Las plantas nativas del Vallecillo (parte 2)

Huzzah! This is the last post of the Chihuahua Mexico series!Today, we finish looking at the rest of the native plants that I found on the afternoon of August 21, 2021 in the hills behind the village of El Vallecillo. Plants observed during the morning hike are posted here.

Making my way back up the hill after lunch, I figured I would stick to the area around the oak trees so I could duck in for some shade periodically. It was already hot, with temperatures approaching 100°F.

I tried identifying the oaks, but there are about a dozen species in the area and I didn’t get enough detail to identify them based on photos alone. So, we’ll take a quick look at the leaves from two different trees and move on.

Approaching the crest of the hill, linear ridges of rock emerged from the earth and the agaves (A. parryi) became more abundant. Maybe a subtle hint about how I should try growing them back home.

Many ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) flourished near the top of the ridge. Ocotillo (Oh-coh-tee-yo) is a semi-succulent plant in the order Ericales, so it has more in common with rhododendrons and blueberries than it does to agaves or cacti. Leaves and flowers only emerge after there has been enough rainfall to support new growth. Clearly, there had been enough in the weeks preceding my visit.

Once the soil begins drying out, however, their leaves turn brown and fall off. You can tell that was was already happening here as the ocotillo leaves were developing brown tips.

Seedlings were few and far between. I only found one baby ocotillo while I was exploring that day.

Green mossy plants were tumbling down some of the larger rocky outcroppings.

Which turned out to be spikemoss (Selaginella, left) and golden lipfern (Myriopteris aurea, right).

Not much beats the vibrancy of desert lichens – oranges, yellows, blues, grays, browns, and blacks all on one rock. The color may help protect against temperature extremes. I also wonder if the different colors might allow lichens to utilize different parts of the light spectrum for photosynthesis.

On the left, more of a curiosity than anything, Nolina texana. It’s that grassy tuft in the center and another one of those plants in the asparagus family (like agaves and sotols) that seem to thrive in the desert. On the right, the flowers of a verbena (Glandularia bipinnafitida).

By this point, it was getting hot. I decided to spend some time in the shade to see what I could find there.

A prickly pear (Opuntia) cooling its heels at the base of the trunk. Many of these were covered in mealybugs.

I also found a few little claret cup cacti (Echinocereus polyacanthus) that I wish had been in bloom. Adorable anyway.

A zinnia (Zinnia peruviana) with a slightly different, more subdued salmony red than what I saw earlier in the morning. This was also where all the fine-leaf  marigold plants (Tagetes filifolia) were hanging out. I never did find any in bloom.

There is a message here if I pay attention. We’ve been told as gardeners that cacti, zinnias, and marigolds need a full day of sun to thrive. Yet, here, all three are growing in dappled shade all day long. Of course, their ability to do so is mediated by other factors. This is a much drier, sunnier, and hotter environment than where many of us garden in the US, so a little protection from the sun is helpful. Still, I have often found throughout my 45ish years of gardening, that most plants are far more adaptable and less picky about light and moisture than many experts would have us believe. Go ahead, experiment a little.

I puzzled over this next one for a while before figuring it out. Lindenleaf sage (Salvia tiliifolia). Cool leaves, but the flowers I saw online weren’t that impressive. The seeds, though, are harvested as a chia substitute by the local indigenous Tarahumara people. Call me naive, but I had no idea chia (Salvia hispanica) was from a Salvia species. Maybe I will see if I can grow a few this summer from the bag in our pantry.

Unsurprisingly, there were lots of Wright’s lipfern (Myriopteris wrighti) and mosses in the shade (but no golden lipfern, which must prefer drier conditions?). Seeing the moss here helped me to understand the difference in scale between a true moss (in the division Bryophyta) versus the much larger, coarser spikemosses (Selaginella species). True mosses are generally much tinier and finer in texture.

This was perhaps my favorite flower of the afternoon, with golden yellow, feathery petals all pinched in at the center. Chaparral asphead (Aspicarpa hirtella) is a trailing subshrub. I really like it, though that’s an odd common name deriving from an asp’s (snake) head. I’m not sure which part of the plant it refers to – nothing looks like an asp’s head to me. I would definitely trial this in the garden if I lived in the desert. It’s a little frustrating – why isn’t anyone from the southwest trialing these really cool, native desert plants?!?!?! Many of these species are also on the US side of the border. It would be so fun to get a collector’s permit and test these plants out – learning how to propagate them, describing their habit, looking for different forms, etc. Aaagh!

