Down Mexico Way
On a holiday in Mexico, Sweden's Jan Andersson
looks for palms and cycads and finds plenty.
Jan Andersson, Stockholm, Sweden
Chamaerops No.34 Spring 1999
Picture: Purple-red new leaves on Ceratozamia mexicana.
Last winter holiday I decided to go to Mexico for
the old antique palaces and while there I thought I may have some
chances of seeing some palms and cycads in their natural habitat.
I went first to the Botanical Garden of Xalapa where
I knew they had some investigation program about some Dioon species.
I asked them where I could find the Dioons in the wild and I wanted
them to indicate on a map that I brought with me. Unfortunately
the director of the garden Mr Andrew Vovides wasn't there at that
moment and my Spanish is very bad so I had trouble with communication
with them in the beginning. But then I found another English man
working there and he showed me on the map where I would have some
possibility to find a colony of the big, more than ten meters high,
Dioon spinulosum or are they Dioon rzedowskii? It was not far from
a road south of Tuxtepec in the north Oaxaca province.
I heard from Mr Vovides assistant Mr Carlos Iglesias
that the Dioon edule grows at such a slow speed that it takes a
thousand years to grow every meter in stem height. In David Jones'
book about Cycads it is written that Dioon edule grows to a height
of three meters, that means three thousand years. In Mexico they
protect the pyramids that are less then two thousand years, so I
think they ought to protect old Dioons at least at the same level.
Mr Iglesias told me that it takes Dioon edule fifty years to cone.
Dioon spinulosum grows much faster and it takes it about twenty
to thirty years to cone.
All people working at the Xalapa Botanical Garden
were very friendly despite my bad knowledge of the Spanish language.
Another Mexican man called Antonio showed me the Palms and Cycads
they were growing there, also those in the Greenhouses. They had
many very nice Chamaedorea tuerckheimii, which they said now was
extinct in the wild. And they had a tremendous amount of Cycads,
all of the over forty species of Mexican Cycads that exist. For
the first time a saw several specimens of the big and wonderful
Ceratozamia euryphyllidia. And I had never seen the Dioon with the
more sparse leaflets arrangement, Dioon caputoi, before. They also
let the Ceratozamia mexicana grow wild within the Botanical Garden,
but that species grew like individuals very spread out, I didn't
see any big colonies of them. In the garden they had also lots of
Mexican palm species like many Chamaedorea, Gaussia maya, Astrocaryum
mexicanum, Sabal mexicana, Thrinax radiata, Brahea dulcis and some
exotic species like a very healthy looking Trachycarpus fortunei
despite the year round warm climate in Xalapa, a big Arenga pinnata,
some Syagrus and a palmate palm with very long, about four centimetres,
sharp black spines on the petiole, which was labelled Livistona
sp., what type of Livistona could that he?
When I returned to my hotel in Xalapa I made some
consideration of what possibility I had to see the Cycads in wild.
I thought that I better take the chance to see them while I am here.
I decided to go to Tuxtepec and then to the place where I could
see the big Dioons in the wild. Of course it is much easier to find
the more common Dioon edule in the wild, but probably the big Dioons
are more impressive, with stems over 15 meters high. The towns I
passed through my trip to Tuxtepec I saw but quite a few Dioon spinulosum
or rzedowskii in some home gardens, e.g. in Fortin de las Flores,
Tierra Blanca. They are really looking fantastic, especially when
the leaves are reflecting the sun. When I came to Tuxtepec, the
people wondered what I was doing there since the town is far from
a touristic spot.
I went to the road south of the town where the big
Dioons where supposed to grow just about three hundred meters from
that road. The people at Xalapa Botanical Garden had said that it
was growing in a sugarcane field. At the beginning of that road
the sugar cane fields also began. After about forty five km the
road entered the state of Veracruz and the field I was looking for
should be before that, in the state of Oaxaca. But the first time
I went through the area I didn't find the field. Then I thought
it maybe better to ask the farmers living around in the area where
I could find the Palma des Chicalite, which is the local name for
the big Dioon, it is the same local name for Dioon spinulosum and
rzedowskii. So I went back with the bus and went off right in the
wood or right at the sugarcane fields, the other people in the bus
thought I was crazy to go off at that place, they started laughing
at me, but they didn't understand my purpose.
