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Vol. 5(9), pp. 5-8The McAllen International Orchid Society JournalSeptember 2004

Northern Mexico In Early August

R J Ferry

Fig. 6. The Monterrey, México metropolitan area from the Chipinque Park walking trail.

Readers may recall an article that appeared in Vol. 4(7): 5-8, (July, 2003). In that article an excursion was made into Parque La Estanzuela, located just a few kilometers south of Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico (Fig. 6).

This time, two other areas were explored in the Monterrey-area. Your editor and his wife traveled to Monterrey in early August, ostensibly to drop off several journals to be bound, visit with Dr. Contreras and his son, and orchid hunt. Actually, the more subversive motive was for Wilma to have a few days get her temporary fill of guacamole salad as done in the Monterrey area, but this writing will concentrate on orchid hunting aspects.

The first day, after our arrival the evening before, we drove to Km. 1 on the walking trail at Chipinque Park just south of the metropolitan area of Monterrey. Km. 1 is at an elevation of about 200 meters, and from that point we were to walk along a dirt road, past Km 4, to a point on the trail known as Paraje Mesa del Epazote. A mere three kilometer walk shouldn't tax anybody, but when that distance goes from 200 meter elevation (±600 feet) to around 1200 meters (over 1800 feet), it makes for some deep breathing for individuals more used to near sea-level walking! Then one has to consider that that's only halfway: there's another 3 km. walking back downhill! Downhill walking is supposed to be easier, but somehow it doesn't seem like it!

However, along the way, several terrestrial orchids were in evidence, with the first ones seen (not in flower) around km. 2 (±800 meters elevation). Several were obviously species of Deiregyne, Spiranthes, Goodyera, Malaxis, and probably Dicromanthus, but none had old inflorescences in evidence. As one looks closely for orchid plants on the mountain face, it's wise to keep in mind the abundant "hierba veneno," poison ivy (Rhus toxidendron). It's seemingly everywhere, and an encounter with that plant while orchid searching in the Sierra Madre a few years ago still brings back unpleasant memories of painful arms! Fortunately, there's a product called Ivarest which can nullify its effects provided the lotion is liberally applied in advance of contact with poison ivy or immediately afterward. Nevertheless, despite all preventives and cures, it's wise to not tempt the poison ivy demons!

Fig. 7. Malaxis unifolia. Chipinque Park, 06 Aug 2004.

Fig. 8. Goodyera oblongifolia.

Near the end of our climb, where it was noticeably cooler, scattered plants of Malaxis unifolia (Fig. 7) were developing inflorescences. Also, at these elevations Goodyera oblongifolia had just flowered and most blooms showed evidence of already having been recently pollinated (Fig. 8).

We terminated our upward trek at Paraje Mesa del Epazote. At which point one could still see the rugged escarpment continuing on upward a few hundered meters more! Explorations in that region would require gear for rappelling and considerable physical stamina! One really needs to see that country personally to appreciate how rugged the mountains are! The mountains of Mexico bifurcate in the south and form the eastern and western ranges with the high (and drier) central plateau in between. Both ranges are northward extensions of the Andes of South America; a mountain chain that ripples through Central America and into Mexico. The Sierra Madre Occidental, the western range, continues on to become the Rocky Mountain chain of California, Nevada, Utah, Oregon, and Washington State and on north-westward to Alaska. The eastern mountain range, the Sierra Madre Oriental continues on into New Mexico, western Texas and northward. Both mountain ranges are essentially rock layers from the Cretaceous (about 65-135 million years ago), impacted by the asteroid strike at 64.8 million years ago and further forced upward around 30 million years ago by the movement of the earth's tectonic plates. Some heavy rock layers show folding as though they were simply thick paper! As one looks, the immensity of the geologic forces continues to leave the mind boggled!

Fig. 9. Mountain Jaybird. 06 Aug 04.

Fig. 10. Black-brown ground squirrel. 06 Aug 04. Chipinque National Park, Monterrey area, NL, México.

We hiked back down the mountain, making it a point to rest occasionally and be investigated by a few mountain jays (Fig. 9), and--at one point--see and be seen by a small black squirrel (Fig. 10). This latter animal is about the size of the red squirrel seen in the United States, but it's black (occasionally with some brown) and does NOT live in trees! Bushy tail and all, it's a ground-and-rock squirrel that raises its young in burrows. It obviously has had little contact with humans because when we paused, it showed no particular fear of our scrutiny. Finally, however, it tired of posing for our photographing efforts and ambled off down the other side of the rock.

