February 16, 2009

Eating Flowers in the Mexican Cloud Forest

The Rock and Roll Gardener took a winter road trip to Mexico.
The purpose of the trip was to spend time with family and friends, but I was on the lookout for photo opportunities, and the natural scenery as I passed through several climate zones on my way up into the cloud forest of the Sierra Madre Mountains.

Shortly after crossing the border, and all the headache and red-tape of getting the car across, we soon started seeing Joshua Trees in the desert of Tamaulipas. We traveled down the Gulf of Mexico toward Veracruz, where we started inland after passing Tuxpan. The area between the gulf coast and the inland mountain range is a big orange & tangerine growing area.
It’s at that point, where the landscape really starts to change.

As we passed each pueblito, we were climbing higher into the mountains, eventually entering the cloud forest region. At times, the fog was so thick; we could see literally nothing in front of the car. It’s that daily fog that provides a microclimate for many interesting plants, such as bromeliads (air plants) that attach themselves to the trees, and receive water from the mist in the air. The trees are also covered with ferns and mosses- most noticeable, Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss). The cloud forest area is a growing area for coffee. The coffee bushes seem to be planted randomly along the slopes, among the other vegetation.

It’s interesting to see the mixture of plants- Banana palms grow in the lower areas, but driving up into higher elevations, the bananas disappear, and you’ll see apple trees, nut trees, and the huge Maguey plant, from which the drink, ‘Pulque’ is made.

The Coral Bean trees were blooming (Erythrina herbacea) while we were there- considered a weed tree by some, the flowers were beautiful on the bare tree branches…and we ATE the flower buds ! Called Gasparitos, the red flower buds look like little lipstick tubes, and they are boiled and eaten with egg or in sauce. Not bad…they didn’t have much flavor on their own. Parts of this plant are poisonous, though, like the seeds.
Another odd plant to eat is chayote, or ‘espinoso’…all parts of the plant are eaten: the vines, the fruit, and the tuber root. The fruit is spiny and ugly. Cooked, it tastes a bit like sweet potato.