Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Nature: Fertility

It's a cold and snowy winter up north. That makes it the dry season in Yucatán, and although the countryside can be brown and dusty, commonly we see flowers, particularly flowering trees, in bloom right now. Many of these trees have lost their leaves, making the colors really stand out. It's a pleasure in this parched season to come upon such an unexpected burst of color.

Of course there is a reason. In a few months, following the dry and hot spring, suddenly Yucatán will be blessed with abundant daily rains. The riot of flowering now means there will be lots of seeds, ripe and ready to sprout, when moister weather conditions give them a better chance to mature. 

In places like the home gardens around Mérida, where many of us water and care for our plants through the winter drought, this can be a season of particular richness.

The bloom at right is a good example. A couple of years ago my neighbor Gilda gave me a couple of sprigs from her "copa de oro," cup of gold plant. On her direction I stuck them in the ground and after that did little but water them occasionally. Last summer, after growing very slowly and apparently investing energy in putting down roots, the copa de oro poured on a burst of speed. The stems are now about four meters, at least twelve feet high, and have begun to flower. This blossom fell to the ground the other day.

The nopal cactus is flowering like crazy, attracting hummingbirds and leaving hundreds of knobby fruits to redden as they mature. If not picked and eaten, the tunas will drop, leaving thousands of seeds in the soil to sprout later in the year. Nopal also regenerates from cuttings. Any piece of nopal that falls to the ground will quickly put down roots and grow.

I am still eating bananas from bunches that matured in January. Even though the birds and zorros, or opossums, got their share, I have eaten my fill of bananas and given lots away. This is the last of the second bunch, stored on the cool floor of the interior patio where they are safe from the animals. These are the best bananas I have ever tasted. I suppose that's because I'm still accustomed to the flavor of store-bought bananas that were picked green. These ripened on the plant. There is an amazing difference.

Way at the back of the patio, the bugambilia and thumbergia have intertwined and rioted so far out of control that I suspect a major intervention will be necessary to re-establish my possession of the corner. I haven't had the heart yet, since they look so great with their lavender and hot pink flowers mixed. I'll cut them back before the rains start in June. Meanwhile I'll cede temporary title to the back corner to these rowdy plants in exchange for the beautiful vista.

Also in back, not far from the occupied corner, the naranja agria, sour orange, tree is in bloom, dropping its white petals to float on the surface of the pool. This used to annoy me a bit because the petals are tiny and cost me some work to clean up, but I have come now to appreciate their snowy froth on the water in the morning. The aroma of orange blossoms gives the pool area a wonderful atmosphere. Next fall the oranges will go into a variety of Yucatecan recipes and make refreshing drinks.

There are many, many other native and introduced plants that blossom at this time. One of the locals, a
hennequen plant in my patio, pushed up its baseball-bat-thick spike and commenced to produce about thirty large bunches of pale flowers a couple of months ago. After flowering the plant produces hundreds of tiny, fully-formed plantlets, which fall to the ground to find soil in which they can grow. The mother plant will now die, hopefully leaving many progeny to replace it. I will gather some and root them in containers, for later planting when I have room.

Meanwhile we continue to enjoy cool, flower-scented nights in Yucatán. But not for long. Before the rainy season comes we must endure the worst of the year's heat. The temperatures are rising, and will peak out in May. At some point in late May or June regular rains will cool things a little and saturate the soils. That is when a lot of the seeds that right now are being produced will begin to germinate and plant growth will accelerate dramatically.


  1. What a delicious thing to read on an icy morning in the frosty north. "Meanwhile we continue to enjoy cool, flower-scented nights in Yucatán."... I simply must be there next year to experience it for myself. It's odd, this wretched cold and the piles of snow fill me with a new enthusiasm to get moved out of here, but I am, in actuality, prevented from taking action by the piles of snow which block the doors to the container. I expect the Universe thinks its teaching me patience or something stupid like that.

    Thanks Marc, another evocative description of the beauties of Yucatan.

  2. Just a beautiful account, and since we"ve been snowed in here in Oklahoma for 10 days, I really loved being "carried away to paradise" by your words. Thanks so much.

  3. Lynette and Cheri --

    Thank you for your fine compliments, which are always appreciated.

    I think after what you've experienced this winter you Oklahomans all are due for a good long visit down south. Come on down.


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