The valley of pennellii

The day started of pretty nice again. Ok, the hotel didn’t serve breakfast, but one block away we found a bakery like shop that served us a decent empenada and had some very upbeat music just loud enough that it wouldn’t make sense to talk to each other. This, of course made for a very happy the start of the day. After breakfast we left Huaral with a minor detour, but this led us to the first surprise of the day. Urban wild tomatoes! A nice S. pimpinellifolium was growing next to a pile of rubbish well within the city and a second one could be found in a field, behind a pretty decent barbed-wire fence.

Today was supposed to be a shorter day. From Huaral to Lima are 90 km. When you take the Panamerican highway, this can be done in under 2 hours, even with dense traffic. We took the B-road, the 108. Google tells you that when you follow this road, it will take you three hours. However, Google is pretty much completely off when it comes to dirt tracks. We learned this the past few days so, we do our own calculations. On average, I can drive about 25 – 30 km/h on the track. This includes the occasional stop to look for the plants. So the we add a few hours of actual sampling and you can calculate that no more than 6 hours after leaving we’d be in Lima. Today’s road was slightly different. First of all it was very impressive, sometimes green and agriculture all around, then dry and pretty dusty, but above all it pot holed like no other. So badly, that I regularly had to use the lowest of the low gears to just get over the road. Below a picture of a good section.

After seeing this mixed landscape for a while and encountering the odd S. pimpinellifolium and S. pennellii the landscape change again. Everything became even dryer and dustier. A total moon landscape right ahead of us. So we feared, looking at the distance to go, that the next 5 hours would be tomato free. This turned out to be completely false. After a few km, we came closer to the dried up river beds and suddenly the S. pennellii popped up all over the place. I think that I am not exaggerating if I say that on some locations you could see plants  every 20 meters for hundreds of meters. Truly amazing.

After 25 km, the road went up in the mountains again, but the tomato intensity did not decrease. The species changed to S. peruvianum and all along the road there were hundred of plants On the way down on the other side, the gradually made way to S. pennellii again, just like on the other side. Hundreds of plants, all in a place dry as the moon. Interestingly, if you put your hand in between the leaves of the plant to sample the lower parts, you can feel humitity on your skin. Between the leaves of the tomatoes is a true humid microenvironment!
Today is probably the day with the most spotted plants, which came to me totally unexpected. However, since it also came with as many pot holes, we finally arrived in Lima at a bit past 16:00. Both Philippe and I are not CIP employees, so we would have needed a special permit to work after 17:00. This left not much time to fully prepare the samples, so we decided quickly prep everything for overnight storage and tomorrow we will join the CIP technicians with the sample preps. I am really looking forward to this, because upon my arrival, they told me that they isolated some P infestans spores from the 1st sample, collected on the 1st day. Let’s see if we can get more!


Vamos peru

Today started well. Being already in the mountains we didn’t have to drive much to collect our first specimens. But things changed a little afterwards. Alberto Salas had recommended us to drive from Canta, where we were, to Simbilca and then down to Huaral. He promised us endless seas of S. habrochaites. After a few minutes driving we realised that we went up quite steeply and that we were quickly going to be well above the maximum altitude for any tomato species. We were optimisic and figured that we’d soon be heading down into the next valley, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. In the end we drove for 2 hours to reach an altitude of 3600 m above sea level. The views were absolutely stunning and on the way up we also passed 2 cultivated potato fields that had been treated against P. infestans, the blue color of the pesticide was still visible, but showed some infections and also bacterial wilt symptoms. Yet, we were definitely short on tomatoes.

