Another conference in Mexico, or perhaps I should say ‘congress’ as that is the word they use. I roll up right at the end for a final keynote, so I don’t get much sense of what has been going on, except that it is about preserving biodiversity through horticulture.
It looks like these big gatherings are clearly incredibly important here. I suppose in a large and very diverse country they are a good way of getting people together to share experiences and information, learn about new ways of doing things etc. To my eye it all seemed very formal, lots of speechifying and sitting behind important-looking desk signage. An inordinate amount of time and effort promoting the venue for the next congress – Monterrey. The Head of Tourism from Monterrey was there – he showed a video about the wonders of the place and all the activities you can do there: water-skiing, diving, looking at giraffes in the zoo – all the stuff you have no time to do if you are there at a conference (or indeed a desire to); projected so that you couldn’t see half of the image.
On the subject of biodiversity, here in lushly tropical Veracruz province it is truly incredible. Steep hills are covered in dense forest – very little sign of deforestation here, and there is so much to see, very easily. Hilly forest is a much better environment to see plants, and life generally than lowland forest. Slopes allow you to look straight into tree canopies and appreciate the thick growth of bromeliads, orchids, ferns and other epiphytes. The climate is so humid that tillandsias even grow on electricity and telephone cables. Hill forest also gets a lot more light at ground level so the ground flora is a lot more interesting than in lowlands.
One day we had a bus trip to the botanic gardens at Xalapa, one of the few in the world in cloud forest. Needless to say it rained, and while we sheltered in the potting shed listening to Phil Brewster, the English head of hort. we got the occasional deafening rattle of a giant acorn hitting the corrugated iron roof. There are apparently around 150 species of oak here. What is particularly wonderful about the flora here is that northern temperate (like oak, hornbeam, walnut, liquidamber etc) meet tropical and where north meets south.
For a country with such eye-popping levels of floristic diversity, plant availability in the nursery trade is abysmal. I looked through the national catalogue of ornamental plants grown in Mexico’s nurseries – very few were Mexican, it was the same boring list of global ornamental plants. My friend Cruz Garcia Albarado is doing his best to promote more trialling of Mexican natives, and there must be others doing similar things – I spotted a big and impressive book in the Mexico City University Botanic Gardesn on ‘Plants with ornamental potential in the state of Morelos’. At the congress, Cruz got elected to be Il Presdente of AMEHOAC – the Mexican Association for Ornamental Horticulture – pretty good for a chap in his mid-thirties. Got talking to a few people about the whole business of getting Plant Breeders’ Rights onto some cultivars of Mexican plants so that the economy might benefit – tangled topic, but good to make a start. We even talk about trying to get an international congress off the ground – on the subject of introducing wild plants into cultivation.
Veracruz is also pretty safe. So much of Mexico isn’t – owing to the drug cartels’ domination of much of the countryside. On my last visit (Feb 2007 – see blogs) I had given a lecture in Uruapan, introduced by the Mayor (with a great bearhug for the benefit of the local press) – who I thought at the time was a man I wouldn’t trust further than I could throw him. It turns out he is now in jail, on charges of involvement with a particularly nasty cartel who operate in the state of Michoacan – they caught the national headlines once when they flung five decapitated heads onto the dance floor of a disco. One does occasionally meet unsavoury types in the otherwise gentle world of gardening.