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!


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!