Excerpt of the article published in The Gloxinian - Vol. 42 Nº 2
March / April 1992
GRF Study Trip to Brazil:
Southeastern Brazil is a land of beautiful beaches and rolling mountain ranges – a very different place from the Amazon basin to the north.
Once this land was covered by coastal rainforest, but now it is largely occupied by cities, towns and farms. Less than five percent of the original forest is left, and much of that will be gone in another ten years. From October 9-25, 1991, the Gesneriad Research Fundation sponsored a study trip to learn about the gesneriads of this habitat before it vanishes.
The trip was led by GRF Director, Dr. Hans Wiehler, and our special guide was Mauro Peixoto, gesneriad colletor, grower and hybridizer from São Paulo. The other participants were Clay Anderson, Gloria Khale, Jeanne Katzenstein, Janet Kellner, Melissa Mc Dowell, Isla Montgomery, Michael Riley, Carolyn Ripps and Barbara Shilkret. Our Bus driver, Tony became very much part of the group and even joined in our search for gesneriads.
We arrived at the airport in Rio de Janeiro early in the morning and left almost immediately for the mountains. I never realized that southeastern Brazil is so hilly, o that the land raises so quickly as one leave the coast. The mountain peaks form odd interesting shapes, and there are impatiens all around in bright patches of color. We stopped along the roadside to find our first gesneriad, Codonanthe gracilis, cascading from a large tree. Continuing on into the mountains to the city of Teresópolis, we checked into out hotel and found it to be very pleasant, as were most of hotels during the trip. People who had been on previous study trips kept remarking on how eay we had it on this trip with quality hotels and air-conditioned bus complete with toilet.
Our first serious gesneriad searching began that afternoon in Organ Mountain National Park, named because some of the rock formations look like pipe organs. Here we found Codonanthe devosiana in bloom, a Napeanthus species with seed pods, Besleria melancholica and small plants of Nematanthus and Paliavana.
The next morning we went for a hike in the forest behind our hotel. Just when we were about to give up the search for gesneriads we found Nematanthus crassifolius with two dangling bright red flowers and Sinningia douglasii (verticillata) in bud, both growing on trees. I didn’t realize that sinningias grew attached to trees, but as the trip went on, we saw this fairly often. Sinningia douglasii is sometimes called the double-decker plant, and it is easy to see why, because the leaves and flowers on mature plant form in whorled tiers like one umbrella opening on top of another.
We returned to Organ Mountain National Park, and this time went much higher, starting at 800 meters and climbing from there. I don’t know how high we went, but it was definitely cooler, harder to breathe, mistier and darker. We found Sinningia cooperi in bloom, its tuber rooted in the bark of a tree; a Nematanthus seedling; and two Besleria species, one typically drab, the other with attractive, bright-yellow calyces. Reluctantly, we left the area and continued on to our next destination. Along the way we found Vanhouttea growing on seep rock faces by the road.
Our next stop was Carangola in the State of Minas Gerais. There we met Lucio de Souza Leoni and visited the garden and preserve that he has single-handed established to reintroduce endangered species of native plants back into the wild. Included in his collection were Paliavana prasinata and the spotted form of the new genus indeterminatus which has been distributed recently. Lucio led some of our hardier participants on a climb up rock face and found Sinningia sp. nov (‘Espera Feliz’), two forms of S. speciosa and Paliavana prasinata growing nearby. We all then followed another path through a farm (watching out for the bull), over the river and through the woods, uphill and down dale, finally arriving at Rio Carangola where there was a huge colony of Sinningia speciosa along the banks. It would be a spectacular sight in few weeks when the plants were in full bloom, but were were a little too early.
We completed our stay in Carangola with a visit to Herbario Guido Pabst where we studied herbarium specimens of gesneriads collected in the area by Lucio. After packing the bus once again, we headed east into the State of Espirito Santo. Along the roadsides, we found Lietzia brasiliensis and Sinningia sceptrum on rock walls and S. magnifica and a steep wet cliff. With its beautiful bright red flowers, it deserves its name.
The next day we arrived in Domingos Martins where we had arranged to meet Roberto Kautsky, another Brazilian plant enthusiast. Señor Kautsky’s family owned mountains overlook the town. One has been left in its natural state, the other he has spent his lifetime developing into a preserve for native species and introducing others to colonize there. He escorted us on some of many trails branching off the dirt road leading to the top of the mountain. In addition to the many orchids, bromeliads and other tropicals, we saw Sinningia speciosa (green leaf and ‘Regina’ forms), Sinningia aghensis, S. magnifica and Lietzia brasiliensis. We saw the newly introduced species, Sinningia kautsky (which looks like S. hirsuta, and is compact and beautifully colored).