But, probably the crowning glory of my botanizing adventures that afternoon was finding this Mammillaria heyderi. Big, about 6 inches across. I had no idea that there were native Mammillaria this far north or that they were frost hardy. Seemed like something I’d find much further south, closer to the equator. This made me so happy. We’ll see a few more later.

Cool leaf category (left). iNaturalist suggested a noseburn (Tragia ramosa) species, but the leaves don’t look right. Another weird common name, that noseburn. The leaves of noseburn are covered in stinging hairs, but who would stuff something like that up their nose? This plant definitely didn’t sting, so that’s two strikes against it being a noseburn. For now, its identity is a mystery.

On the right, not much of a flower, but I did like the graceful, curving architecture of the leaves of the wingpetal plant (Heterosperma pinnatum).

Looking off towards the distant rocky cliffs. You can see how lush and green everything is. Amazing how much life bursts forth after a rain in an area that usually receives about 13 inches per year. The long dry season isn’t nearly as appetizing to me – dull, harsh, brown – that is what would make it difficult to live down in that region again.

Loved how the tree framed the view.

It was time to move on. I was bored, so I ventured out into the sun and heat again. I tried to snap a few shots of a wispy acacia-like shrub next to the ocotillos. These types of plants never look as good in photos as they do in real life, especially under the midday sun.

Here are a couple close-ups of the leaves and flowers. It’s the catclaw mimosa (Mimosa aculeaticarpa), so called because it has backward pointing thorns (not visible in the photos).

I found another related species nearby, the velvetpod mimosa (Mimosa dysocarpa). This one has a slightly longer, deeply pink cluster of flowers. Some descriptions say that the leaves fold up when touched. These did not.

I also found an antelope horns milkweed, Asclepias asperula. I was a little bummed I couldn’t find any in bloom, just the seed pods. The flowers are some of the best for a milkweed species, in my opinion, white with red starry centers. Supposedly hardy to zone 5. I’d gladly trial it in my own garden back in Oregon.

I got excited about this next one and thought I had discovered some sort of cool silver-leaved perennial from the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). There was an Ipomoea capillacea with spent blooms and long thin leaves in this same area (not worth showing), so it wasn’t an unreasonable expectation. Turns out I was correct, but in an unexpected way. This plant is Dichondra argentea, a member of the Convolvulaceae that is used as a bedding plant in the US. It is native from New Mexico and Texas down into Mexico and is unevenly distributed in a few countries of South America. So, there you have it, another bedding plant species (fitting into a theme from the last post) that came from the Chihuahuan Desert.

Also in the unexpected category, there were a few little shrublets with white flowers growing on one of the rocky outcroppings. The flowers looked like they should be sweetly scented like jasmine, but they weren’t. I identified them as Mandevilla hypoleuca. The twig dieback notwithstanding, this looks like something that should be tried out as a waterwise garden plant for the Southwest.

This next one was a bit more exotic, almost tropical. Another shrublet with shiny lustrous leaves and yellow flowers with petals spiraling down to the center. Mandevilla foliosa. Seems really cool to me. Not sure why it isn’t being trialed by the nursery industry either.

Looking in on some Agave parryi on the way back down the hill.

I found one that had bloomed out and died. As gardeners, we don’t usually follow what happens with plants that die in our home gardens. We dig them out and replace them with something else. Here, though, we see a more full representation of the life of an agave. Generations of younger agave plants are gathered around the original matriarch of the family, who died long ago and is now a wreath of dead, decaying leaves encircling the central hole where the flower stalk was located. A slow, years-long macabre vegetative funeral of sorts. That was her last effort in life, though, to bloom and produce seeds that would spread her progeny even farther afield.

The old flower stalk was a few feet away, lightweight and beautifully aged.

Moving on. Do you see why I stopped here? Hint – it’s a cactus.

