Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Habitat, nursery/collection and show tours.
IanW
Registered Guest
Posts: 3779
Joined: 18 Nov 2007
Branch: LEEDS
Country: UK
Role within the BCSS: Member

Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby IanW » Sat Mar 05, 2016 1:11 pm

This post isn't intended as a full blown travelogue (if I get time, I'll do one of those later!) though it is quite long, but more an update on the status of Cacti on St Lucia coupled with, what I feel are some interesting discussion points about what we know about populations, about how best to grow certain species, and when we should worry about our plants looking sickly. Some years back our very own David K wrote a short write up here on a population of Melocactus on the island here:

http://northants.bcss.org.uk/nl213/nl213lucia.htm

Knowing I was visiting myself, and having never actually seen Melocacti in habitat before I was obviously quite keen to try and visit them myself. I was however concerned given the state of the population's David visited that there wouldn't be anything left to see, as he rightly pointed out the population in the North didn't look healthy, and the belief was that there was only also a small population in the South wasn't encouraging.

I was able to make contact with a local forestry guide on the island but he wasn't sure about the North or South populations, he was however able to take me to a different population and I'm pleased to say, the plight of Melocactus on St Lucia may thankfully now look a lot more positive than was obvious looking at the populations in the North, and in fact, what at first appeared to be a problem with poaching in David's article leading to decline in the population, might actually be something else - the plants he saw may well be the establishment of new plants as expansion, rather than reduction from the remnants of poaching.

But before a few pictures, a brief word on what I observed about Cacti (and succulents) on the island. I was fortunate in that our holiday was very much and air, land, and sea holiday in that we took a helicopter tour around the island, our guide walked us through areas of the island almost entirely untouched by humans, and we did a lot of scuba diving from boats. This gave me the advantage of being able to see the island from just about every perspective, and one thing that was clear from every angle is that the Pilosocereus on the island loved the coastline being present on almost the entirety of the West Coast, dominating the entire surface areas of small rocky outcrops off the Atlantic coast isolated from the mainland, but also dominating the majority of the coastline on the North and West coast too. The Melocactus on the island seem to share the Pilosocereus habitat and this is why I'm actually a little more positive now about their future - I believe the population David witnessed wasn't necessarily simply a population decimated by poaching, but may well be a population spreading from a coastal location inland. I have reason to believe that due to things like coastal collapse from erosion, and mud and landslides that are apparently common in periods of heavy rain (especially when hurricanes have hit in the past) that the populations here may well be incredibly fluid in their coastline based survival against the forces of nature and it is that that means there are often still relatively new looking populations, rather than human interference. A large part of the reason I believe this is that in the population I saw there was also a rather new looking population in a similar state to that which David saw, but that was situated not far from a very mature population - if it was poaching it would seem odd for them to leave such a mature population so close.

To start, I'll highlight an example of the coastal collapse that is apparently not entirely uncommon in the area of habitat I visited:
Image

Another key feature of this landscape is that it's constantly battered by the northeasterly trade winds that cross the Atlantic from Africa (much like the jetstream that moderates our temperatures), so much so that the vegitation of the entire landscape is shaped by it:
Image

Even some of the Melocactus cephalia weren't immune from the effects of this strong wind:
Image

The first sign along this coastal strip of succulents are the Agave caribaeicola:
Image

There is a healthy population of this on this part of the Eastern coast, as you can see here in this panorama (hence the odd image dimensions):
Image

The first Melocactus population is that which I previously mentioned looked rather young with no mature specimens, and sat about maybe 200m from the mature population (but within sight of it):
Image

Image

And also this specimen, which I bravely push my fingers in to confirm what appeared to be the case that yep, this surprisingly fatal looking damage wasn't, the split was calloused as hard as a rock and didn't seem to be a permanent impediment on the plants ability to survive:
Image

Moving down the coast we reach our first Melocactus, but also mixed in with Opuntia triacanthos, and Pilosocereus royenii:
Image

Behind me were some more, very mature Melocactus intortus, sat amongst the Agave:
Image

And I guess Colin, if you're reading this, maybe your Agave aren't so bad after all if they're willing to act as nurse plants for my Melocactus:
Image

It's hard to describe the beauty of this place in a way that does it justice, pictures don't do it, though they do paint a good picture still. You may notice in some of these places that coral reefs are just visible in the sea beneath these plants, but this area is too dangerous for scuba diving - all our diving was done on the much calmer West coast. The Cacti are happy to live precariously on the edge (but who can blame them with that view?):
Image

Image

Image

Damage and deformity is not uncommon, but also, apparently, not much of a hindrance. Marks, scars, and apparent discolouration seem to be part of the natural cycle and nothing much to worry about. I previously thought I was doing wrong when some of my Melocacti looked a little more yellow, or had a few blemishes on, but it's normal and incredibly common in habitat:
Image

Image

Image

Image

I'm also not convinced by the keep Melocactus in small shallow pots little bigger in diameter than the plants themselves with a bit of gravel around the base theory anymore. These roots tell a different story being spread wide, and visibly present on the surface. We obviously have to compromise on space in our greenhouses, but a bit of free root run, with the roots being next to or on the surface seems to be the natural state of all the mature Melocactus I saw:
Image