Returning to Monterrey, we cleaned up and walked our now-aching legs to the restaurant for a long leisurely "Happy Hour" and dinner at the Gusto del Pueblo, located a short walk from our hotel. At this point, a small digression is in order! While not the cheapest restaurant one might find in the Monterrey area, the Gusto del Pueblo has, over several years, been a place where one consistantly finds a "tablecloth-type restaurant with good food, a diverse menu, and live music that caters to the dinner set rather than the overly amplified noise and screaming that all-too-commonly masquerades as "music" in many restaurants! When the solitary vocalist-piano player is not holding forth, an occasional mariachi trio is available to personally play and sing particular requested numbers for a table. The menu ranges from hamburgers to chicken cordon bleu, steaks, a variety of well-made Mexican entrees, and--of course--salads of guacamole and other ingredients. The wine and beverage list is good, the desert selections are absolutely sinful, and the service--again, over the years--has been consistantly excellent! After consulting with faculty, doing botanical, biological, or ecological research, or simply hiking and orchid searching in the nearby mountains, this restaurant has consistantly been an excellent place to "debrief and replan" once one has returned and cleaned up at the hotel/motel.

07 August, 2004

Fig. 11. The Canyon Road (in fact, an unusually smooth section of it!). 07 August, 2004. Eastern side of Sierra Madre Oriental, west of Horsetail Falls. Nuevo León, México.

Our muscles were really telling us stories about older ages and hill-climbing activities in the morning, but we four (Dr. Contreras, his son Salvador, Wilma and I) piled our gear into our jeep and headed south, out of Monterrey. We turned right at the turnoff (several kilometers south) for Cola Caballo (the Horsetail Falls), and drove past the falls area to the little restaurant where young Salvador had secured the eggs for the radiator repair work noted in Fig. 6 of MIOS Vol. 4(7): 8 (July, 2003). Today, instead of continuing on up the mountain's incline, we made a sharp turn to the left (south) and went downhill, eventually dropping down to the river bed's level. The road ranged from a fairly good hard surface to one that was akin to what one would expect by driving along a very rocky river bed (Fig. 11), but our '97 jeep (albeit with more than 192,000 miles on it!) was equal to the task! The road began with the river a few hundred meters nearly straight down to the right, and the mountain range rising several hundred meters upward on our left. This is country with steep slopes and rock escarpments, and roads carved out of the sides of the mountains. Cooperatively, however, Wilma readily notified her husband (in no uncertain terms!) every time the right side of the car came within a foot or two of the right-hand edge of the road! Portions of the terrain were grassy, others matted with pine needles, and still other areas were a mixture of oak and other leaves forming a leaf-humus floor.

At this point, a few remarks may be in order concerning orchid-significant trees in Mexico. Mexico holds 40 species of pines, 18 varieties, and 9 forms (forma). The state of Nuevo León houses 6 species of pines: Pino enamo (Pinus flexilis Jonnes), Pino huiyoco, and Pino nayar, (both referring to P. reflexa Engelmann), Pino prieto (P. greggii Engelmann), Pino real (P. montezumae Lamb.), a second one is also called Pino real (P. pseudostrobus Lindley), and Pino rosillo (P. teocote Schl. et Cham.). The oaks (Quercus) are both more abundant and diverse, with Mexico holding about 300 species, of which at least 11 are known from Nuevo León, including Encino colorado (Quercus dysophylla Benth.; Q. affinis Scheid., and Q. canbyi Trel., Q. perseaefolia Liebm., Q. saltillensis Trel., ), Encino chaparro (Q. tinkhami Mueller), Encino chino [Q. pungens var. vaseyana (Buckl.) Mull.], Encino dorado (Q. chrysophylla Humb. et Bonpl.), Encino tesmoli (Q. fusiformis Small), Encino miscalme (Q. chihuahuensis Trel.), Encino rojo (also referring to Q. saltillensis Trel.), and one known as Roble serrano or simply Texmole (Q. virginiana L.). One source (Cox and Leslie, 1988) notes Q. fusiformis differing from Q. virginiana L. (Live oak) only in having acorns somewhat more narrowed, and a range that includes Mexico. However, an earlier, but more botanically oriented authority (Correll and Johnston, 1970) observe significant length differences in the staminate and pistillate catkins of these two species of trees. While other tree species play a part in habitats suitable for orchids, the upland mixed oak-pine forests account for much of the better orchid-rich habitats in Mexico, with the oaks playing a significant part in hosting epiphytes and the oak-pine leaf-mixture of the forest floor complimenting most Mexican terrestrial species. Forest-floor-wise, the particular species of pine appears to not be critical, but for the epiphytes, many are readily seen on either Quercus virginiana or Q. fusiformis.

Fig. 12. Epiphytes (ferns & Epi. magnoliae) on oaks (Quercus fusiformis); hillside above riverbed area west of Horsetail Falls; eastern side of Sierra Madre Oriental, Nuevo León, México. 07 August, 2004.

Fig. 13. Close-up view of Epi. magnoliae and ferns on branch of Q. fusiformis. Eastern side of Sierra Madre Oriental, Nuevo León, México. 07 August, 2004.

