So you’ve driven 600 miles and you find yourself finally at the end of the road. Central Chiapas. Comfortably close to the border of the ever mysterious Reserva Biosfera El Triunfo. You took your chance on some place to rest your head in that tiny, coffee town at the end of the road, Finca Custepec. But just like the locals warned you, there is only worker bunk housing here. Fortunately, I arrived with two most excellent traveling companions: Manuel Luján (reliable and terrific as always) and my dear bud Amanda Fisher… long time grass expert but slowing catching the Acanth fever. They are non-complainers. We are here in attempt to track down a couple of rare species of Ruellia, both of which are Chiapas endemics or near-endemics. We didn’t find either along the way, despite regular searches throughout the course of our all day journey. We will try tomorrow….
Lucky for us, we were introduced to El Jefe of the Finca. I am trying desperately to remember his name but am failing to do so (dear kind soul: if you read this, please get in touch!). He had 3 beds available for us at his private quarters, but only 2 of them had mattresses. Nevermind that, I love sleeping on hard, wooden planks (true). It was a cold night, but the most excellent hospitality in combination with the stupendous, hot espresso and thrill of the next morning made up for the shiver.
On my early morning jog, I took a couple of side trails up nearby mountains, through what appeared to be suitable habitat for the species we were after: Ruellia matudae and Ruellia megasphaera. Zero for two. I got a lot of funny looks by the locals but waved as if everything was as normal as possible. Back and showered by 7:30 AM, Amanda, Manuel, and I set off up the hill for a long, much needed multi-hour walk. There are two routes out of the finca on foot – one leads to some unspecified primary forests on some unspecified piece of land, and the other leads to El Triunfo proper, eventually crossing up and over the Sierras before dropping down towards Pijijiapan on the Pacific Slope. We are warned not to go the latter route because of robbers, which immediately made me want to do so. But we opted for route #1 instead. We hiked for numerous hours, crossing in and out of more fincas for the most part, with occasional bouts into primary forest. The footpath eventually ended at a family finca… a very nice couple who welcomed us in. They said there was no other route into the primary forest. Major bummer.
Feeling defeated, we retreated. We reached Finca Custepec and our car well after mid-day. But we still felt curious about label data written up by Dennis Breedlove and other ‘old pros’ at the Cal Academy. Thus, we made a very very slow retreat out of that wonderful place, driving up various side tracks along the way. It worked, and all of the above is to say: many unnecessary details occlude the final moment of finding what you are after. In this case, it was Amanda sticking her head sufficiently far enough outside the rear window to spot, in passing, a small pink flower on a nearly vertical slope. It was Ruellia matudae. We spent the next several hours studying and collecting it, scrambling the scratchy slopes until we had enough material in hand. This plant has the sexiest winged peduncles ever. You can also check these out on Matuda’s 1966 type specimen. Ruellia matudae is quite interesting because of its floral color (dark pink) and its close relationship to Ruellia pereducta, which is also dark pink, and to Ruellia breedlovei, which is purple. Based on currently available data, it is unknown whether Ruellia matudae is ancestral to or derived with respect to these two species
On the way out, we bagged Ruellia megasphaera nearby. Both species utterly remarkable and both species ‘new to Erin’. More on the latter species under that entry.
I love Chiapas – its plants AND its coffee.
Wild Collected, Mexico, Tripp, Luján, & Fisher #5754 (COLO); Photos by M. Luján