Virtual trip to Atlantic Forest.




Our trip begins at my ranch, where after filling the backpack with food, binoculars, camera, and putting on  a pair of comfortable boots, we climb into the Jeep and hit the road. Soon after (passing through) the gate, on the right side there is a colony of  icá, Lytocaryum hoehnei , a beautiful little palm with silvery leaves; now endangered because of its habitat destruction.


A few yards ahead, on the roadside bank, one orchid attracts our attention, it  is Eulophia alta with greenish petals and wine colored lip, and above it, entwined on a tree, Saint John’s vine,  Pyrostegia venusta   greets  us  with fiery orange flowers.


The dirt road (is only three miles long) has only three miles, but if we look carefully, we can see hundreds of  plants that are in bloom or bearing fruits. On a wire fence, the morning glory, Ipomoea purpurea,  a common weed  divides the space with sweet passionflower, Passiflora alata  ,


As we approach the main road, we hear a sabiá, Turdus rufriventris,  singing on the top of a jerivá, Syagrus romanzoffiana.


The comfort of the paved road doesn’t last too long, just a few miles ahead we leave it and take a road that it is only a little more than a trail, just wide enough for the jeep.

Our destination is Pedra do Garrafão (Big Bottle Stone) a huge granite block surrounded by a Eucalyptus plantation. The terrible road forces us to reduce the speed to almost zero, and that has a good side effect, because it gives us the opportunity to see the roadside flora.


Less than a mile after we leave the asphalt, a pink flower is spotted and we stop to take a picture. It is a beautiful Cleistes sp, shadowing a humble Habenaria sp. sp with its petit green flowers, laying against the high grass that gives it the necessary support.


Not too far away, on a shady spot near a small waterfall, some amoras, Rubus rosaefolius  a small shrub that has lots of tangy red fruits, neighboring it there is a huge colony of Impatiens walleriana, an exotic plant that naturalized so well, that now it is sub spontaneous in almost all shady and humid roadsides in the Atlantic Forest.


After eating some amoras, we climb back on the jeep again to endure the shaking of the remaining miles. 


A precarious bridge made from eucalyptus logs forces us to stop and examine it before venturing to cross. Although slimy it seems secure and we decide to go through it, but first  we take some time for more pictures, one from the Pedra do Sapo (Frog Stone), a curious rock formation that really looks like the animal which it was named after. On the opposite side, some Sinningia elatior   and Sinningia allagophylla attracts hummingbirds with their reddish flowers, we try to capture the scene, but the birds are quicker than us and flies away before we can take the picture.


More than half an hour and half a dozen stops, we arrive, well, almost arrive at our destination.  We park the jeep near the gate of a small farm and go inside for a cup of water. The housekeeper greets us in a friendly way and after the usual chatting about the weather, tells us that the trail had almost disappeared among the high grass.


We thank him for the water and for the “good news”, and say goodbye, for one hour of uphill trekking is waiting for us. The first part is very easy, as we go through a path used by tractors to bring back cut Eucalyptus logs. Although the workers keep this path fairly clean of tall weeds, the smaller ones cover all the way and we move on cautiously.


A rock on the right side measuring about 15 feet high is a year round flowering garden.

In Autumn the red flowers of amaryllis, Hippeastrum aulicum, attracts hummingbirds, in Winter some Philodendron open the scented flowers to bugs, Spring is the season for Sinningia douglasii with gorgeous spotted pink blooms and Bifrenaria harrisoniae, and finally in Summer, Begonia herbacea is in bloom, not counting the myriad of micro orchids and other plants.


We follow the path and just on a sharp curve we stop for collecting some fruits of passion flower, Passiflora edulis. The small purple fruits are sweet and delicious, contrasting sharply with the acidic yellow form sold at supermarkets.


The steep path after the curve makes us think how hard must be to control a fully loaded tractor there on a rainy day. I surely wouldn’t like to be the driver…


As we stop to recover our breath, another wild passionflower, Passiflora organensis is climbing on a big clump of Heliconia velloziana. 


We put a little more of effort and reach the border of the Eucalyptus plantation, now only about two hundred yards separate us from a patch of forest that we will have to cross before we get the top of the mountain.


As had said the housekeeper, the trail is almost impossible to spot, and after two or three wrong attempts we reach the forest, where luckily, the shade provided by the tree canopies don't allow the high grass to grow.


As we enter in the forest our eyes need some time to adjust from the bright sun to the deep shade. The light difference is brutal, but even in this low light condition, bromeliads  and numerous epiphyte orchids thrive. 


We stop at a little brook to drink some very pure water that runs among the stones and to rest a little, but the sweet scent from a Gomesa crispa precariously hanging on a tiny branch over the brook, make us get up and smell the perfume from a closer position.


Some more pictures and we continue on the uphill trail. Suddenly the forest begins to be more open, the trees are thinner and spaced. To get advantage from the surplus light, dozens of micro orchids crowd the thin branches, Pleurothalis pterophora is one of them. On the ground, Alstroemeria speciosa  give to the trail a red coloring, Vanilla beyrichii crawls up the tree trunks but keep the base fixed in the forest humus. On the brighter spots we still can see some of the now rare Sophronitis coccinea  Growing side by side with the orchids, three epiphyte gesneriads: Nematanthus fritschii, Nematanthus teixeiranus and Codonanthe gracilis.


When finally the uphill trail levels, we are on the top of the mountain and the forest gives place to an altitude field. There, because of the thin layer of organic material and soil, we find only herbaceous plants and some shrubs that don’t reach more than five feet in height. The absence of trees is not a problem, in fact it is in the soil that we find the most beautiful natural garden from this part of Atlantic Forest.  Hundreds of sundews, Drosera villosa, side by side with Zygopetalum crinitum, Zygopetalum mosenianum, Zygopetalum intermedium, and their natural hybrids.  Big clumps of Epidendrum secundum, in several color forms can reach almost six feet tall, if you count the three feet flowering stem.


As we approach the North mountain border a six hundred feet abyss is waiting for us. Very carefully we explore this side, where thousands of Neomarica caerulea  thrive, as well some clumps of Hippeastrum morelianum, Sinningia mauroana and lots of bromeliads.


We sit down for the (well) deserved picnic and rest, and place the backpack just on side of a drunkard’s dream, Hatiora salicornioides, a cactaceae with stems that look like small bottles. From our place the viewing is stunning, we can see the Atlantic Ocean, only 15 miles away and 3300 feet below, and also the tops of the mountains that runs along it.


After resting we reluctantly start our journey back. We could stay there for more time if wasn’t for the fog that was coming from the lowlands and almost reaching us.


We take a few minutes to explore the East side where a few smaller trees still are able to grow and under their shade we have time to see the rare Hippeastrum calyptratum, Nematanthus bradei and lots of Oncidium flexuosum.


On the trailside, growing in the sphagnum moss, Utricularia reniformis shows off the big purple flowers.  As we are descending we see some plants that we didn’t notice first, Stelis vinosa, Pleurothallis arcuata are among them.  Also Begonia cucullata, that likes meadows and humid places.


One hour later we are back and climb on the jeep again, tired but happy to know that a little bit of the once colossal Atlantic Rainforest is still alive and thriving.







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