CSSA 2015 Pre-Convention Tour

I realize that this post could get quite long, and with the 140 characters or less society of today, I will keep the babble to a minimum and shower you with photos which will have just a bit of text to identify plants or to give you, the reader, a sense of the journey. Because this was a multi-day tour, there will be more than one post.

From June 2 – June 13, Brian Kemble and I were the plant nerds and field trip helpers for Jeff Chemnick’s Mexico Nature Tours expedition taking 17 CSSA members on a tour of cactus and succulents (and other plants as well) through east-central Mexico. We all convened in Mexico City for the opening banquet on June 2 and hit the road the following morning. Our itinerary was going to take us north through Hidalgo, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Leon at which point we headed back south towards our departure point in Mexico City. The weather was absolutely fabulous for early June in that part of Mexico, the participants were top notch and the plant life was superb.

Our drivers, Javier and Ramon were very adept at maneuvering these extra long vans through some very tight situations and were careful to keep the passengers best interest in mind. Wednesday morning, June 3, we make our way out of the congested streets of Mexico City and get on the highway traveling up to Pachuca, Hidalgo.

We made our first roadside stop for photos of Echeveria secunda and Mammillaria rhodantha.



I can’t resist taking a shot of any flowering Penstemon species


Our first real get out and wander, botanical stop was at a Martin Kristen and Julia Etter locality to see, among other plants, Echeveria coccinea, Echeveria halbingeri var. sanchez-mejorada, Sedum moranense, Agave salmiana, Agave mitis, Yucca filifera, Mammillaria magnimamma, Stenocactus (insert species name here), Myrtillocactus geometrizans and Opuntias galore.



After everybody had their fill of plants from this marvelous spot, well we had to drag some away kicking and screaming, but this was just day 1 and there were more stops to be made before stopping for the night in the magical town of Metztitlan (I do believe it is designated a Pueblo Magico). We made some stops for photo ops in the barranca de Metztitlan.

First up is Isolatocereus dumortieri, one of the true giants of the cactus world.


Then, a must stop for Cephalocereus senilis, an iconic figure in the Barranca de Metztitlan and a plant that every cactophile should make every effort to see in habitat.


Next up we pull off the road and march up a short hill to frolic amongst some of the largest Echinocactus platyacanthus plants around. The two below make a nice couple, but are just not up to full size yet.


These are getting quite heavy and wrinkly, but still not the largest ones around.


Ha, now here’s the one we were looking for!


Can’t resist the flutterbyes! Especially when one stays still long enough to have its picture taken.


A couple of plants from my favorite genus, Agave. First up is Agave mitis, formerly known as Agave celsii.


And of course, the ever present Agave xylonacantha with bizarro teeth.


Stopping for the night at a decent hotel called Hotel Granaditas in Metztitlan. The food was good, the beer was cold, and the bed was relatively comfortable, affording a decent night’s sleep so all were rested and ready to tackle the rest of the Barranca de Metztitlan and the Barranca de Tolantongo as we head towards the city of Ixmiquilpan. The distance is not that great, but the dirt roads, big vans and awesome plants will make for a full day in the field.

First, we need to get the transportation issue resolved. Not sure if we can fit 20 people on this sturdy looking machine, but it does come equipped with a machete and a luggage rack!


One of the most spectacular plants along the road through the Barranca de Tolantongo is the very cool Fouquieria fasciculata commonly called Arbol de Barril in Mexico. This fat plant is known only from the barrancas in southern Hidalgo, most notably from the Barranca de Tolantongo where it is found growing on shallow, calcareous soil from about 1200-1600 meters (3900-5250 feet) elevation with annual precipitation ranging from about 50-60 cm (20-24 inches) falling primarily from May through September. (Thank you Dr. James Henrickson for your fabulous monograph on Fouquieriaceae). I do have a handful of these for sale in the on-line store at Fouquieria fasciculata. Find more information about this plant at Dave’s Garden.


Gnarly bark found on Fouquieria fasciculata.


An absolutely awesome specimen of Fouquieria fasciculata.


The many, tapered trunks of a prime specimen of Fouquieria fasciculata.


In the shade of Fouquieria fasciculata.

Huh!, next up are a couple shots of an unidentifiable agave that seems to fit somewhere with Agave lophantha/lechuguilla, but not quite. Looks like another trip to catch it in flower is in order.



I loved seeing the large, bright magenta-purple flowers of Morkillia mexicana throughout our drive in the Barranca de Tolantongo.

Morkillia mexicana

Morkillia mexicana

Another backlit shot to emphasize the brilliance of the flower color.

Morkillia mexicana

Morkillia mexicana

With Dan Mahr along, we absolutely had to stop for some shots of Bursera cf. morelensis.

The peeling bark of this bursera is way to cool.

The peeling bark of this bursera is way to cool.

While combing the hillside for cool cactus I spotted this awesome little Agave xylonacantha seedling.

Too cute to pass up the photo op.

Too cute to pass up the photo op.

After a full day of exploring both the Barranca de Metztitlan and the Barranca de Tolantongo, we leave them behind, but not before stopping to see a few more really awesome plants.

Below is Dasylirion longissimum, not to be confused with Dasylirion quadrangulatum which we will see later in the trip. The two are quite different and readily separated from each other based on growth form and inflorescence characters.

A stately specimen of Dasylirion longissimum.

A stately specimen of Dasylirion longissimum.

Growing on the same hillside we encountered Brahea dulcis.

A stately Brahea dulcis overlooking the road less traveled.

A stately Brahea dulcis overlooking the road less traveled.

Before reaching the city of Ixmiquilpan, our stopping point for the night, we make a stop at a hillside for Agave striata, Stenocactus sp., Opuntia stenopetala and more.

A nice cluster of Agave striata in full flower.

A nice cluster of Agave striata in full flower.

We can tell that this is Agave striata and not Agave stricta by close examination of the flowers. One look and we see that the tepals are about one-third the length of either the tube or the ovary while the tepal, tube and ovary lengths are about equal in Agave stricta. Also, Agave stricta is known only from around the Tehuacan Valley area in southern Puebla and northern Oaxaca while our plants are in Hidalgo.

Agave striata flower shot.

Agave striata flower shot.

The multiple colors of a sweet looking plant.

The multiple colors of a sweet looking plant.


The unusual flowers of Opuntia stenopetala.

The unusual flowers of Opuntia stenopetala.


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Leave a Comment (6) ↓


  1. Keith Cox November 29, 2015

    Fabulous, Greg.

  2. Miguel February 17, 2016

    great !

  3. saleh July 8, 2016

    Dear sir
    how can i visit Metztitlan cactuses alone. i want to travel to mexico and see these plants alone. do you think it is possible for me?

    • Greg Starr July 22, 2016

      I advise against traveling alone.

  4. Michael G. October 16, 2022

    Hello Greg, is it possible to have a look at the other days / adventures of the tour. Michael

    • Greg Starr October 17, 2022

      Hi Michael, I need to work on some more posts and I can see about adding more from the CSSA tour.


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