Can you believe it? This is part 8 of a continuing series on Chihuahua, Mexico. I’ve decided to break this section on yards and gardens into several smaller posts. My travelogue about Mexico is running a bit longer than I expected initially, but I’m having fun putting down my observations about gardening in a completely different country and environment.
Today, I’ll introduce some of the more common landscape plants as we tour by a few country homes, and then head into town to explore commercial/roadside plantings and middle class neighborhoods. We’ll start off with honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), one of the native shrubs of the Chihuahuan desert. It’s in the legume family and produces pods that are sweet, hence the common name. As a kid, I spent hours building a little hideout under a cluster of mesquite that grew near our apartment. So, this is one of those plants that brings back a lot of fond memories.
Side note. Although native to the Chihuahuan Desert, honey mesquite is considered one of the 100 worst invasive species in the world according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The list itself makes for an interesting read (link). Some of the listed species weren’t surprising (rats, house mice), but others were. For example, cats, gray squirrels, rainbow trout, strawberry guava, and common prickly pear all made the top 100. Common prickly pear (Opuntia stricta) has become such a problem in Australia that it sometimes called Australian pest pear! I had to chuckle a little that we humans weren’t on the list, though. We’re the whole reason that all of these plants, animals, and microbes became problems in the first place!
A few more country homes. They have so much more space to spread out and plant than the city folks do.
As you will see, most yards are very simple. A few specimen trees or shrubs, maybe a few potted plants, and that seems to be it. Remember, Mexico doesn’t have the same history of horticulture that we do in the US (described briefly here).
Heading into the city now. Although native plants weren’t very abundant in local nurseries, they were present in many roadside plantings, which made me wonder if they had been dug directly from the desert. The native ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) were in leaf when we arrived in July 2023, indicating that there had already been some significant rainfall.
Palo verde (Parkinsonia aculeata and P. microphylla) and huisache (Vachellia constricta) trees, all native, are common around town. Incidentally, P. aculeata is one of the worst invasive weeds in Australia. That shift in perspective is startling. I’ve become so accustomed to the invasive plants that plague us in the US, that it is strange to realize our own native North American plants are a problem elsewhere.
Native Dasylirion species, trimmed into the shape of sea anemones, and interspersed with nonnative oleander (Nerium oleander). I wonder whether this was a new planting and the Dasylirion had been trimmed to make installation easier or whether they were trimmed because they were too close to the sidewalk and each other.
This gas station had some sad, shriveled up aloes planted out. At least the ones in front of the main building weren’t covered in weeds and garbage. I am hoping they perk up a bit after it rains.
Cypress of some sort, maybe Cupressus lusitanica? No idea. We’ll see more of it around town and later, when I do the post about Chihuahuan parks.
Fruitless mulberry (Morus alba), or moro macho as it is known in Spanish, provides reliable shade in the desert and doesn’t need a lot of water, which is strange because it always looks so lush. Tree topping (the practice of periodically cutting back tree branches to keep the tree small) is pretty common around town because yard space is much more limited than in the US. Most of the trees in the following six photos had all been topped at one point or another.
Lila (Melia azedarach, aka Chinaberry), arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis), and a mulberry lurking in the background.
Sicomoro (Sycamore, Platanus hybrid). This one had been topped within the last year or so.
Now, we are driving through a few middle class neighborhoods. Most yards have the bare minimum. Yard space is precious and often needs to accommodate a car or two. There’s little (if any) room devoted to plants. Maybe a small touch here or there. I wonder if an extensive public-facing garden would stand out too much as a sign of wealth, making the owners a more likely target for theft?
I thought this last place was charming, with a lot of potential. Love the color of the house and how it contrasts with the variegated Agave americana out front. I’d stop pruning the poor thing, get rid of the weeds along the fence, and fill everything in with even more cacti and succulents.
Ok, that concludes today’s post. Next time, I’ll focus on yards from upper-middleclass to upperclass neighborhoods. There is a difference, as many of the yards are bigger and the owners can afford to irrigate, which results in a wider selection of plants.