Notes from South of the Border
View of Gulf islands near Loreto

This section contains entries written for the UC BEE, the monthly newsletter for volunteers and staff of the
UC Berkeley Botanical Garden, about our botanizing in Baja California, and starting in October, 2012.

Click on any photo for a larger image.

BEE MAY 2015

Editorial Note: I recently discovered that in the March issue, a couple of paragraphs about the Cuscuta species (Dodder) mistakenly appeared in Spanish in the English version. Sorry about that! Click here to re-read it in English. I appreciate editorial comments when appropriate.

March 3, 2015 - El Santuario de los Cactus (Cactus Sanctuary), La Paz

This month, we made our annual trip further south to La Paz and Todos Santos. Last year we went in late January and early February and had time for a field trip to the Sanctuary. You can read more about the Sanctuary and that trip here.

This year, I really wanted to see how the Sanctuary had fared with the passage of Hurricane Odile in September 2014. It was looking very ragged indeed and it can still use a few dozen volunteers to help give it a good cleanup. Any takers out there? Road trip, anyone?

Odile was a Category 3 hurricane when it hit Cabo San Lucas head on and it was still very strong as it passed northward over Todos Santos, the Sanctuary and La Paz. It tracked right up the middle of the peninsula, hitting Loreto, Mulegé and San Ignacio before crossing over the Gulf near Bahía de los Ángeles and the Sonoran coast. See the January 2015 entry for more about the effects of the storm.

arid tropical forest

The Sanctuary is located on the edge of the low arid tropical forest, which was still showing the effects of all the rain from Odile. The columnar cacti on the left are Cardón Barbón (Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum), common in the Cape Region.


Spines of ocotillo

Inside the fenced area of the Sanctuary.

cows in the arid forest

If the Sanctuary weren't fenced, these bovines would munch everything in it to bare dirt in no time at all, as they have demonstrated here across the road from the Sanctuary.


Spines of ocotillo

Right on the other side of the fence.


Spinose branches of Koeberlinia spinosa

Dense understory within the Sanctuary.


Habit of Euphorbia ceroderma

The damage to the giant cacti was visible immediately on entering the sanctuary. Organpipe Cactus / Pitahaya dulce (Stenocereus thurberi).

Spiny branches of Castela polyandra

All throughout the sanctuary, cactus stems were strewn about, snapped off cleanly by high winds from the hurricane.

Bitter condalia branch is spinose

This was the thickest we've seen the undergrowth in our four visits.


Flowers of Euphorbia ceroderma

Another small Pitahaya dulce / Organpipe Cactus lies across the path.


Flowers of Castela polyandra

A beautiful crested Organpipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) has been toppled, roots and all by the wind. The caretaker plans to re-seat it.


Eucnide aurea leaves and flowers

Giants like these were protected from the winds by nurse trees, mainly Mesquites, which are intertwined with the cacti. Cardón Barbón (Pachycereus pecten-aboriginum)


Velcro plant at work

Last ditch effort from the broken stems: new buds.

Leaves and flowers of Mentzelia adhaerens

The nurse trees are vital for the health and longevity of the cacti in the tropical forest. Pitahaya dulce/Organpipe Cactus (Stenocereus thurberi).


Mentzelia sticks to everything

Flower bud of Cardón Barbón.

Amidst the damage, there were many tiny annual and perennial wildflowers typical of the dry tropical forest, here and in other parts of the Americas. Acanthaceae seemed to be well represented among these flowers on our visit.

Flowers and spines of Pincushion cacti

Olotillo (Tetramerium nervosum, Acanthaceae), a native perennial. The inflorescence is a spike with imbricate (overlapping) leafy bracts.


Stems and fruit of Chainlink cholla

Loeselia ciliata (Polemoniaceae) is a slightly prickly annual or perennial herb of the undergrowth.

Baby barrel cactus

A tiny yellow flower arises from above each of the bracts in the spike of Olotillo.


Long spines of barrel cactus

Rama toro / Arizona Wrightwort (Carlowrightia arizonica, another perennial in Acanthaceae). This was the most abundant wildflower of the sanctuary's understory. Flowers are cream to yellow-tinged and about 1 cm W.


Twin barrel cacti

The angel-like flowers of Cordón de San Juan / Purple Scalystem (Elytraria imbricata, Acanthaceae) are tiny (5-6 mm W) and difficult to photograph in the low light of the forest. This was the second-most abundant of the flowers. The dark green pointy things are the spikey inflorescences, also with imbricate bracts.


Cylindropuntia alcahes stems and fruit

I saw this Dodder (Cuscuta sp., Convolvulaceae) at a different site about 20 km from the Sanctuary. It was on several different species in the scrub. This one is full of buds.


Prickly Pear cactus

What one lichen expert once told me is best described as a "dustose" lichen. Here, on Lomboy (Jatropha cinerea, Euphorbiaceae), it is like a smudge of lime green dust.


Cardoncitos (Cardón Barbón seedlings) growing under their nurse trees. Hopefully some day they will grow tall and large enough to replace their elders who have fallen alongside them.

flowers of Chainlink cholla

The identification of this shrub had confounded me for several visits to the Sanctuary, but I just learned a helpful fact while visiting the herbarium in La Paz (see more on that below): Randia obcordata (Rutaceae) can have spines, or not. The first plants I saw had small, black fruit but no spines. This plant here had stout spines but no fruit.


Cylindropuntia alcahes flowers

It is possible that this is the same species of Dodder (Cuscuta sp.), here on a Palo de Arco branch (Tecoma stans, Bignoniaceae) at the Sanctuary. It too grew on several types of plants and had had large clusters of flowers.


Flower of Opuntia sp.

Closeup view of some of the lichens on the bark of a Lomboy. Trees and shrubs everywhere were covered in a variety of colors.




March 4-6 - The Herbarium at CIBNOR (Centro de Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste), La Paz.

Something I have wanted to do for a number of years was to volunteer at the herbarium where I have been depositing my plant specimens since 2003. This year, things finally worked out and I was able to spend three mornings helping out the staff.

Entrance to CIBNOR

CIBNOR is located on the west side of La Paz bay, just north of the city, off Hwy 1 and the road to San Juan de la Costa.


study area at CIBNOR

The area is closed to the public to preserve research plots and to prevent inadvertent damage to the area.


Research ponds at CIBNOR

While waiting for everyone to show up, I took a stroll by some of the research ponds that are on the edge of Bahía de La Paz.


HCIB staff

The Herbarium is staffed by just three people, including the Curator and Collections Manager (pictured here).


Road to CIBNOR

Much of the grounds is fenced to preserve the original desert scrub which is then utilized for field studies by researchers and students from the facility.


Entrance to CIBNOR

The entrance. Visitors must check in at the gate. The campus houses classrooms as well as research facilities in a number of fields.


Herbarium cabinets

The facility houses over 28,000 specimens, mainly from the Baja California peninsula, with emphasis on the southern area.


Working at the herbarium

Having a fine time doing one of those tasks that had been put off due to understaffing: preparing duplicate specimens for shipment to the San Diego Herbarium. T-shirt look familiar?

I wish I had more time to share some of the other sights and plants from our trip, but it will have to wait until another time as we are preparing to head back to Alta California for the summer. Hopefully the drive north will be beautiful and green and we´ll see some lovely wildflowers we can share here next month. Until then, hasta la próxima

Debra Valov—Curatorial volunteer