Program: Cacti & Succulents of the Bolivian Highlands
By Wendell S. (Woody) Minnich (Biography at the end of the program description)
Bolivia, in the western regions of South America, is south of Peru and north of Argentina-Chile and west of Brazil. Being squeezed by past wars with its neighbors, Bolivia is now a small country with no direct connection to the Pacific Ocean. It is mostly made-up of high Andean mountain environments often divided by deep river gorge valleys. From sea level to altitudes in excess of 24,000 feet, it is well known for its Inca ancestry, high altitude terrace farming and the beautiful llamas, alpacas and vicunas. Due to it being mostly high in elevation, many of the cacti and other succulents are endemic to very specialized and uniquely created habitats.
When flying into La Paz, the capitol of Bolivia, one soon becomes aware of their first immediate adjustment. As soon as you step off of the airplane, you really feel the altitude of near 14,000 feet. Normally, a few days of acclimation are necessary, thus what better way to see this historically beautiful city, than to just meander verrry slooowly from street to street! The people and their culture are pronounced, and the colors and vibrancy of their life style is inspirational. One would think, at this mountainous altitude, the winter temperatures would get very cold and thus prohibit the growth of most succulent plants. Surprisingly, there are numerous cacti and other succulents found growing everywhere. And, if the altitude makes you feels ill, there are always vendors along the cobblestone streets anxious to sell their famed cocoa leaves. Just chew some, dribble the juice down your chin, and soon you’ll feel as if you’re back at sea level.
From La Paz into Bolivia’s more remote regions, one quickly begins to view fantastic scenery from snow covered peaks to deep valleys and sculptured geological formations. Soon the Puyas and columnar Cereus become the dominate vegetation. If curvy winding roads with sheer drop-offs are not to your liking, this may not be the best place for you. Pretty soon, many smaller cryptic genera become visible from the window of your Land Cruiser. You totally forget about the rough roads and immediately get excited by more and more species appearing with each and every bend in the road. Sulcorebutias, Rebutias and Weingartias are the most dominant genera, and when they are in flower, they seem to glow with their big electric red, yellow and burgundy flowers. The Echinopsis, Lobivias, Oreocereus and Cleistocactus are also very common and are often found growing in association with numerous Bromeliads and the occasional Echeveria.
Everyday in Bolivia is like riding a rollercoaster, from sea level to 20,000 feet, and from one species of cactus to another. In some areas, the cacti dominate the landscape, and in others, the cacti are as cryptic and camouflaged as chameleons. Hopefully sharing my travels in Bolivia from Lake Titicaca to Sucre, will be as exciting for you as it was for me. For those of you who may never make such a trip, perhaps this presentation can take you to Bolivia without ever leaving home.
Biography of Mr. Minnich:
Woody, as he is commonly known, grew up in the Mojave Desert and has had an attraction to desert plants and animals since the early 1950’s. He has been involved with the cactus and succulent world as a grower, field explorer, club and organization leader, writer, photographer, lecturer and presenter.
Having been a speaker all over the world, Woody is most often associated with giving presentations on his field work from the places he has traveled, such as: Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Madagascar, Mexico, Namibia, New Zealand, Peru, Socotra, South Africa, the United States and Yemen. He is also recognized for having operated the nursery Cactus Data Plants since 1975. Woody’s show quality plants were often considered one of the standards for staging and horticultural achievement. His favorite genera include: Adenium, Ariocarpus, Astrophytum, Copiapoa, Cyphostemma, Fouquieria, Gymnocalycium, Lithops, Mammillaria, Melocactus, Pachypodium, Turbinicarpus and Pachycauls in general.
He has published numerous articles in various journals and his photography is featured in many books including; “The Copiapoa” by Schulz, “The Mammillaria Handbook” by Pilbeam, “The Cactus Lexicon” By Hunt and Charles, as well as many others. As of this last November 2017, he is featured as the primary photographer in the new book “The Xerophile.” This book specializes in what the authors call, The Obsessed Field workers from around the world.
Woody and his wife, Kathy, live in Cedar Grove, New Mexico. He is a retired secondary school teacher of 32 years where he taught Graphics, Art and Architecture. In the cactus and succulent hobby, Woody is recognized for his high energy and creative spirit. As an educator, he has become an important part of the hobby and thus is an honorary life member of ten C&S societies. With 45 years in the hobby and 64 years in the field, he has many experiences to share and numerous photos to show.