I visited
this spot and had the opportunity to see hundreds of plants in
flower - what a sight! They were everywhere and you had tolook
carefully before taking the next step. There was also Rebutia
einsteinii v. aureiflora in many different forms with spines
varying from white to brown and from short to long. No wonder
so many names have been published (Mediolobia albiseta, duursmaiana,
nidulans etc. !) So far, I have seen only clear orange flowers
on this plant, but reddish forms are also reported.
I have found two new, interesting forms
of Rebutia nigricans at higher altitude in this area.
The first has orange-red flowers (MN 117), which, at 4x4 cm,
are much larger than the type. The body and spination, however,
match those of the type from Escoipe, described as having deep
red flowers, about 2 cm broad. The second form has lighter spination
and small but beautiful, rich orange flowers which open early
in the morning.
I am not a great fan
of Opuntia, but at Chorrillos there are two really nice species:
the small, variable and creeping Opuntia
microdisca with shiny orange- yellow
flowers and the fresh green Opuntia
verschaffeldtii with a cylindrical stem,
long greyish spines and clear red flowers. Both are recommended
for growing in a greenhouse as they stay rather compact and manageable.
I have some A. verschaffeldtii growing in my collection but they
have never flowered. I have the same problem with Austrocylindropuntia
vestita; they grow well but never set buds. Maybe it is too dark
here in Sweden.
ten kilometres up the road, at about 2500 metres, conditions
become dryer and a different flora is found. The hills, in which
many Trichocereus pasacana occur, are steep and
difficult to climb. Some hard hours by foot takes you to an interesting
and beautiful form of Rebutia einsteinii with mostly pectinate,
short spines and large yellow flowers. This is an intermediate
form of R. einsteinii, gonjianii and aureiflora
and is sometimes referred to as R. pseudoeinsteinii n.n.
On the plateau, some
dehydrated but very nice, long spined Gymnocalycium spegazzinii can be found growing level with the
ground. The compact stem is almost covered by grey spines and
some flowers with dirty pinkish-white petals. If you are lucky
you might see some Lobivia chrysantha with thin spines growing
deep in the cracks. This plant is also known as L. klusacekii
or L.staffenii. The orange-red flowering Parodia stuemeri is
a real beauty and sometimes found among the Bromeliads here.
Parodia nivosa grows nearby, but always at a lower altitude,
closer to the road.
Tastil, Alfarcito and Santa Rosa de Tastil lie at about 3000
metres.This is a very dry area and the nights are cold. Pyrrhocactus
umadeave, the "football cactus", grows here, and
also the fantastic Parodia faustiana which must surely
be a form or variety of P. nivosa growing at lower altitudes
in the valley. P. faustiana has stronger and darker central
spines and the flowers are red with golden-yellow throats. Lobivia chrysantha and a brown spined Rebutia
einsteinii are well hidden among the rocks; both have yellow
flowers. The widespread and very variable Opuntia sulphurea
grows everywhere, sometimes forming enormous groups. Opuntia
microdisca has very nice flowers in orange, red and yellow and
is very common as is Maihueniopsis boliviana which forms
large cushions of small heads. Maihueniopsis minuta (=T. mandragora)
occurs here but it is rare and its tiny size makes it very difficult
Other vegetation in this
area includes Prosopis ferox, Cassia crassiramea, Adesmia and
Bulnesia spp. Some 30 kilometres south of San Antonio, at 3600
metres, there is a small hamlet called Las Cuevas consisting
of only a few houses. In the surrounding mountains I found large
Lobivia chrysantha (cushions to 20 cm broad) and some
beautiful Rebutia einsteinii
spines from long and black to short and brown. High up at about
3900 metres there are large, brown spined Lobivia formosa
reaching almost 30 cm in diameter. The flowers are orange-red,
about 4-5 cm broad and hardly seen among all spines at the top
of the plant! It is also known as Soehrensia korethroides
and is quite common in the Salta province at 4000 metres.
This marks the end of
our journey along the Quebrada del Toro, the home of so many
fascinating cacti. I returned from the valley with seed from
many to introduce them into cultivation and share the enjoyment
and the study of these plants with growers around the world.
© SuccSeed/Mats Winberg, 1995-20018. All rights reserved.