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Foto Patricia Lagarde, Historias de un Jardín charco del ingenio Ed. Santillana


Mexico has the richest variety of cacti in the world as well as a great diversity of species of other succulent families, with their strange forms and surprising colors. However, until recently these plants have been little known or appreciated except by botanists and cactophiles. Many are considered rare, threatened or in danger of extinction, due, as in other parts of the world, to changes in land use, urban expansion and illegal collecting and trafficking for the international collectors market.

For the botanical garden El Charco del Ingenio, the conservation of the natural and genetic heritage represented by these species is one of its primary objectives, its mission. For that reason, we took on the task of gathering a collection of Mexican succulents from different plant families in order to showcase our endangered biodiversity. The inspiration for and to a large extent the accomplishment of this work was carried out by the well-known cactophile Charles Glass, curator of the botanical garden until his death in 1998.

Today, most of the botanical collection consists of plants gathered over the years from all parts of the country and carefully identified, along with others propagated in the nursery at the garden, plus a number of donated plants. This extensive work of collection has meant building links with rural communities as well as scientific institutions, and a close relationship with the Mexican environmental agency (SEMARNAT) which has recognized the Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden as the legal depositary for the collection.

The botanical collection at El Charco del Ingenio represents above all the richness and biodiversity at risk in our country, and it is exhibited different areas of the garden - in the Conservatory of Mexican Plants (the spacious original greenhouse that also houses aquatic plant species and fish native to this region) as well as in the Area of Rescued Plants, on the western side of the garden.

In addition to being protected and exhibited, this magnificent collection constitutes the genetic base for propagation in the nursery of the Charco, which also offers plants for sale.

Foto Patricia Lagarde, Historias de un Jardín charco del ingenio Ed. Santillana

The collection is made up primarily of the family Cactaceae, along with other families of succulent plants, mainly Crassulaceae, Bromeliaceae y Agavaceae.



The cacti in the collection (more than 500 species) vary in shape and size: tall columns, round barrels, shrubby and clustering plants and many smaller species with dazzling flowers. Among the larger plants, of particular interest is the "old man cactus" (Cephalocereus senilis), with its stems covered with long white hair, which can grow up to 15 meters high in the wild. Flanking the entrance of the garden is a fence of organ cactus (Pachycereus marginatus) with its columns edged with fine spines, next to a creeping species, (Stenocereus eruca), covered with dagger-like spines, which grows along the ground, rooting as it goes.

Among the larger barrel cacti is the acitrón (Ferocactus histrix), which is used to make cactus candy and is native to the Charco del Ingenio, along with other species that came to the garden as the result of rescue efforts, such as theGolden Barrel (Echinocactus grusonii) with its notable golden crown. Another species, perhaps the largest of all, Echinocactus platyacanthus, has massive stems that can reach up to 2.5 meters in height.

Foto Patricia Lagarde,
Historias de un Jardín charco del ingenio Ed. Santillana

Shrubbier species include a variety of prickly pear cacti and their relatives (genus Opuntia), both natives and guests in the botanical garden. Some have dense spines and others provide pads and fruits that form part of the common diet of local people. The very eye-catching genus Echinocereus, with clustering pads that expand a meter or more across, are covered by a mass of large pink flowers in the spring.

The collection also includes climbing and trailing cacti (Selenicereus sp., Peniocereus serpentinus and several species of the genus Acanthocereus), the majority of which have large, white nocturnal flowers.

Fotos Patricia Lagarde, Historias de un Jardín charco del ingenio Ed. Santillana

Among the smaller cacti, the genus mammillaria is outstanding for the diversity of its forms and flowers. More than 180 species are well represented in the collection. This includes larger species such as M. melanocentra, M. compressa, M. magnimamma and M. spinosissima and smaller ones such as M. marcosii, a beautiful plant with colored spines discovered in the garden under the curatorship of Charles Glass, and  Mammillaria plumosa, with its cotton-like spines. Also included are miniatures, which are notable for their spines and flowers, M. albiflora. M. saboae s.p. goldii, and Mammillaria luethyi.

The richness of the collection also includes other genera, with impressive species such as Astrophytum ornatum, with its large speckled stems and A. myriostigma, a squat plant without spines that is covered with tiny woolly spots. More than eight hundred examples of Pelecyphora asseliformis are planted in and around the Conservatory, their low bodies camouflaged in the gravel. These plants were rescued from a road-widening project some years ago.

The genera Coryphantha, Echinocerus and Thelocactus are well represented, as well as Ariocarpus, Obregonia, Epithelantha, Turbinicarpus, Aztekium, etc., including specimens of Geohintonia mexicana, a new genus of Cactaceae recently discovered in the last decade of the 20th century.

Foto Patricia Lagarde, Historias de un Jardín charco del ingenio Ed. Santillana


Within the family Crassulaceae (some 300 species in the collection), the genus Echeveria predominates. These succulents are beautiful rosette-shaped plants with a wide range of colors, from black in (E. affinis) to pink (E. lilacina) and including green, grey and blue. Others, such as E. cante and E. lauii have leaves covered with a thick powdery wax coating. Dudleya has large silvery-white rosettes, while genera such as Sedum (the popular "siemprevivas") are trailing creepers that form extended mats.

Foto Patricia Lagarde, Historias de un Jardín charco del ingenio Ed. Santillana (derecha y arriba) y Doug Hunt

Of the family Bromeliaceae, the genus Hechtia, commonly known as guapilla, is notable. These plants have very thorny rosettes with thick leaves in which they store water, and come from the very arid zones of the country. The collection also includes some species of the genus Tillandsia, epiphyte plants that absorb water and nutrients from the air through scales on their leaves.

Fotos Patricia Lagarde, Historias de un Jardín charco del ingenio Ed. Santillana


The Agavaceae family is well represented (some 90 species). Commonly known as maguey or century plants, they have popular commercial applications using their juice (aguamiel, pulque and distilled drinks) and their fibers (ixtle, mecates - a type of thick twine). A large part of this collection is exhibited in the new Agave Garden, next to the Conservatory.

Foto (izquierda) Patricia Lagarde, Historias de un Jardín charco del ingenio Ed. Santillana y Doug Hunt (derecha)

Other botantical families in the collection are Zamiaceae, Bombacaceae and  Nolinaceae. Of the latter, a number of rescued specimens are notable, such as Calibanus hookerii and Dasylirion quadrangulatum, as well as the native ritual plant Dasylirion acrotriche, known as cucharilla or chimal.

An endangered ritual plant

In the San Miguel region, communities with indigenous roots use wild specimens of Dasylirion acrotriche to build their ritual offerings (altars, canes, rosettes) during various traditional festivals.


plantando cucharilla  

The heart of the plant is formed by small, shiny ivory-colored curls shaped like spoons, which are detached and arranged to make altars, usually during ritual vigils that take place at night.

Unfortunately, this beautiful indigenous tradition has caused the drastic reduction of these plants in the wild. In the face of their possible extinction, since 2001 the botanical garden has carried out a local conservation program for the cucharilla with the participation of the communities, producing thousands of nursery plants, and distributing and planting them in different areas within the municipality.


Cacti 2008

Other Succulent families, 2008




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