Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tillandsia atroviridipetala in Oaxaca

Many Tillandsias at higher elevations are interesting and colorful.  With the cooler temperatures and the frequent presence of fog bands there are a greater diversity of species between ~4,000-6,000 feet above sea level.  Tillandsia atroviridipetala belongs to a relatively small group of Tillandsias that have green flower petals.  These green petals contrast with the frosted pink floral bracts that are much more prominent.  In the picture, you can glimpse the green petals just peaking out from the bottom plant.  This is the smaller type of T. atroviridipetala being around 3 inches in diameter.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cactus in the Trees!

When thinking of epiphytes, it is normal to think of things like orchids, bromeliads, and even things like lichen growing on trees.  But every once in a while, conditions will be just right for some plants to grow in ways that they shouldn't be able to survive.  When they are growing on trees they are called accidental epiphytes.  I have seen some plants like a few agaves, a few hechtias, and even an opuntia (cactus) once in a while. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Heading to the World Bromeliad Conference

I'm busy preparing for a trip to Orlando for the World Bromeliad Conference this week.  It should be a great time catching up with friends from around the globe to see what is new in the bromeliad world.  The WBC will also be exciting as I will be presenting on rediscovering the long lost species, Hechtia argentea, the plant that started me on my adventures exploring the wonders of Mexico.  Many bromeliad collectors are familiar with the many Tillandsias that grow in Mexico, but overall little is known of the genus Hechtia.  Hopefully my presentation will open many eyes to the wonderful plants in this understudied genus.   If you are going to be at the conference, make sure to say hello.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Secret Coast of Michoacan

A beach that is not yet covered with
surfer palapas/huts
Like most things that are 'secret', if it is a good thing it won't remain a secret for very long.  Surfers are always hunting for new undiscovered gems and can get quite protective of the knowledge.  But they still share and tell their friends.  It isn't a good method for keeping things a secret.  Usually it will last for a while until the magazines and resorts realize there is a potential to make some money and then it quickly becomes a bit sullied.  Coming from the perspective of a plant enthusiast I feel like I can watch from a safe distance without getting too upset by 'the secret getting out'.  But I still comment to myself about the process as I watch some of these changes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mescal, Raicilla, and Tequila

Much like tasting the wonderful variety of great foods in the different regions of Mexico, it is necessary (at least for me!) to sample the different mescals throughout the country. Mescals are the distilled spirits produced from the agave plant. The most famous (and well marketed) mescal is tequila.

Tequila is a class of mescal that is essentially a regulated and trademarked regional production much like Champagne is for sparkling wine and Camembert, Stilton, and Parmesan for cheeses. Tequila must be grown and produced in specific parts of Mexico and use 100% blue agave (Agave tequiliana). I can’t help but chuckle when they put “100% Bue Agave” prominently on their label as if it is a great badge that no other tequila maker can say.

A Blooming Billbergia pallidiflora...An Elusive Prey

Billbergia pallidiflora fruiting in Jalisco
Billbergias are part of the bromeliad family, the plants that I take great joy in growing and studying in habitat. The species tend to have fairly plain looking leaves that are usually arranged in a tall, tubular vase shape.  But when they bloom, it is usually worth the wait.  Billbergia pallidiflora is one of the two species of Billbergia found in Mexico.  It is quite widespread from the furthest southern states of Mexico up the Pacific coast and even into Sinaloa, the second to last state before getting to the US.  I have seen plants in several of those states many times.  Even some which were fruiting a couple of times.  But I had not been able to time the trip to see one in bloom.

Tillandsia streptophylla

Tillandsia streptophylla is an interesting and cool bromeliad found in the state of Chiapas in southern Mexico.  The common name for this plant is the 'Shirley Temple plant' because of the way that the leaves curl.  Like most bromeliads it is a variable species, but all are soft and velvety and have the nice pink blush when it blooms.  Plants will vary in size and the character of the leaves (width, character of the curls, etc).  The leaves of all of them will curl tighter when the plant is experiencing dry conditions and will unfurl when well watered.  As is the case with many Mexican bromeliads they experience a prolonged dry season.  It is simply amazing that these plants can thrive through such long droughts while growing on the trunks of trees since their roots do not have access to the moisture present in soil.

Tillandsia streptophylla

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Process of Making Mescals and Tequilas

The overall production of mescals and tequilas is really simple and straightforward chemistry. Like for all liquors, a sugary solution is fermented where the sugars are broken down into carbon dioxide and ethanol (alcohol). Then the fermented slurry is distilled a couple of times to purify the alcohol. The largest difference is that for mescal, the agave heart is the source of the sugar as opposed to grapes (wine), sugarcane (rum), or grains (beer, whisky, vodka). Yes, grains contain sugar. The starches are composed of smaller sugar molecules.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Puerto Vallarta, a Gem Hidden Beyond the Cruise Ships

Puerto Vallarta is one of my favorite places to visit in Mexico.  It is tourist friendly, easy to get around, and has wonderful biodiversity hidden throughout its mountains.  The city itself is not the most beautiful nor the most interesting city in Mexico, but with a little bit of effort you can find many of the aspects that make Mexico so charming and wonderful.

A view of the ocean in Cabo Corrientes
Most tourists do not go beyond the beaches closest to the cruise ship terminal--that is a real shame.  A particularly interesting part of the city is the southern and older section, the Zona Romantica.  It offers a more intimate Mexican experience.  It has interesting shops, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and even a pancake house.  It is most definitely a tourist area, but you have much more of a chance of interacting and experiencing the day-to-day activities of the locals.  But more importantly for me, it is the perfect springboard to explore the mountains that surround much of the city.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Eagle Eye Adventures!

The experience of exploring our wonderful world is hard to describe.  If you have already experienced the magic of traveling abroad or even domestically, how can you describe it to others who have not?  Previously bitten by the travel bug I was fortunate to have a great friend talk me into taking a road trip deep into the mountains of Mexico to explore for a long lost bromeliad.  Ever since that first trip I have not been able to keep my mind away from Mexico for very long.

Mexico is a wonderful world that is both so close and so far away!  In my travels around the country searching for new and interesting plants I can't help but to continue to meet wonderful people, come across tasty food, learn about the pre-Columbian civilizations, buy unique artisanal crafts, and marvel at the natural wonders of the country.  Oh, did I mention the tequila (mescal, raicilla, and friends), chocolate, coffee, vanilla, and mole sauce??

I love sharing with world of discovery with anyone I can.  And in order to share with more than a friend or two at a time I have started developing trips for small groups to explore the botanical and cultural richness of this amazing country.  These trips are all botanically themed, especially focusing on the bromeliad family (the pineapple family that includes 'airplants' like the iconic Spanish moss in the southern US).  But wherever we go we will get to see other great plants like orchids, agaves, cacti, and countless others.  All trips will have time spent driving through habitats where we can stop and explore to see these plants.  Combined with driving to see plants in their natural habitat we will also try to explore at least one of the many botanical gardens throughout the country.  Overall I expect the trips to be ~25-40% plant related.  The rest of the trip is spent on cultural (and gastronomical!) adventures.  Also at least one complete day will be reserved for you to do as you wish--usually toward the end of the week so that you are comfortable with getting around.  I know some people like the time to shop or relax while some want to get going and explore somewhere on their own.  Of course I will always have suggestions of some great opportunities that we couldn't fit in with the whole group.