(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 5, 2009. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
In the midst of a cold Midwestern winter, nothing chases away the blues like heading to a far-away warm destination. A few years back I was fortunate to escape chilly Illinois and head to the Los Cabos area in Baja Sur, Mexico. If you've been to that area you know that it has an interesting "tropical desert" geography. Mountains run through the middle of the peninsula, which is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Cortez.
Tourism created a number of areas awash in colorful oleander and bougainvillea, as well as lush green golf courses. A trip into uninhabited areas shows the true geography of the area. The thorn forest of southern Baja contains many large cacti as well as succulents, spiny shrubs and trees, whose only moisture is derived from infrequent rainfall and ocean mist. The juxtaposition of the desert and ocean was just mind-boggling to this Midwestern girl. As a gardener, I looked forward to seeing flora and fauna I had never been exposed to before. It really wasn't a surprise then to my husband, who would rather be deep-sea fishing, that I would drag him through the countryside looking at the scenery. He loves to tell the story of how I strapped him into a jeep and carted him off through treacherous roads in attempts to find the town of Candelaria; a town famous for exotic plants, small gardens and healing witchcraft. But that's a story for another day.
On less dangerous ground, a local botanical garden provides a closer view of some native Mexican plants. Cacti Mundo is located in the town of San José del Cabo near the tip of Baja Sur and was created for the preservation, promotion and reproduction of typical Mexican and other international desert species. Cactus lovers Señor Pablo Gonzalez Carbonell and Josef Schrott collaborated to bring the world this "desert dessert," sweetly tucked along the Sea of Cortez coast. The collection is diverse with over 850 different species artistically represented in the garden. Rare and threatened species make appearances at the garden and often are reintroduced to native areas by Cacti Mundo. The Mexican Golden Barrel Cactus for example, is extinct in the wild but being reintroduced to its native central state of Querétaro. As a bonus, many species at Cacti Mundo have been cultivated and offered at local nurseries.
Although small in size (perhaps the size of a small grocery store) this 15+ year-old garden is comprised of nearly 5000 plants for your enjoyment. Here are a few of photos from my visit.
Spiny soldiers wearing little orange hats.
Reaching for the sky!
Pink Comb Cactus, Echinocereus rigidissimus subsp. rubispinus Fox Tail Agave, Agave attenuata, in full bloom. This plant blooms only once and then dies.
Butterfly Agave, Agave potatorum
Let's do the Twist!
The pastel plants with the dark gray planting medium creates stunning contrast. I had to have a picture of this Euphorbia because my brother-in-law grew this species as a houseplant! Colorful flowers atop what appear to be little pillows. Bananas? Octopus?
Moon Cactus, Gymnocalycium mihanovichii var. rubrum, from Paraguay
Desert Rose, Adenium obesum, is one of the international plants in the collection. Native to East Africa.
If You Go
Of the more than 5,000 plants, you'll see some other recognizable species including Medicinal Aloe, Jumping Cholla, Giant Cardon, Blue Agave (think tequila) and the Century Plant. If you're lucky, you'll see the Pitahaya in bloom (once every 20 years) and bearing fruit.
Cacti Mundo is best visited when you have time to leisurely stroll through the collection. The small wheel-shaped facility may take only 30 minutes or so to view but if you plan on photographing species or taking notes, allow extra time. You'll find shaded areas but don't forget to consider the heat during your visit.
Oh, one more thing … I highly advise you "look but don't touch."
Cacti Mundo from Los Cabos Guide
Check out the nearby estuary and bird sanctuary for some bird watching!
Thanks to DG Member and Writer Geoff Stein ('palmbob') for help in identifying some of these species! To view a list of Geoff's articles on exotic plants, visit his member page.