Chapter 5 – Grão Mogol

Grão Mogol
16°42’36″S – 42°52’11″W
Elevation 829 meters
Dear reader,

The city of Grão Mogol is part of the Cadeia do Espinhaço (Espinhaço Range) and is located in an isolated area in the North of the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. It is out-of-the-way, remote, but the trip is rewarding due to its formidable flora and landscape!

In case you have never heard of Grão Mogol, there is an easy explanation: most probably you are not an enthusiast of the Cactaceae for which Grão Mogol is internationally famous! And very justly so! Cacti are fantastic plants and you find them in all shapes and sizes in Grão Mogol. Take Melocactus which is self fertile and its seeds fall off the mother plant and land near the base where many germinate, forming huge families in time. Walking in these areas is a delicate thing for fear of damaging the seedlings!

Cacti (plural of Cactus – Cactaceae, the cactus family) have developed ingenious ways to survive in very dry conditions, and this adaptabilitydeserves our respect and admiration. They flourish where humans would surely die in little time. Hopefully, this presentation will help the city to become famous for its many beautiful bromeliads also, some of which are new species just recently discovered and shown here in detail for the first time.

Grão Mogol has many rare species like Democactus horstii, a little beauty, listed as endangered species in CITES I. It also has a high percentage of Endemism, that is, the plants that are found there are unique to that place, they are not naturally found elsewhere. One more reason to take good care of them, do you agree? Did you know that 66 percent of the 538 threatened species in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais are found there?

The biome of Grão Mogol is the extraordinary Cerrado, an enormously rich Savannah. According to José Rubens Pirani et al. (2003), Grão Mogol has a vascular flora of 1073 species. New research by Marcos Sobral of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerias (UFMG) reveals that from the end of 1990 to the beginning of the year 2006, 2875 new species of angiosperms, varying from herbs to trees were discovered, averaging 170 descriptions per year. There were 1194 new discoveries in the Mata Atlantica area, 966 in the Brazilian Cerrado and 582 in theAmazon rain forest. The estimate is that there are around 40 to 60 thousand angiosperm plants.

Tourism in Grão Mogol is practically non-existent and lodging is very poor, though probably not for long, because a new paved road has just been completed and only God knows what surprises the new asphalt will bring. I hope it attracts visitors, hopefully ecotourists. I have my fingers crossed! Time will tell.

The Cerrado and Campos Rupestres are made for walking and contemplation. One needs time to explore these ecosystems. I take a long time examining a small area because I stop every two meters to photograph something, amazed by the exuberance of life manifested in so many ways. And how fragile Nature is.

I visited Grão Mogol in early August, 2007 with Elton Leme and Claudio C. Paula, at which time was discovered Orthophytum graomogolenseand Orthophytum piranianum. Photos of these species in the habitat are shown here for the first time. I have included shots of other bromeliads which I was unable to identify, either because they were not in flower or because they are unknown, probably new species also.

Being a lucky fellow, I met nice people such as Geraldo Froes and Carla Cristina de Oliveira. Mr. Geraldo (76 years old) is the man in charge of the municipal plant nursery, a kind and generous human being. Carla, a sweet person, has a tough job: she is the head of the Grão Mogol National Park and its treasures. Both gave us a warm reception for which I am grateful. Geraldo´s name was given to a Neoregelia hybrid as a small token of my appreciation and recognition for their anonymous dedication to a noble cause.

I thank Harry Luther, Marlon Machado, Domingos Cardoso and Rafael Louzada for their kind assistance in the identification of species; Derek Butcher and Michael Andreas of FCBS for the usual support which is essential to this work.

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As I grow old the domain of my interest is increasing and not diminishing, probably as a result of the field trips which contribute to spread my curiosity which seems infinite. I feel immensely rich, because this interest in life keeps me busy and full of plans for the future. The Brazilian Cerrado is a miracle. A rock, a caterpillar, a flower, an orange bird, a bromeliad, an orchid, the landscape, the trunk of an old tree, the Cacti, the mimicry of a lizard … you name it, each has a story and a miraculous tale of survival. But this abundance is in danger and may not last long if we do not act fast to protect it.

This presentation is best viewed in 1480 x 1020 pixels.

Oscar Ribeiro
Rio de Janeiro, September 2009