Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Myrmecophila christinae Growing on Limestone Formation

Myrmecophila orchids are 'ant pants', providing a cavity for the ants. Here is an amazing species, Myrmecophila christinae growing on pure limestone exposed to full sun. Quite an amazing plant!

Incredible that any plant can survive growing on pure rock, but these are also growing in full sun with a southerly exposure and on limestone. Limestone is noteworthy since it is basic in nature (higher than neutral pH). Most epiphytes and lithophytes prefer it slightly acidic as nutrient uptake is greatly enhanced.

Stenocereus gummosus fruit - pitaya agria

Stenocereus gummosus like many other plants in the genus produce fruit that is both large and pleasant tasting. Fruits from all cactus are 'edible', or not poisonous, but not all are tasty enough or large enough to be worth the effort. Sometimes the small red berries of Mammillarias are worth it with their nice sweet and tart flavor and lack of spines on the fruit. But when you see a fruit like this, it had better taste good to be worth the effort of getting through those spines!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Strombocactus disciformis in Queretaro, Mexico

Strombocactus disciformis flowersThis was a great example of how you always find other cool plants when doing work on studying others. When looking at some Hechtia plants in Queretaro, Mexico I stumbled on these wonderful little cacti that also happened to be in full bloom!

These Strombocactus disciformis are rather small cacti grow in an interesting way, on vertical walls between crumbling and decomposing stone.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Passiflora foetida in Oaxaca

passiflora foetida Oaxaca
Continuing on with my recent theme of edible plants, it was neat to have the chance to find Passiflora foetida fruit in the peak ripeness. The genus Passiflora contains what we call passionflowers or passionfruit. Along with some fascinating relationships with caterpillars/butterflies and ants, many of the species produce edible (and more importantly palatable) fruit.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tillandsia concolor

Tillandsia concolor oaxacaTillandsia concolor is a medium small sized species found in the southern half of Mexico. Typically its leaves form a rosette around 6 inches in diameter and the inflorescence can be a simple paddle or branched with up to 5 paddles. Probably the most unique thing about this species is the bright pink color of its petals. Very distinct compared to most species in the same subgenus that have dark blue-to-violet colored petals. Here is a great plant blooming in southern Oaxaca.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bromelia pinguin

Bromelia pinguin bloomingBromelia pinguin is another widespread bromeliad that is found in Mexico. Unlike its close relative, Bromelia karatas, this species produces a stem that holds the flowers up out of the rosette of leaves. Both are locally known as piñuelas, and the fruit is harvested to be eaten and prepared into drinks. Here is a plant in with the colorful flowers open in the state of Jalisco.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Agave shawii ssp goldmaniana blooming

Agave shawii subspecis goldmaniana is the larger form of A. shawii (as compared to A. shawii ssp shawii which blooms quite a bit smaller). Here is a plant in full bloom in its typical habitat, central Baja. While it looks very similar to the A. shawii ssp shawii, it is notably larger.

Agave shawii ssp shawii blooming

Agave shawii subspecies shawii is the smaller of the two subspeciesA. shawii ssp goldmaniana being the larger. This form is pretty much always found near the Pacific coast in Baja California. This subspecies grows into beautiful stacked plants with an incredible number of leaves. Because of the number of leaves, the symmetry lends itself well to show off the variable spination of each individual clone. But that is for another article!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Echinocactus platyacanthus

Echinocactus platyacanthus
Echinocactus platyacanthus growing in the state of Puebla.
A widespread cactus species is Echinocactus platyacanthus.  When young, many show very striking rid striping patterns that will fade with maturity.  They can grow quite massive and get large enough that they fall over under their own weight.  Sometimes they will root back in from their side, but often they will die (after several years).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tasty Bromeliads - Bromelia karatas, the piñuela

I love plants and I love eating. When I can combine the two out hiking and exploring I am a happy camper! When they involve my favorite plants, the bromeliads, it can't get any better. The most common and popular edible bromeliad is the pineapple (Ananas comosus)...for good reason. But there are other bromeliads that are also great food sources. Several species in the genus Bromelia have their fruit (technically a berry) harvested and eaten. Here we see a Bromelia karatas with a massive collection of ripe berries, often called 'piñuelas'.