The way down on the other side of the mountain was pretty similar. Over an hour of pot holes and S-curves, but then, suddenly, when we dropped below 2500m, there they were, some lonely S. pennellii plants. Shortly afterwards, we saw even more of them and within a few km, there were tomato plants popping up left and right of the road every few meters. Just like before, some showed really no sign of any pathogen, others had some brown spots that could be anything. Then in la Perla Alta, we saw what was promised, seas of S. habrochaites. Some plants up to four meters high and as many meters wide. A magnificent sea of green with yellow flowers. Quite a contrast with most of the dry pampa we’d seen before. We collected as many samples as we still had energy for and then drove to a nice shadowy spot amidst the S. habrochaites, just on the edge of the village. Here we prepared our samples and decided that from here on, it would be a direct drive to the hotel. This trying to ignore all the beautiful additional tomatoes along the road.

All in all, it took us another 45 minutes to reach the main road. From there on, it was 1 hour on brand new and smooth asphalt to Huaral, where we found ourselves a pretty decent hotel. I have just returned from little walk in town and it’s buzzing. Tonight Peru is playing New Zealand for a place in the soccer world cup and everybody is getting ready for the public viewing that is coming up.
I might buy a white and red short and join them, totally undercover. Vamos Peru!

New heights

Today we planned to leave the hotel early again. And, we did. We left 30 minutes later than the plan was due to issues with my bank card, but overall, it was fine. 6:30 am, we were on the road.

Traffic in Lima didn’t slow us down as much as other yesterday. By 9:00 we had left the city and we had a break for a proper breakfast in a town of which I cannot remember the name. Shortly after this town the landscape changed dramatically, from dry Lima-suburban-slums, we suddenly found ourselves in a lush and agriculture rich area. No wild tomatoes though. So, we drove on. The road followed the river up into the mountains and by the time we reached 800 m altitude, the first wild tomatoes appeared, S. pimpinellifulium again. Today we were totally professional and all efficient, so we picked the plants, but did not process the samples immediately. We would collect a few sites and do all in batches. We found a very good site with dozens of S. pennellii in a bend in the road, going several hundred meters up. Here we collected additional samples and processed the previous ones as well. Not far from this site, we also found nice, but lonely S. peruvianum just on the side of the road.

After this plant we drove for quite a while. The occasional S. pennellii plant popped up, but we wanted to sample from a big population, so we could pick the best looking symptoms. I was just about to give up on finding one and wanted to suggest sampling a couple of these lonely plants next to the road, when Philippe yelled “Stop, stop, go back, go back”. I must have been looking tired or stupid, because he repeated himself a few more times. This, however, was a good thing, because after I reversed the car for a few hundred meters Philippe pointed me at the absolutely stunning site that I just overlooked. At least 50 plants growing in a dry river bed.

With plenty of S. pennellii in the pocket now, we were ready to drive into S. habrochaites country. The altitude meter told us we were passing 2000m, the area became greener and yes, there they were. Sometimes individually and sometimes in larger populations. We stopped at a site where we also found S. peruvianum and a third species which I think to be S corneliomulleri. I found very few P. infestans like symptoms on the S habrochaites. I expected this, because in the lab S. habrochaites is more resistant P. infestans than the other species we tested. Interestingly, there were some beautiful concentric rings with a yellow halo on quite a few leaves, so Alternria spp are probably doing fine on the plant. Next time, we should expand the collection permit. When I was about to head back, I suddenly heard some exciting scream behind me. Philippe had found a plant that showed some very clear and strong wilting symptoms. The hypothesis for this trip was that  the bacteria would be mostly asymptomatic in these species, so seeing this is quite exciting. However, we’ll have to wait till we’re back in the lab to know whether it is really bacterial wilt.

Early afternoon, we reached Canta. Our preferred hotel was closed, so we had to look for something else. We also still had to prep the samples of the second half of the morning morning. We did this in a hotel recommended by others, but we soon realised that there was no decent wifi connection and the beds were covered in dust. Motivated scientist as we are, that could have been OK, if only had we printed or at all prepared our route for tomorrow, so after sample prep in the dining room of the hotel and after having eaten our lunch there, we decided to move to another hotel.