It was growing in the forest by a stream, in ground that was positively soggy, and in a very shady spot. Looking up into the trees, we found Codonanthe gracilis, both the common green leaved form and a more compact, redder form. Hans was specially pleased to see the rare Nematanthus lanceolatus in full, glorious flower.
The high point of the day, however, was going up the mountain into the forest left in its natural state where new species were still being discovered. A few days before we arrived, Senhor Kautsky had found a few pieces of a new Nematanthus on a recently fallen tree, and of course, we went looking for more. After much climbing and hacking with a machete, we reached the tree which must have been wll over twenty meters high. We looked all around the tree but found nothing. Going down the hill, some of us (yes, including me) wandered off and got a bit lost. There, right in front of us, was something red. Could it be? Yes, it was… three pieces of the new Nematanthus, apparently thrown some distance from the tree when it fell. The flowers were bright orange with showy dark red calyces. We proudly carried our find back to show the rest of the group. To finish a wonderful day we visited Senhor Kautsky’s home and garden.
We left Domingos Martins the next morning knowing that gesneriads fad found a good home on Kautsky’s mountains, and we hope that they would be preserved there for years to come. We drove south along the Atlantic coast and arrived in Armação dos Buzios, a famous resort town at the tip of the cape. There we found Sinningia speciosa ‘Cabo Frio’ growing on the ocean front near cacti – Just a few minutes walk from our hotel. This variety of Sinningia speciosa is compact and fairly hairy with light lavender flowers.
Now we had seen S. speciosa in four distinct habitats: on a rock face, on a river bank, on a wooded hill and on the beach!
We spent the next day relaxing in the city of Rio de Janeiro. We visited the Botanical Garden there, shopped and walked along the Copacabana beach. Eager to continue our journey, we then drove west to the rainforest areas near Parati. This area is also rich with gesneriads – we found a beautiful Besleria species with white flowers and bright yellow calyces, more Codonanthe gracilis and Paliavana prasinata up near the top of a mountain. Walking down, we discovered several colorful species of Nematanthus: the hairy deep-pink flowered N. monanthos, the more typical orange-flowered N. sericeus, the large yellow-flowered N. fluminensis, and the beautiful N. brasiliensis with its large yellow and spotted flowers with red star shaped calyces. We also saw two color forms of Sinningia douglasii, this time not growing on the trees, but on tock walls, and also a colony of the white-flowered S. schiffneri.
Leaving the State of Rio de Janeiro, we headed for Ubatuba and the State of São Paulo, Mauro’s home territory. Stopping at several promising looking locations along the way, we found Nematanthus fissus, Nematanthus fritschii and several other species we had already seen, as well a new species of Codonanthe with large, mostly alternate leaves. Mauro took us to a shady cliff by a cave across the beach near São Sebastião where we saw Sinningia iarae (named for Mauro’s sister, Iara) This species is compact with flowers shaped like S. cardinalis, but a dusky rose-pink in color.
We arrived in the city of Mogi das Cruzes knowing we were near the end of our trip but anticipating our visit to Mauro’s weekend residence outside São Paulo.
We spent our last full day in Brazil enjoying the wonderful hospitality of the Peixoto family. Hours were spent in the greenhouse: we were happy to recognize many of the species that we had just seen growing in the wild. Mauro showed us many of the gesneriads that we had not found during our short visit, and he also shared with us some of his experiences in hybridizing.
Back at the house we partied with family and friends, enjoyed an all-day feast of native food and drinks, swam in the pool, relaxed and watched hummingbirds at the porch feeders just a few feet away. As we walked the surrounding area we found several species of gesneriads including Sinningia elatior emerging from dormancy in a sometimes swampy area. We returned as the sun was setting, and we regretted that we would soon have to leave.
During our short visit to “Sinningia’s Homeland”, we traveled 2198 Km to observe an photograph gesneriads in their unique habitats – on river banks, in ancient woods, in field and semi-swamps, on rock faces, on branches and even on trees. We met many gracious people who are as interested in the welfare and enjoyment of gesneriads as we are. It was a most rewarding expedition.