I m sitting on my courtyard in the shade of the Elephant tree, drinking hot mate tea from Argentina. In March, the sun rises over the Gulf of California just south of Cerralvo Island and shines straight into my bed. The trees protects me well from the rays of the already strong Mexican sun.
Every season has its charm for us in Mexico and depending on the position of the sun, the temperature or the wind speed, we drink our morning tea in different places. A large part of life takes place outside and so it is important to us to have as many comfortable places as possible.
Here at the Ventana Bay, the „El Norte“ blows in the winter months, from November to the end of March. Strong thermal driven winds, thunder through the channel between the mountains of the Sierra de la Laguna and Cerralvo Island.
That’s how it all started, because the wind attracted windsurfers and kiters in the 1990s, who discovered this place. Of course two villages of Mexican Fishermen called the area home already.
Today many of those Gringos, like us, live here in the desert at least in winter.
A blooming Baja California Nightshade (Solanum hindsianum) grows in a cluster of blue flowers just below a tall, multi-stemmed Palo Blanco tree. The Palo Blanco (Mariosousa heterophylla) tree is in the Acacia family. The white bark of the trunk gives it its name. This March the tree is currently in bloom. The Nightshade bush, which is so beautifully blooming today, is more than 20 years old. Its offshoots that grow nearby are just short, prickly stalks about 30 centimeters high with green leaves. You can easily mistake them for weeds and you can only pull them out with good gloves because their thorns are treacherous. The bush that it will eventually become is an important habitat for birds and insects that find food there.
The variety of plants and birds is impressive but unfortunately many of the locals (Mexicans) and Gringos don’t understand how important the local vegetation is for the climate and ecosystem which ultimately includes us humans.
Plants help cool the air temperature and increase humidity. In addition, the plants and their root systems prevent erosion and the formation of arroyos, which is of immense importance in the desert. When it rains here, the water comes down from the nearby mountains in great floods. The less resistance they have, the harder and faster it flows, and the more land is carried away. In addition, the vegetation helps to reduce the dust because the strong winds are weakened by it.
People decide what they like and what they let live. That decision is made emotionally and is seldom rational.
It is mostly the Elephant trees, Cardon cactus and Agaves that they like. The tall white trunked Palo Blanco are left for shade and Palms and Bougainvillea are often planted to suggest a tropical paradise despite living in the desert.
Those plants need water and that has to be delivered by tanker truck.
Once the native vegetation is destroyed, it takes years for it to recover. When I watch how slowly the bushes grow, I know that in twenty years I will have a large, flowering bush in the garden where I now have a small shrub.
We all like to keep things tidy and clean. So the yard is getting cleaned up. Scrubby bushes and leaves are removed and only the „beautiful“ plants are left. These are framed with stones and all around them, only fine sand and gravel is left. However, the discarded leaves of the bushes and trees are important for the insect world. It provides shelter and thereby creates food for the birds. In addition, the decaying leaves release nutrients as they turn into humus. In this way, they secure food for the surrounding plants. Birds such as the Cactus Wren, the Brown Trasher, the California Quail and the Cardinal find insects to eat in the foliage of the trees.
If you have a natural garden, you basically don’t have to feed the birds because nature offers enough food. The Hummingbirds whiz tirelessly through the area because it’s always blooming somewhere. Of course they also love the nectar of flowering Aloe Vera plants, a succulent native to Arabia that is actually considered an invasive species and the Laurel bushes which are native to the Mediterranean but thrive in Mexico. Nothing beats the endemic flora for Bio Diversity.
The below PDF shows some of the local plants here on the Baja California Peninsula.
Christian Heeb, March/2023