Along the river, and in trees some meters uphill (in the same canyon, but somewhat removed from the river bed's immediate humidity) plants of Epidendrum magnoliae Andrews (not in flower) were to be seen growing on oak trees (Quercus fusiformis Small) (Fig. 12) (Fig. 13). E. magnoliae has been observed growing on Q. virginiana in the eastern United States, in Nuevo León on both oak trees and limestone and granite rocks at Parque La Estanzuela, and now we observed it here, on oaks, in the canyon just past Cola Caballo, along a branch off the same road leading to the summit of the Sierra Madre Oriental. This particular canyon is doubtless somewhat sheltered, but the area in which E. magnoliae grows in Parque La Estanzuela is at a higher elevation and relatively much more exposed; in locations that surely see occasional freezing temperatures similar to those it encounters in the US in Virginia. This gives rise to wondering whether Epidendrum magnoliae might survive not only along the Rio Grande River, but even as far north as San Antonio, Texas. One even tends to wonder whether it might have existed in those more-northern areas, only to have been overlooked and later wiped out as lumbering and logging took place in the pre- and early years of events in northern Mexico and Texas.

Fig. 14. E. magnoliae group of plants on rock.

At the elevations we explored, there was no evidence of terrestrial orchids in any of the areas explored along this river, nor were any other epiphytic orchids encountered. Sparsely one could encounter a clump of E. magnoliae, blown down from its epiphytic site, was continuing to flourish on the rocks (Fig. 14), but no seedlings were encountered on other rocks. A few of the Mexican laelias have been rumored to be in this general area, but on this brief excursion, none were encountered. We were, of course, still on the eastern side--the drier side--of the Sierra Madre Oriental, and the terrestrial orchids in this general area are found on the wetter, western side; at higher elevations.

On the rocks immediately bordering the river bed, plants of the "resurrection fern," (Selaginella species) were fairly common, and on one occasion, while climbing a steep pine-needle-slippery hillside, the younger Salvador and your editor noted a brown snake of slightly less than a meter in length. To be honest, we didn't get to observe the snake for very long: it saw us first and beat a hasty retreat along the hillside away from us! On that particular excursion, we reached our objective point only to discover that what we had thought, from a distance, might be a terrestrial orchid plant, turned out to be a species of grass. We did, however, find a seed capsule of the Mexican buckeye (Ungnadia speciosa; also called Texas buckeye and other common names), the same species of tree your editor has seen and photographed in Victoria and Jackson Counties in Texas.

We continued on farther at river level, but finally turned around and retraed our routing back to Monterrey, stopping at a restaurant along the way. Yes, we later met at "The Gusto" for a light dinner, and retired relatively early.

08 August, 2004

We briefly considered staying another day to explore the area beyond where we had turned off the previous day, but decided to depart and make a leisurely drive back to Texas; taking advantage of the lighter city Sunday traffic as we departed Monterrey. After a stop at the Bonniviet, a nearby bakery, for morning coffee, and to pick up a few containers of empanadas and other pasteries, we were on our way out of Monterrey. We stopped again at the roadside restaurant in the town of Doctor Gonzalez (about 26 km. north of Monterrey). A few years back this spot at Dr. Gonzalez was a regular stop, both going and coming, when your editor was working on the doctorate degree, and once again we stopped for a cup of café con leche and visited with our old friend who runs the restaurant.

Fig. 15. Roadside stop: Wilma just in front of Yucca treculeana plant.

Continuing on, there was another roadside stop to look at the giant Yucca treculeana plants growing in the area. Rainfall in this area is sparse, plant growth is slow, and the land with its Yucca plants has been relatively undisturbed for many years. Many have grown to more than ten meters in height, with some having been calculated to be at least 400 years old (Fig. 15)! Traveling through this country, one gets the feeling little has changed since the days of the early Spanish explorers! After this photo-stop, we continued on to Miguel Alemán, México, crossed over the Río Grande River at Roma, and drove on to McAllen, Texas where we spent the night. End note: we are to return to Monterrey on 03 September to pick up bound journal issues and the bound copies of Dr. Herron's dissertation.


Cox, P. W., and Patty Leslie. 1988, reprinted 1991. Texas Trees; A Friendly Guide. San Antonio, Texas: Corona Publishing Company. 374pp.

Correll, D. S., and Marshall C. Johnston. 1970. Manual of The Vascular Plants of Texas. Renner, Texas: The Texas Research Foundation. 1881pp.

Grimm, W. C. 1962. The Book of Trees. New York: Hawthorn Books, Inc. 493pp. (soft cover)

Luer, C. A. 1975. The Native Orchids of The United States and Canada excluding Florida. New York: The New York Botanical Garden. 361pp.

Martinez, M. 1979. Catálogo de Nombres Vulgares y Cientificos de Plantas Mexicanas. (rev. ed. 1994) México: Fondo de Cultura Económica. 1247pp.

Williams, L.O. 1951. The Orchidaceae of Mexico. CEIBA 2:1--321 plus index.

Copyright © 2004 R J Ferry