Botanical and Cultural Adventures

Botanical and Cultural Adventures

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.