I started walking the road and asked every farmer
I saw on the way. But, no one really knew what I was talking about,
some of them was so friendly that they pointed at some directions
without knowing what I was looking for, instead of saying that they
didn't know. One time nearly the whole village tried to help me,
but it showed up that they didn't know. Then I hitchhiked with a
lorry, because then I come up a bit and maybe I could be able to
see the fields better and hopefully find the field where the big
Dioons were growing, the sugar cane fields around were quite high.
But I wasn't successful with that either. So I had to give up the
searching. I should have asked the people at the Xalapa Botanical
Garden to give a more exact location of the field where the Dioons
grow, but that was too late to think about now.
On the continuation of the more touristic travel I
went to Chiapas and the ruins of Palenque. On the way I saw lots
of Thrinax radiata, Sabal mexicana and just outside Coatzacoalcos
in a more or less swampy area I think there were some clusters of
Acoelorraphe wrightii. It is not so easy to say what palms you see
from a bus window and it is even more difficult to make the bus
stop just for you to see the palms at a closer distance. It was
quite strange that the other passengers didn't seem to be so interested
in Palms and Cycads.
Around the ruins of Palenque they have kept the rainforest
intact which means that it is very much to see there, also if you
are interested in plants. Just uphill from the ruins there were
plenty of Chamaedorea that looked like ernesti-augusti, tepejilote
and oblongata, there were some very spiny palms that I think were
Astrocaryum mexicanum and finally after less than an hour walking
uphill I saw a very nice Cycad in the wild, Zamia splendens. Now
when I found one specimen of Zamia splendens I thought that it had
to be more just around, and if I am more lucky some female plant
with some seeds, but I couldn't find anymore specimens around. Maybe
are Zamia splendens not growing in big clusters. There were also
many ferns out there but unfortunately my knowledge of ferns is
too poor to really identify what I see.
After staying some time in touristic San Christobal
I went to Tuxtla Guiterrez where they have a Botanical Garden which
contains the species that exist in Chiapas. They had two Dioon merolae,
some Ceratozamia mexicana, some Zamia splendens without labels and
among the palms they got some Scheelea preussiana. If I remember
right then Scheelea, Attalea and Orbignya is considered synonymous.
Sometimes it is written Attalea sometimes the other names. Of course
they had also plenty of Chamaedorea. At the garden they also had
some very big feather spiny palms without labels and with light
brown fruits round and big like a golf ball, the fruit contained
two dark, hard and flat seeds, could it be Acrocomia? Later during
my touristic trip I went to the newly opened Botanical Garden in
Oaxaca but that Garden was not so interesting if the main interest
is Palms and Cycads, although they had some unlabelled Dioons, one
they called oaxacaensis which to me looked like a merolae At the
University, UNAM, Botanical Garden in Mexico City they had very
many Cactus and Succulents but only some few Cycads among them a
big Dioon rzedowskii and some Ceratozamia mexicana They had even
fewer Palms mostly Chamaedorea.
A big disadvantage with my trip was that I didn't
have the Henderson book 'Field Guide to Palms of the Americas' with
me. I just ordered the book when I came home. That means that I
am not so sure of the real names of many Palms that I saw. For example
there was a quite big and common Palm in the state of Veracruz that
looked like an Attalea to me or could it be some kind of Syagrus
The locals called it Palma de Coyolito, but that doesn't say anything
to me. I have later checked this in the Henderson book and it was
Attalea butyracea My chances of finding the right name of Cycads
was bigger since I brought with me the booklet Cycads of Veracruz.
But that didn't help me so much since it is much more difficult
to find Cycads in the wild. I think you have to have much more help
to find Cycads than just a mark on a not very detailed map in a
book. You maybe wonder if I didn't see any Brahea Oh yes, in the
countryside there were plenty. They seemed to grow in a little arid
climate, nearly where the Yuccas grew.
Before I went to this holiday trip I listed the genus
of Palms from David Jones' book that I might have a chance to see
in the wild. During my trip I think I saw about half of those I
listed. It is not so easy to find the small palms Reinhardtia and
Geonoma, and I didn't. To summarize my trip I would say that there
are many kind of Palms and Cycads to find out there, also around
the touristic spots in Mexico. I think it is quite possible to combine
a normal touristic travel, for example following the Lonely Planet
guidebook, with some small side excursions to see a good number
of Palms and with luck, maybe some Cycads too.
20-01-21 - 12:52GMT
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