The population here is in great health:
Image

Image

Opuntia triacanthos at all stages - bud, flower, pollination, fruit:
Image

This highlights my view that these populations are probably fairly dynamic and regularly shifting, I suspect these aren't too far away from suffering a landslide type fate:
Image

This Agave was a monster, the picture doesn't do it justice, the plant alone even without the flower spike was more than twice my height:
Image

This landscape, a peninsula had some trees at the end of it, in those trees there was also Acanthocereus tetragonus:
Image

Just to my left was this area, with Pilosocereus royenii and Melocactus intortus living precariously alongside an ocean blowhole (sorry for the lensflare):
Image

These were also growing in the rocks, I'm afraid I can't remember the name. Aizoaceae sp. I believe:
Image

What I believe was another Aizoaceae species was growing on our way back in the mangroves. I'm not sure what would drive a succulent here, given that it was right in the middle of a run off into the sea that all the rainfall drains to, I couldn't think of a place more wet as the second picture shows the area opposite that the water runs off too:
Image

Image

Later that day we decided to take a trip to the North East, an old British colonial fort at a place called Pidgeon Island (that isn't actually an island anymore) where we were able to see much of the reproductive process of Pilosocereus royenii in action thanks to a Greater Antillean bullfinch - again, flower, non-ripe fruit, ripe fruit, seed dispersion mechanism (the bullfinch):
Image

Like the earlier Melocactus, this species also seemed to enjoy a beautiful view of a reef in the background:
Image

Opuntia dillenii was also present up here:
Image

It wasn't news to me that we mollycoddle our plants far more than they get in nature, but my take away from all of this is that sometimes some of the things we see on our plants and worry about are not actually anything to worry about at all - that when sometimes our plants look a little sickly, then may well not be and may be doing just fine. I learnt a lot about how and where these Melocactus grow, and intend to try growing some quite differently to examine the effects. I learnt that my seedlings and young plants look exactly as seedlings and young plants would be expected to look in habitat, and about the Melocactus of St. Lucia, I realised that they're in a constant battle with the forces of the ocean and geology, and that populations that may at first glance appear to have been the victim of poaching may simply be just examples of shifting habitats as a result of that never ending battle. I saw Bromeliads, and Orchids growing with our plants and saw termites playing their part in recycling detritus for our plants to consume for food (not shown- this post has gotten long enough as is!), but once again above all else I was reminded about the absolute beauty of habitat, and why these must be protected. The good news is that for now, the Melocactus population on St. Lucia looks quite safe, and that's extremely promising - the difficulty of traversal of the terrain to get to this population (it couldn't have been done without such an excellent local guide) coupled with the constantly strong Atlantic winds and general geography means that I hope this population will remain safe for the foreseeable future.

For what it's worth, our guide suggested the lowest the temperatures get around the Melocactus area is about 13c - 14c for short periods (it was about 31c when we were there), this somewhat reinforces my experience that 12c is probably too cold to consistently keep Melocactus healthy over winter, my Melocactus suffered a lot more when I dropped from a winter low of 15c to 12c and are much happier now I've increased back up to 15c+.
User avatar
Liz M
BCSS Member
Posts: 2870
Joined: 22 Dec 2007
Branch: MACCLESFIELD & EAST CHESHIRE
Country: UK
Role within the BCSS: Branch Chair
Location: The North West of England

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby Liz M » Sat Mar 05, 2016 4:35 pm

What an interesting and informative post, with some reassuring news. Thanks for some useful information and some really super pictures. I look forward to the next posts.
Obsessive Crassulaceae lover but also grow, Aloes, Agaves, Haworthias and a select number of Cacti
User avatar
Brian
BCSS Member
Posts: 301
Joined: 31 Dec 2010
Branch: MACCLESFIELD & EAST CHESHIRE
Country: UK
Role within the BCSS: Member

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby Brian » Sat Mar 05, 2016 5:16 pm

(tu) Ian, what a very interesting post and worthy of a Cactus World article. Melocacti seem to be walking down towards the sea in droves. Love the sight of the pilos hanging off the side of the cliffs. I was on the island in December and the climate was very different from UK: never below around 28 degrees day & night, & generally windy, with fair degree of moisture and rain. These are conditions we can never recreate in a greenhouse without costly heater and fan running - so I will not be trying!
User avatar
Tina
BCSS Member
Posts: 4381
Joined: 11 Jan 2007
Branch: NORTHAMPTON & MILTON KEYNES
Country: England
Role within the BCSS: Committee member
Location: BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby Tina » Sat Mar 05, 2016 5:25 pm

Very interesting, love the melo with the slanted cepahleum.
Super pictures too,
Thanks Ian
Tina

varied collection of succulents and cacti but I especially like Euphorbia's and variegated agaves.

