An idea for succulent plant education in Mexico

This page is motivated by many years of travel in Mexico to explore aspects of the natural history of the country. Most exploration was focused on the succulent plants for which Mexico is very well known. It has the greatest diversity of cacti of any country and also has the largest diversity of Agaves, Yucca, and many Crassulaceae. Much of this is tied to the topographic diversity and resultant climatic variations that have led to the evolution of many limited-distribution plants.

The botanical community in Mexico is relatively well-developed at universities and in the Mexican Government. Probably most Mexican households have succulent plants among their gardens or on their apartment balconies. Yet, from our limited observation, there is not a widespread understanding of cacti and other succulents, their environments, and many nature conservation issues. We might be wrong, but we will describe on this page why we think this is the situation. We then suggest a quick strategy for reaching a relatively large number of people quickly about these subjects.

The Problem with environmental education in many countries is that it is restricted to schools, universities or government organizations. Much of the adult public doesn’t participate in activities that build an appreciation of nature. And global goals of meeting a certain percentage of a country’s land area being “protected” are often done so in large parks that are in remote or inaccessible parts of the country. Or sometimes they can be very nearby population centers but remain undeveloped. While protecting large tracts of land in national parks or biosphere preserves is one essential aspect of protecting global biodiversity it does little to motivate people to take an interest in nature. How to bring people to nature is a major problem for all countries – especially those that are increasingly urbanized.

The idea described below was drafted up many years ago for a possible article in the Cactus and Succulent Journal of the CSSA. However, it never was completed and I was unsure if it would ever be feasible. The growth of Facebook pages such as that for Photos of Mexican cacti in habitat have motivated me to try again to present this idea. The intent will be to distribute the idea through Social media – with the hope that someone in Mexico may advance the concept.

The “idea”

The idea here is to establish – along major Mexican Highways – a network of small protected areas that display key aspects of the Mexican flora. These places would be small, ideally fenced or demarcated clearly, and have facilities to encourage travelers to stop. These facilities would include restrooms, a place to eat, and possibly camping or other overnight facilities. The most important facilities would be the education center and the associated nature trails winding through the natural terrain.

The proposed areas would be small, but not so small that they would risk being surrounded by undesirable development in a few years. Security would be important, both for the visiting public and for the plants, so the distance from the highways would be short – but far enough away from highways to experience less traffic noise. Access would need to be daylight-only, and some managers would need to live on-sight for additional passive security against possible plant poaching.

Well-maintained trails across the landscape would be key to attracting visitors.

Although acquiring the land for the educational reserves might be complicated, the land required would be very small compared with most Mexican National Parks. No more than several sq km would be needed for each reserve and could be less. The point of the reserves would not be to protect endangered species or habitats but rather educational. If only a small percentage of the travelers along the highway were to stop and become interested in the succulents and their habitats then this would be a major educational/environmental impact.

If enough reserves could be connected along key highways they might become a touristic attraction in themselves, with each reserve providing different trails and environments highlighting the flora of northern Mexico. Of course, in addition to the flora, some of the more common birds, reptiles and other features of the reserves would be highlighted. Environmental issues and threats would of course be one component to the reserves.