Bromelia karatas

Bromelia karatas JaliscoBromelia karatas as a species is typical for the Mexican plants in the genus. Spread from Mexico south into Brazil, the genus is known for being terrestrial and having spines that can do some damages if you tangle with them. Most of the Mexican species are fairly large with leaves 3-6' long.

Some species in the genus, like Bromelia pinguin, will produce their inflorescence on a stem, B. karatas will flatten its rosette of leaves and start flushing a brilliant pink to red color.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Hechtia bracteata

Hechtia bracteata clump
Hechtia bracteata clump.
Hechtia bracteata is a species found in Veracruz and Puebla. It is a medium large plant that will make clumps, but not overly dense and messy looking. The leaves are straight and numerous giving an overall spherical symmetry. Like all species, there is a fair amount of variability. On the right we can see a plant with a more whitish cast with a fairly full clump. 

Pictures showing the scale of these nice plants follow:

Pachycereus weberi in Different Seasons, Different Light

Oftentimes in the desert the difference between the rainy and dry season can be quite stark. Another example of changes that can be seen between the two seasonsas well as even different times of daycan be seen by this Pachycereus weberi cardonal (a 'forest' of cardons) on this hillside. This first picture was taken during the dry season in the afternoon. The hillside is western facing and I was taken aback by the glow of the blue cardons.

In the pictures below we can see the difference after the first several weeks of the rainy season.

Mammillarias in Oaxaca

Mammillaria Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Desert
Here are some magnificent plants that are typical of some spots we see on trips to northern Oaxaca. These old Mammillarias have clearly been established for quite some time, probably not long are the highway was built. It almost never ceases to amaze me the number of different species and quality of the plants when exploring in Oaxaca!

Here the plants were in full fruit in June, just the beginning of the rainy season. Once the birds eat these tasty fruits, they will distribute them just in time for the rains to help get the seedlings established. The bright red color and nice tart taste mean that they probably are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that are important parts of the seed dispersal animals' diet.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum

Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum Jalisco
Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum with the yellow
spiny fruit above the top of the thorn scrub trees.

Typically when you think of a cactus, especially a large cactus, you think of the dry, dusty deserts. A classic saguaro in Arizona or the silhouettes of opuntias on the sunset horizon in Chihuahua. But there are cacti just about everywhere in Mexico, even the places that you might think of as a tropical paradise. One large cactus that is widespread along the west coast of Mexico is Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum. Named for the use of its spiny fruit by the indigenous populations as a comb, this large tree-forming cactus grows in the thorny tropical dry forest.

Monte Alban

Monte Alban is one of the great cultural sites of Oaxaca. The region has been inhabited continuously for a very long time due to the natural abundance and was likely one of the most important centers where crops were domesticated. So as you could imagine, any time there are resources where populations can burgeon you will start getting larger civilizations developing. Clearly this was the case with Monte Alban around 2000 years ago! This is a must see place that we make sure we go to on trips to Oaxaca.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

A Taste of Oaxaca

Explore the Wonders of Oaxaca!

Winter is the perfect time of year to escape the cold winter rain (or snow!) and experience the botanical and cultural riches of Oaxaca, Mexico!  This week long trip is based in the heart of the city of Oaxaca (wa-HOCK-a).  Our wonderful hotel (left) has a swimming pool in one of the many inner courtyards and is just a block away from the Zócalo. The hotel is also in the art gallery, museum, and restaurant center of the city. This section of the city is also known for the wonderful colonial stone architecture (right).

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Puerto Vallarta Tropical Escape

A Tropical Escape to Puerto Vallarta

Come join us for an always necessary tropical escape next winter to Puerto Vallarta! This is a trip that really introduces you to the tropics with orchids, bromeliads, beaches, and moutnains; the perfect winter vacation.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A day trip to the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Desert

On the trips to Oaxaca I always try to include at least a day to drive up to visit the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Desert. In a country like Mexico that has an incredible volume of plant diversity the state of Oaxaca itself sticks out as having an equally incredible level of diversity. Within Oaxaca (and the very southern edge of the state of Puebla), the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Biosphere Reserve is the epitome of the diversity represented in the state.  If you couldn't tell by all of the strong words I'm using, it is simply amazing. There are numerous endemics found in the many different unique ecosystems. With many mountains, canyons, and deserts it seems like everywhere you go you can find plants found no where else on earth.

Tillandsia prodigiosa

Tillandsia prodigiosa in Oaxaca Mexico
Tillandsia prodigiosa is a fantastic species found in forests covering the mountains in Mexico. Like many of the other soft, green leaved species that grow at higher elevations, Tillandsia prodigiosa is monocarpic so once the beautiful show from the flowers are gone the species relies completely on seed production to keep the population strong. Most other bromeliads (and most other Tillandsia species) produce vegetative offsets that will in turn bloom.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Hechtia species Michoacan Variability

Like nearly all species of Hechtia, this one from the coast of Michoacan has some beautiful variations. Found growing on very harsh, sun-baked limestone formations, it ranges from red to purple/maroon to completely white. And from isolated formation to formation the populations are even distinct. The following pictures are samples from two different populations.  The first one had larger, more robust plants and the second had smaller, more dainty plants with thinner leaves.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Aechmea bracteata var. pacifica

Aechmea bracteata

Another widespread species throughout much of Mexico is Aechmea bracteata. Found growing on trees and boulders they can be quite large and even form extensive clumps. This variety is found on the west coast. Both forms of the species are bright green with scalloped edges that makes large spines along the leaf edges.

When blooming they have large red bracts for which they are named. The flowers are fairly small and are followed by small berries that continue giving a nice colorful show.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Spring Break Alternative: Eco-Adventure in Vallarta!

Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Join Us for a Unique Eco-Adventure!

Come explore the tropical paradise of Puerto Vallarta! This is a unique opportunity to have an active and refreshing Spring Break that you won't forget. Puerto Vallarta is a great and friendly Mexican city located on the Banderas Bay, offering the best of the ocean and beaches as well as the tropical plants and bird of the mountains.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Billbergia pallidiflora in a New State?

A massive Billbergia pallidiflora clump in Sinaloa.
Billbergia pallidiflora is very widespread throughout the country of Mexico. It is one of two species of Billbergia from Mexico, although the other species, Billbergia viridiflora, appears to be more closely aligned with the Mexican genus Ursulaea and the Podaechmea subgenus of Aechmea.  Regardless of the status of B. viridiflora, B. pallidiflora is still widespread and like any species covering a vast geographic range there is quite a bit of variability.

I was lucky enough to finally catch the B. pallidiflora plants blooming in Jalisco already, but the plants further south in the states of Oaxaca and Chiapas seemed to be a bit bigger. The colors range from green to a muddy/ruddy color to a dark purple.  The light white banding is also variable between plants in all populations. But this clump in the state of Sinaloa is notable for two reasons: it is a massive clump and is in a state where there has been no recorded presence! Typically I have only seen this species in clumps of 3-5 plants at the largest. This one clearly have grown into a formidable clump!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Hechtia montana Variability in Sahuaripa, Sonora

Hopefully you have realized from my other posts that I am fascinated by the variability of plants within a population. Sometimes subtle, sometimes quite stark, these differences from one individual to the next is a nice reminder of genetic diversity and how the biological world works.

This post is about the variability of Hechtia montana in and around Sahuaripa, Sonora. Sometimes you have to get up close to see the differences in plants, but sometimes like in the picture to the right, you can see a difference in the size and habit even from a distance.

Hechtia montana: a tough, widespread plant

Hechtia montana just might be the northernmost species in the genus (along with Hechtia texensis to the east). Found from low elevations along the coast of the Sea of Cortez up to the high, hot (and cold), and dry desert mountains of Sonora. Both of which are extremely tough places to live.

Personally, my favorite form is from the populations up in the mountains--appropriate given their name! They deal with being a lot colder and probably a lot hotter than the coast; okay, both areas get really hot!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Epiphytic Yucca

yucca growing epiphytically
Yucca growing epiphytically in a pine tree. 

Plants don't always grow where they are supposed to.  As my friends say, "they must not have read the books."  The lesson is that we need to remember that the natural world is always full of surprises and that we usually have too narrow of a point of view of things.  Part of the reason genetic diversity is so important to preserve is that individuals can carry the genetic combination that will allow them to survive in different niches.  Particularly important with a rapidly changing climate that we are now undergoing.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Small Green Hechtia Species from Gabriel Zamora, Michoacan

One of the frustrating but exciting things when finding Hechtia species in habitat is the subsequent search for a name. This nice spidery species is from the municipality of Gabriel Zamora, Michoacan. I was only able to see them on one isolated rock outcropping, but there are likely many others sprinkled in the hot fruit growing region. As of yet I have not been able to find a published name that matches this plant.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Stoloniferous Hechtia glomerata in Queretaro

Hechtia glomerata stolons
Stolon hanging down over the rocks.
A handful of Hechtia species are stoloniferous. Some species always seem to be stoloniferous as a whole, some species have populations seem to be stoloniferous, and some species seem to have just a portion of a population that will be stoloniferous. Stolons are a feature that always catches my attention!

Hechtia glomerata is a very widespread species. It runs nearly the complete north-south distribution of the genus. As you would imagine, over such a wide range and in so many different habitats there is a lot of variability within the species.  Some populations in the northern Mexican states mature at only ~12" in diameter or so while some in the southern state of Chiapas can be 6' across (or more!).  Some produce offsets profusely while others stay solitary.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hechtia species on the Coast of Michoacan

Hechtia reflexa
Hechtia sp. growing in a limestone formation.
My previous post showed a species of hechtia that is growing on the faces of cliffs and boulders. This plant is more typical for the genus, thriving in the cracks and crevices between the rocks.  Most hechtias have very deep, roaming roots that are great at finding a crevice to send their roots in search of the seasonally scarce water.

While likely related, this isn't Hechtia reflexa. The species is variable and spread along the Pacific coast on limestone formations.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Hechtia on the rocks

Most species of Hechtia specialize in growing in the toughest, driest ecological niches as they can.  By growing in places like this the plants minimize the potential competition with other plants.  If nothing else can grow there, there is no way for something to either crowd them out or shade them out. Usually this means that they grow in the desert, in broken rock faces, or loose rocky soil.

This species is a bit different. These plants were growing on boulders and the faces of solid rock! No cracks where the roots could search down deep for water hidden far under the rocks.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Tillandsia rothii

Tillandsia rothii
Tillandsia rothii blooming in habitat in Jalisco
Tillandsia rothii is another classic plant from the state of Jalisco, Mexico. It is a species that is distributed throughout the lowland thorn forest on the west coast of Mexico.  Although primarily found in Jalisco it is also reported to extend into Colima and maybe even into Michoacan. 

The leaves curl down and make a spherical mass with the inflorescence extending up with fat, inflated paddles that transitions from the bright red to equally bright yellow.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hechtia podantha - Cadereyta, Queretaro

Hechtia podantha habitat
Hechtia podantha growing in lichen covered rocks in Queretaro, MX
Hechtia podantha is a widespread and variable species and is in the 'podantha complex'.  Recently there has been a more thorough study of the species of the complex in the states of Oaxaca and Puebla, but the plants found throughout some of the states to the north (in particular the states of Hidalgo and Queretaro) have many plants that probably need a closer look.

Here are some Hechtia podantha from another part of the state of Queretaro, Mexico that help show the variation even within relatively close populations.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Raicilla, Vallarta's Spirits

Raicilla varieties of different ages and some flavored liqueur.
We are all familiar with Mexico's most famous spirits, tequila. The heart of tequila production and home of the town Tequila, the state of Jalisco is one of the few designated states included in the tequila region. Just like Champagne and Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan) which are regulated with restricted regions allowed to create a product with that name, tequila is very closely controlled.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mountains in the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Desert

It is a lot harder than it looks to hike on mountain sides like this and there are certainly way more interesting plants than you can imagine...


Fresh puffs from the Colima volcano drifting in the morning sky.
The excitement of traveling and exploring isn't always dependent on finding a specific plant. Sometimes it is just a visceral feeling of awe from some facet of the natural world. Something that captures your mind and imagination even when it is what you planned and expected to see. This happened to me when some friends and I wanted to explore the area around the Colima volcano in western Mexico.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Miniature Weeping Bamboo

Although it wasn't the most striking bamboo I've seen in Mexico, this miniature weeping bamboo sure has potential. I imagine in the rainy seasons it looks much better than this stressed, dry season condition pictured. It also makes me wonder if it is in cultivation as it could be quite a handsome accent plant growing in a pot on a patio.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Nolina longifolia

Beaucarnea longifolia
Nolina longifolia and Tillandsia prodigiosa growing in a cloud oak forest.
Whether it is Nolina longifolia or Beaucarnea longifolia, it is an interesting plant to see in the wild. These grow in the pine-oak cloud forest in the mountains of Oaxaca. When you see them in the fog with Tillandsia prodigiosa hanging off the oaks it is a peculiar experience. Generally cool, it is almost always peaceful wandering among these plants.
Below is a very massive specimen. If you notice my straw hat and imagine the size of this grand old plant!

Nolina longifolia
Beaucarnea longifolia

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Anacheilium trulla

Anacheilium trulla Puerto Vallarta
Anacheilium trulla growing near the Vallarta Botanical Gardens
Anacheilium trulla is a nicely scented orchid that is widespread and has variability throughout its range.  Here is a nice, blooming specimen growing on an oak tree in the hills near the Vallarta Botanical Gardens.  It is amazing how many different species of orchids and bromeliads grow in this fantastic region just south of Puerto Vallarta.  Once you start climbing up into the mountains of Cabo Corrientes many botanical treasures start appearing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tree in a Wall

 Sometimes it is just a small and simple thing that reminds you that you are in a different culture. When I saw this tree I did a double take. It was so different from what I would have expected and from what I have seen that it took a moment for it to register. Clearly this tree has been growing here for a very long time and a wall was needed.  Rather than just cutting the tree down, it was simply incorporated into the wall.  While not ideal and certainly not a perfect solution for the long term, it is a way to allow the tree to keep growing and providing shade for the yard.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Weavers of Oaxaca

The traditional crafts of the Oaxaca valley are well known around the world, especially the weavers.  It is really quite an experience to see the traditional process from prepping the wool, spinning it, dyeing it, and then seeing how the patterns are woven.

Hechtia podantha in Queretaro, Mexico

Hechtia podantha habitat
Hechtia podantha growing in habitat
Hechtia podantha is a fairly widespread species that is variable both within a given population and between populations.  Here are a few plants that were growing along Hechtia lepidophylla and near Hechtia zamudioi.  Within the genus there are two types of plants, those with the inflorescence emerging laterally from the leaf axils (lateral bloomers) and those from the apical growth point (terminal bloomers).

Desert Wildlife

Most of my traveling through Mexico is done in the dry season when a lot of the wildlife seems to be hunkered down and not very active.  But every once in a while I'll come across something that just can't resist posing and letting me grab a picture.  Here is a nice sized Ctenosaura in the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Bioreserve surrounded by the brown and curled up dormant Selaginella.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New discoveries

Aechmea nudicaulis in Mexico
Aechmea nudicaulis documented for the first time in the state of Hidalgo
While not all discoveries are as fantastic as discovering a new species, smaller discoveries can still add to the body of scientific knowledge. When traveling anywhere, I always recommend keeping your eyes open. In a trip in 2012, the timing was just right to have two such events happen in the same day.

In the warm and humid lowlands of the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, we were exploring some promising roads that were 'vaguely' shown on our map.  When doing these exploration focused trips it is to be expected to take a wrong turn or two.  Or three or four.  But the great part about that is going places where you might not have planned and seeing what is hiding there.