The new hotel was only a few hundred meters away and looked much better. By the time we had checked in and settled down it turned out to be almost 15:00. Because our morning had been pretty successful and we both noticed some tiredness from the previous days, we decided to call it a day. This meant we finally had time to catch up with email and other work and also to just have a bit of a rest. For dinner we found a very typical Peruvian place, so we ordered Deep fried Guinnea Pig and a Pisco Sour at 2892 m above sea level. To not upset the readers of this blog, none of us took a picture of our meal, which wasn’t that tasty, by the way. Tomorrow we’re going “off road” to find more S habrochaites. I’m looking forward to it.



The adventure starts

What a day! It all started perfect. Being properly jetlagged, Philippe and I managed to leave our hotel fully packed by 6am. We were well outside Lima by 7 and made our way southwards on towards the toll gates of the Motorway 1, Panamerica Sur towards Mala.

Lima police apparently don’t have much to do on Sunday mornings, so they stopped each car after the toll gates, including ours. This is great when you don’t really speak Spanish and the Police no English at all. As a model citizen I handed over my driving licence and the three pieces of the cars paperwork. The policeman looked once, twice, three times and then suddenly asked something that I really could not get. After some repetitions, I think he asked what we were transporting or for whom we were working. Turns out our car is registered as a cargo vehicle and apparently, you need a special license for that. Luckily the policeman appeared in a good mood, or was just treally fed up with my horrible Spanish, because after a few times of me trying to explain what we were going, and how amazing wild tomatoes are, he suddenly said that everything was fine.

In Mala we had a pretty heavy breakfast before we made our way into the Lomas de Condestable. The landscape looked dry, but not as dry as along hte road to Mala and the tgrc told us that once in 1974, someone collected Solanum pimpinellifolium there. So off we went. Unfortunately, nothing was to be found at the described site, so we drove on a bit. Then, the coffee from breakfast really had to leave my body, so we took a break and lo and behold, there it was: our first wild tomato of the day! Right next to us. And even better, it showed a beautiful mix of infected leaves and healthy leaves and a bit even showed wilting symptoms. Closeby, we found several other interesting specimens, so it was really time to put our mobile lab in action.


Further up in the valley, it became even more exciting and I had to combine two of my favourite things, wild tomatoes and rock climbing, because there was a beautiful specimen of S. pimpinellifolium hanging high on the rocks. Further in the valley were a lot more plants, so this was really a good start.

For the afternoon we headed back towards Lima and head north-east from a town called Lurin towards Cieneguilla. On our way we should spot 6 or 7 more populations. However, this turned to be not quite the case. Greater Lima spralws like no other and we found road, parking lots and homes where our plants were supposed to be. Heavy gates blocked to view to what were supposed to be meadows. Not good. So, after a successful early morning, we were again quite devastated by the time we sat down for lunch. Then again, it was not so bad that a good serving of Ceviche couldn’t cure it.

After lunch we followed the road 112 towards Sisicaya. Here we passed a field with cultivated tomato, which we decided to sample, just for the sake of it when we saw, on the other side of the road, on the edge of a chili plantation, our first S. pennellii. A bit further down the road the amount of plants slowly increased until suddenly, we were surrounded by a huge S. pennellii population. Over a hundred plants grew on the steep slopes on both sides of the road. Many totally healthy, but again some showed some disease symptoms. Between the hundreds of S. pennellii, we could also identify some lost S. pimpinellifolium, however these all seemed to suffer from drought and were more brown than green.

We drove around a bit further and founds quite a lot of individual plants along the roadsite, but no big populations like before. We samples some of them and we decided to call it a day. Then on the way back we saw what might be the biggest tomato plant on the planet. The thing on the picture below is one plant. The branches were often over 5 meter long and the base of the stem was about 8 cm thick! It looked very healthy, but had some interesting Phytophthora like lesions. Back back in the hotel fell almost straight a sleep. What a start!