Aware of the nation's
rich vegetation and flora, botanists at the Biology Institute
of the strive to preserve living collections of native species
from across the country.
The Botanical Garden is located in Mexico City's Pedregal
in San Angel behind the Olympic Stadium. One of the garden's
most appealing attractions is its setting among lava outcroppings,
the uneven, volcanic ground resulting from the volcano Xitle's
eruption some 2500 years ago. It is a haven some 2,320 meters
above sea level, sheltered and isolated from Mexico City's busy
streets and urban surroundings. The Pedregal features mild weather
and ample showers in the summer season.
The collections of plants and flowers are divided into sections
based on regions and the indigenous species found therein. There
are detailed markers found throughout the garden with data such
as scientific and common name, botanical family, where the species
is found and its usages.
As nearly 70 percent of Mexico's territory is covered by arid
and semi-arid vegetation -- where weather is highly variable
and rain is scarce -- the garden boasts a marvelous collection
of plants from arid zones, including a variety of yuccas and
agaves. This particular section also includes the Helia Bravo
Desert Garden -- Helia Bravo was one of the garden's founding
members -- which features an exceptional collection of cactus
In the garden's "temperate zone", the arboretum stands out.
This collection of living trees was created to display together
samples from the temperate zones across the nation, found mostly
in mountainous areas where pine trees and encinos prevail. The
most important group of trees in this collection is precisely
the pine tree family, characterized by their needle-like leaves.
The timber is usually used to produce paper, wood products and
charcoal. Also in the arboretum is a small collection of Liquidambar
trees which grow in humid, cloud forests (i.e. Chiapas, Hidalgo
and Oaxaca). As fall approaches, their usually light-green leaves
change different shades of yellow and red. Firs, Mexican hawthorn
trees and loquats are among the trees in the arboretum.
In the tropical areas of the country, vegetation is exuberant
with an enormous variety of species. The Manuel Ruiz Oronoz
Greenhouse was built at the garden to showcase a variety of
plants from these areas. Both the warm temperatures and humidity
prevailing in Mexico's far-flung jungles are recreated in the
greenhouse. Visitors sometimes are treated to a small waterfall,
when it is operational. Among the species here is the pochote
with its conic thorns (its trunk provides wood commonly used
in the construction industry). Also found here are samples of
barbasco -- or "cabeza de negro" -- used in the production of
steroids, as well as the fat pepper tree, cherished for its
scented seeds used as seasoning in traditional medicine.
One section is devoted to plants traditionally used for ornamental
purposes and another to medicinal plants, many of which are
used in some traditional Mexican dishes. A pond marks the entrance
to the ornamental and medicinal sections, which features the
carob (an edible bush used to treat the cough), the hoja santa
(used as a seasoning and in treating digestive complications),
the lemon balm (used to treat nervousness), rosemary (used as
a condiment and in treating hair-loss) and borage (an indigenous
plant used to lower fever plus treat cough and rheumatism).
Another attractive feature of the garden is the series of
tiles depicting the many different butterfly types that frequent
the area at different times of the year. For instance, visitors
discover that the Danaus plexippus -- better known as the Monarch
butterfly -- flits through the Valley of Mexico from June through
December and its familiar image is colorfully portrayed on the
white tile. Most of the tiles refer to the butterflies by their
scientific names exclusively, such as the Nymphalis antiopa
-- an insect that boasts purple wings with a yellow stripe along
the fringes -- that is found throughout Mexico and can be seen
in the Valley of Mexico year-round. Then there is the so-called
"cara de perro", or dog face, which migrates annually from the
United States to Guatemala and abounds in Mexico during the
summer rainy season.
Courses, workshops and presentations on various topics related
to plants are held at the garden occasionally.
Visitors are welcome -- from 9 am to 4:30 pm -- all week,
except for holidays and during University vacation times. There
is no entrance fee. The nearest Metro station is Universidad,
Robleda is a reporter based in Mexico City.