Bucks, UK
Branch co-ordinator Northampton & Mk Branch
User avatar
Paul in Essex
BCSS Member
Posts: 1054
Joined: 11 Jan 2007
Branch: SOUTHEND-ON-SEA
Country: England
Role within the BCSS: Member
Location: North Thames Delta
Contact:

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby Paul in Essex » Sun Mar 06, 2016 9:15 am

Wonderful stuff - definitely needs to be in print!
www.oasisdesigns.co.uk

Exotic garden design.
User avatar
David_K
BCSS Treasurer
Posts: 938
Joined: 11 Jan 2007
Branch: NORTHAMPTON & MILTON KEYNES
Country: ENGLAND
Role within the BCSS: Treasurer

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby David_K » Sun Mar 06, 2016 5:12 pm

Hi Ian,

Great to see that the areas you visited still had very viable populations. However
what at first appeared to be a problem with poaching in David's article leading to decline in the population, might actually be something else - the plants he saw may well be the establishment of new plants as expansion, rather than reduction from the remnants of poaching.
was definitely not the case. The person who took me to the site I visited was a local plantsman and he was quite taken back by the lack of mature plants which he said had been there the previous time he had visited the site only a few months previously. I am extremely pleased that you found other areas that are still thriving.
David Kirkbright
Society Treasurer & Trustee,
Northants and MK Branch
Long time grower (not always well) of almost anything.
Visitors welcome but check first.
User avatar
Apicra
BCSS Member
Posts: 1197
Joined: 11 Jan 2007
Branch: HARROW
Country: UK
Role within the BCSS: Branch Chair
Location: London, UK
Contact:

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby Apicra » Sun Mar 06, 2016 8:08 pm

A good read! Interesting to hear about the state of these cacti in the wild - I guess locals dig them up for their gardens?

Best wishes,
Derek Tribble
Harrow Branch
IanW
Registered Guest
Posts: 3779
Joined: 18 Nov 2007
Branch: LEEDS
Country: UK
Role within the BCSS: Member

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby IanW » Mon Mar 07, 2016 1:47 pm

David_K wrote:Hi Ian,

Great to see that the areas you visited still had very viable populations. However
what at first appeared to be a problem with poaching in David's article leading to decline in the population, might actually be something else - the plants he saw may well be the establishment of new plants as expansion, rather than reduction from the remnants of poaching.
was definitely not the case. The person who took me to the site I visited was a local plantsman and he was quite taken back by the lack of mature plants which he said had been there the previous time he had visited the site only a few months previously. I am extremely pleased that you found other areas that are still thriving.


A shame to hear that David, I guess if nothing else it does still seem clear that these plants can repopulate quite successfully from the impossible to reach cliff growing specimens.

Between the crashing waves on the east coast (there's a big wave visible in one of the pictures posted above that highlights what I mean!) and the general fragility of the coastline there, I think people would have a hard time descending down or ascending up those cliffs to collect from the cliff sides - it would effectively be a suicide mission. Even if collection does eventually seriously effect this population I think the island is fairly safe from seeing extinction of this species if nothing else.

Apicra wrote:A good read! Interesting to hear about the state of these cacti in the wild - I guess locals dig them up for their gardens?


I actually tried to keep an eye out for this, and I saw a few examples of Opuntia dillenii and Pilosocereus royenii in people's gardens, but no Melocactus visible. That doesn't mean they're not there of course, but if people are collecting for their gardens rather than other reasons (i.e. illegal export) then they are at least not commonly displaying them prominently as trophies. This could of course just mean they're keeping them in hidden parts of their gardens out of public view, or it could mean they're simply failing to keep them alive for long.

Many people regularly appear to grow food bearing plants in their gardens- almond, cashew, banana, papaya, sweet orange, coconut, cacao, passion fruit, and so on.
IanW
Registered Guest
Posts: 3779
Joined: 18 Nov 2007
Branch: LEEDS
Country: UK
Role within the BCSS: Member

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby IanW » Mon Mar 07, 2016 7:00 pm

Slightly off-topic, but on the off chance anyone is interested I just copied a few underwater images off the Go Pro, this place is just as beautiful beneath the waves and were some of these species to be seen on land you could probably mistake them for Cacti or succulents as the structures, shapes, and growth patterns are not always too dissimilar! Colour reproduction isn't perfect as I've not yet perfected underwater colour filters on the camera, but here you go:

Image

Image

Image
User avatar
RAYWOODBRIDGE
BCSS Member
Posts: 407
Joined: 10 Mar 2012
Branch: None
Country: United Kingdom
Role within the BCSS: Member
Location: North West England
Contact:

Re: Cacti and Agave in St Lucia (Warning: Lots of images)

Postby RAYWOODBRIDGE » Wed Mar 09, 2016 12:19 pm

Nice article Ian, yes I have heard from other Melocactus locations that they can withstand salt water crashing over them without too much effect, something we would never dream of looking at our plants back in the greenhouse, shows they are much more resilient than we give them credit for.
Ray

BCSS member 50155
Echinocereenfreund member 100
Cactus only collection mainly from seed, Echinocereus incl.Wilcoxia and Peniocereus.
Echinocactus,Astrophytum,Ferocactus,Stenocactus,Thelocactus,Opuntia,Cleistocactus,Oreocereus, Lophophora & Ariocarpus. Also Rhipsalis, Lepisium and Disocactus

Return to “Travelogues”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests