Subchapter 8 – Jacobina, Bahia

 In August 2003, I visited Jacobina for the very first time. Following a suggestion, the trip had a purpose: I was to locate the habitat of the elusive Orthophytum navioides discovered by Mulford and Racine Foster in 1939. It appears there was great curiosity in the bromeliad community – thus the suggestion – as to its habitat, of which there was no detailed information available, save for a vague remark in L. B. Smith’s description of the species:

“Type. Foster 90 (holotype, GH; isotypes R, US), on perpendicular rocks above stream in isolated ravine, Jacobina, Bahia, Brazil, 16 Jun 1939.
Distribution. Known from the type collection only.”

   Since Jacobina is at the Espinhaço range and surrounded by hills of different chains – meaning they are all over! – the search started in the right way, that is, as a big challenge! I was sure to find thousands of “perpendicular rocks above stream in isolated ravine!” But not all was lost. I had photos of the species taken from the FCBS site which I could show to the locals for identification and possible whereabouts. One has to start somewhere, right?

   A curiosity: did you know that all Orthophytum navioides in circulation are offspring of the individuals collected by Foster and his wife more than sixty years ago? This explains the note: “Distribution. Known from the type collection only.”  Well, the situation remains to this day for I have never divulged the geographical coordinates of the habitats. Yes, habitats in plural, for I have registered three distinct populations in Jacobina and another 100kms out of town, after four trips to the area along the years.

   Before leaving Rio I had homework to do: dig out information about Foster´s visit to Brazil and facts about Jacobina. The first was useless because his book Brazil, Orchid of the Tropics – 1945, was long out of print (and unavailable) and as to the second task I had to rely on whatever information I could find on the internet, which also proved to be of no practical use. What to do? It´s full steam ahead to get the job done! Is not a good challenge invigorating? So I left Rio de Janeiro with lots of enthusiasm…soon to be rewarded!

   When Mulford and Racine Foster visited Jacobina in 1939, the city occupied an enormous territory later subdivided into several new municipalities. So where to start searching? Whom to contact? A couple of days would suffice?

   I will save the details of how the habitats were found. Suffice to say it wasn´t easy. I owe its discovery to my guide and his obstinate persistence. The photos you are about to see are being divulged for the very first time. They were taken in 2003 and over the years. This is a humble homage to Mulford B. Foster and Racine Sarasy Foster to whom we owe so much.

I acknowledge the usual kind assistance of Harry E. Luther (the bromeliad world will miss you, Harry!), Derek Butcher, Marlon Machado, Domingos Cardoso, Leonardo Versieux, Matheus Nogueira. Howard Frank and Adroaldo Araujo.

Happy New Year to you and yours!

Abraços, Oscar

P.S.: August 2011 I sent a message to Michael Andreas – webmaster of – detailing my plans for this presentation. I mentioned that the book Brazil, Orchid of the Tropics – 1945 was long out of print and how important it would be for this article if I could get a copy of it. To my surprise, Michael immediately responded: “I have an extra copy of Fosters book which I want to send to you!”. Excellent news! Soon after I received the book and a beautiful card from Karen & Michael Andreas. Because of their generosity, this presentation is immensely enriched with the quotations extracted from the book. Racine´s narrative is splendid, contagious, easy to read and a precious source of varied information about the country, flora, habits, people, and, of course, the couple´s wonderment in exploring Brazil in the 30´s. Pure magic, dear reader! Why isn’t such an important source of information available in digital form? One can´t even find a review of it in the Internet. This is a challenge for the BSI in honor of the prestigious couple of American naturalists.

More info:

Harry E. Luther: