Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Sunday, June 9, 2013

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!

When I had a chance to visit the mountain populations it was after a very cold winter that had record setting and long lasting cold spells across Texas and northern Mexico. And it was quite apparent in Sonora.  Vast mountainsides of Bursura forests were burned from the cold and completely died.  A very eerie scene to see mountainsides of dead trees!

But fortunately, as I dropped in elevation and came across the Hechtia montana populations--the reason I was there--there was much less damage. There was damage on the local palms growing in the area, but fortunately not the widespread devastation as seen with the Bursuras.

The H. montana plants created nice silvery clusters clinging to the steepest rock faces. Like many Hechtia species, they seem to survive and thrive where other plants don't have a chance. Truly showing how tough they are.

Like almost all Hechtia species (and plants in general), they are quite variable.  Just in the one small region you can find quite a bit of vaiability.

To the left are some clumps of Hechtia montana growing beneath some white flowering Plumeria shrubs. You might be surprised to know that they grow in places like this desert and not naturally in places like Hawaii! It is always interesting to see plants growing naturally in the wild when you are familiar with them in gardens and tropical areas elsewhere around the world.  There are many plants like this in Mexico, including the Salvias and marigolds!

They also grew in slightly more forested areas and always had interesting plants around them. In the photo to the left you can see some of the more green Hechtia plants growing up near the base of a Bursura tree and all of those brown spheres on the rocks are dormant Selaginella plants. These plants, often called 'resurrection ferns', lack many features of organisms that we think of as plants. In periods of drought they will curl up and turn brown, but as soon as they get some water they will unfurl into an emerald rosette. On this trip I was lucky enough to witness the first thunderstorm of the rainy season in the desert and woke up the next day to hillsides of green compared with the browns and grays of these pictures. Unfortunately I didn't take any good pictures of the transition!

Even though this area outwardly looks barren and tough for anything to live in, there are quite a few plants that thrive in the tough landscape. Some like the Hechtia grow in the toughest of locations. Which is a big part of why I find these plants to be so fascinating!