The closeup shows a young Mammillaria heyderi wedged between the rocks. Many seedlings begin their lives here where it is more protected and any scarce rainfall is funneled towards the roots.

I found two more. As gardeners, we tend to grow our cacti more solitarily, alone, out in the open, so that the body of the cactus isn’t deformed by rocks or other plants. That isn’t usually what happens out here in the desert.

Yes, cacti and ferns do grow in proximity to each other out in nature. Agaves and ferns too. Here, Mammillaria hederi and Bommeria hispida.

Such an attractive cactus. One of the bigger specimens was a good 7-8 inches across. The tubercles/spines appear to be arranged in a fibonacci spiral.

One last interesting flower from the top of the hill. It’s Mexican star (Milla biflora) a small white flower that grows from a corm. Incidentally, you can see how tiny the flowers of Bouchea prismatica (from the last post) are in the background.

One last look at the rocky outcroppings before heading down.

You can hear the sounds of farm animals and children playing somewhere off in the distance.

Wideshot. Click to embiggen.

At the bottom, looking wistfully back up at the hill where I spent the afternoon. I wish I could spend several weeks here botanizing, collecting, categorizing.

One last flower. I spotted this as we were getting into the car to head back into the city. It’s a tree tobacco bush (Nicotiana glauca). Introduced from South America. I was hoping the flowers would be scented, but nope.

Thank you everybody! I hoped you enjoyed this series from Mexico. I do have one planned for our recent trip to Patagonia (now a month ago!), but it will be much shorter as I don’t have years of photos. First, however, I want to catch up on a few “in the garden” posts.

Kitty cat update

Linnaeus had a great time at the vet yesterday. Lots of tummy rubs and good news. The new skin on his paws is coming back steadily. Hopefully, just one more week as a conehead. He’s feeling much better and a being a little toot again, running around and playing. The challenge is trying to keep him reigned enough so that the new skin doesn’t get damaged. It’s good to see him enjoying life once more.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. danger garden

    So good! What a fabulous adventure to took us on. I once brought back a baby ocotillo from my brother’s in Phoenix sadly I wasn’t able to keep it alive. Your fern and cactus photos and thoughts have me scheming on tucking a small cactus or two in near my Bommeria hispida. It’s growing to the side of a large Agave ovatifolia and a cactus would look grand.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      We’ve tried ocotillos from cuttings several times. No luck. It’s always good to be scheming and hatching plans. Keeps the garden interesting and everyone else on their toes.

  2. Kris P

    First off, I’m happy to hear that Linnaeus is doing better! Second, I’m VERY impressed that you conducted such a thorough inventory of the area under 100 degree heat. It surprises me how green the area was but it amplifies the point that native plants do thrive even with pitiful annual rainfall. (“Normal” annual rainfall in my area is 14-15 inches, usually concentrated between November and early April.) I was surprised by the lichen, especially its bright colors. I think I need a Mammillaria. The Chaparral asphead is interesting too – the flower brought to mind a combination of an orchid and a nasturtium.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      Although I love how beautiful and diverse everything is down there after a rainfall, the harsh, brown landscape really gets to me during the other 9 to 10 months. The lichens always amaze me though. Around here in Oregon, they tend to more greens, grays, and blue-grays. Yes! You hit it with that nasturium description for the Chaparral asphead – very apropo.

  3. tracy

    I very much enjoyed your series. I’m so happy for Linnaeus! It doesn’t look like it’s 100 at all, with the greenery here and there. The lichen is spectacular!

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      I had a lot of fun and learned many things writing it. It will be nice to have a reference to look back to when I visit again in the future.

  4. Beth@PlantPostings

    Your photos are fabulous–with the grand trees and the hills and the bright blue sky…gorgeous! Though 100 is hot, it actually sounds comfortable right now during cold winter days (although we’re having a mild winter). Anyway, thanks for sharing the beautiful memories, and I’m so happy that Linnaeus is happy and healing well.

    1. Botanica Chaotica

      It was one of my favorite places to visit. I just fall in love when there are that many different kinds of plants in one place. It’s been a lot of fun working on the series while it is pouring rain or too cold to be outside much. Scary times when Wisconsin is having a mild winter. I loved all the orchids you saw at Olbrich! I miss going over there to see all the plants.

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