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The Jardin Botanico Francisco Javier Clavijero in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico

Volume 2 Number 5 - August 1995

Andrew P. Vovides, M.E. Cortéz, Carlos G. Iglesias & Maite Lascurain

Botanic gardens have existed in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times, reflecting the love and respect the ancient Mexicans had for nature. These gardens were probably among the first botanic gardens of the Western Hemisphere. Mexican emperors such as Moctezuma Ilhuicamina (Montezuma) created gardens into which they introduced plants and animals from other regions of the country, especially plants of medicinal value. Gardens such as the one in Oaxtepec were enriched with tropical medicinal plants that could not be grown on the Mexican highlands. Netzahualcoyotl (the poet prince) also created a botanic garden in Tecotzingo (present day Texcoco). With the Spanish conquest, these gardens were mostly destroyed with the exception of the garden of Chapultepec, which existed as a botanic garden until recent times. Though now of a different nature, it can still be seen today as the major park of Mexico City.

There are 36 registered botanic gardens in Mexico, amongst these is the Jard¡n Botanico Francisco Javier Clavijero (JBC) of approximately 7.5 ha. (16 acres) which was opened to the public on February 16, 1977 under the administration of the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Sobre Recursos Bi¢ticos (INIREB) at Xalapa, the state capital of Veracruz, with backing from the Veracruz State Government. Early development of the Garden was accomplished with the assessment of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and the collaboration of the British Council in Mexico City.

The JBC is at 1,300 m. elevation (4,290 ft) and lies 122 km. (73 miles) west of the port of Veracruz and 302 km. (181 miles) east of Mexico City. The JBC is situated on the windward slopes of the Sierra Madre Oriental in a disturbed cloud-forest environment with relatively high rain-fall and humidity accompanied by frequent mists. The area of the Garden is naturally landscaped and includes a wooded hillside rich in native trees and shrubs, remnants of a former cloud-forest. Mean annual precipitation is 1,454 mm. (approx. 60 in.) and the mean annual temperature is 18ºC (64ºF) with a mean annual relative humidity of 78%. The JBC was named in honour of the 18th century Jesuit monk and historian, who was born in Veracruz and died in exile. He possessed a great love and respect for nature and the Indian cultures of Mexico.


The JBC is a regional botanic garden committed to the study and conservation of native flora and especially threatened and endangered species. The Garden's mission is as follows:

To display regional plant species and participate in the conservation and propagation of threatened and endangered plants from local cloud-forests and other similar regions of Mexico.

  • Promote the use of native species in reforestation projects and municipal gardening.
  • Promote the propagation and sustainable use of native threatened plants by farming communities.

To encourage and support scientific research in plant systematics, ecology and horticulture.

  • By holding documented living collections for the use of systematists.
  • Researching the propagation of little-known native species for introduction into cultivation.
  • Contributing by the reintroduction of artificially propagated species for ecological restoration projects.

To be a centre for education and diffusion of conservation principles and the respect for wild-life amongst the general public and student community:

  • Through programmes of environmental education and guided visits aimed at schools.
  • By organizing conferences, workshops and other activities at layman and specialist levels
  • By training and assessing official personnel in plant identification for CITES purposes.

Scientific Research at the JBC

The JBC being an integral part of the Instituto de Ecologia is supported by an herbarium containing approximately 230,000 vouchers. This herbarium is considered to be third in importance nationally and first provincially. There is a library specializing in the biological sciences and laboratories including a scanning electron microscopy laboratory for systematics and computer facilities. On-going research at the Garden includes cycad systematics and ecology, the systematics of the grass genus Trinochloa and the orchid genera Bletia and Prescotia. Conservation orientated research is mainly on the propagation of endangered species. Though propagation facilities are rudimentary, future plans are being made to increase and improve them. Through financial support from the Comisi¢n Nacional para le Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad (CONABIO), new computer equipment is now enabling us to create an electronic database of our living collections and digitized maps for the localization of specimens in the different areas of the Garden. The International Transfer Format (ITF) is incorporated in our database as well as a format compatible with the centralized national database held at CONABIO. We are hoping that in the near future we will produce an updated list of the living collections at the JBC. The JBC already holds two national collections; Mexican cycads and the genus Bletia (Orchidaceae).

Scientific support is given to other programmes of the Instituto de Ecolog¡a, such as propagation of mesquite varieties and studies on sand dune vegetation.

Conservation and Propagation of Threatened Species

The Jardin Botanico Clavijero is situated in a cloud-forest environment, therefore the propagation of the lesser known and threatened species of this environment is a logical activity and priority for the Garden. Efforts have been made to represent threatened species native to Mexican cloud-forests in the living collections. Propagation programmes on tree species such as Symplocos coccinea, Podocarpus guatemalensis, Styrax glabrescens and others have been on-going since 1990. With the financial help of the Fauna and Flora International (formerly Fauna and Flora Preservation Society) the rescue and propagation of the endangered Magnolia dealbata and Talauma mexicana was possible. Seed storage and propagation techniques for these species are being worked out and we have now under cultivation, around 1,000 seedlings of M. dealbata. This is a sizeable conservation effort when one considers that this species has never been cultivated and the few remaining natural populations are down to just over one hundred individuals. The seedlings are destined for reintroduction into the adjoining ecological park as well as distributing to state and municipal nurseries as future seed trees for the propagation of this species. The same is planned for T. mexicana when we obtain a sufficient seedling build-up in our nersery. Seed availability has been a problem for this species.

Sustainable Management of Cycads

The cycad Dioon edule is subject to illegal collection of leaf crowns as well as habitat destruction. Talks and assessment given to local farmers since 1990 has resulted in a small nursery dedicated to the propagation of this cycad from seed. About 5,000 seedlings have been produced and during 1994 the first sales have been made. This nursery is registered with the authorities under the condition that the farmers protect the natural habitat of the cycad and discourage illegal removal of plants. Reintroduction of nursery produced seedlings will be undertaken in order to compensate for seed removal from the habitat. The prevention of decapitating of adult plants to obtain leaf crowns will result in a higher coning frequency and thus a higher seed production in the population. A further 10,000 seeds have been sown during autumn of 1993. Further research is needed to improve germination and cultivation techniques, as well as an environmental impact study on seed removal and reintroduction of nursery raised seedlings. Encouraging comments were made by members of a group of the CITES Plants Committee (who met at San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, during May 1994) that visited the nursery. This is an example of a sustained management project that is working, though on a small scale now, it has promise for future expansion and species diversification.

Dlsplay Areas of the JBC

Areas of the JBC include cloud-forest, ornamental garden with pond, useful plants section, palmetum, arboretum and pinetum. There are two exhibition greenhouses, one for mostly native tropical rain-forest species and the other for cacti, succulents and other arid zone plants.

Cloud-forest: The cloud-forests of eastern Mexico consist of an outstanding mixture of temperate and tropical species from widely spaced centres of distribution. Some of the temperate species have affinities with the vegetation of south eastern United States. Temperate genera such as Liquidambar, Carpinus, Ostrya, Quercus and Clethra are quite common and are represented here. Common tropical elements are Cedrela, Meliosma, Oreopanax, Podocarpus, Bocconia, Cyathea, Chamaedorea amongst others.

The cloud-forest display area forms part of our natural cloud-forest and has been under ecological restoration during the past 18 years. Many native plants introduced from other cloud-forest remnants are regenerating naturally in this area, examples are the understorey palms Chamaedorea tepejilote and the threatened C. klotzschiana and ferns, especially the endangered Marattia laxa and the rare Psilotum complanatum that only grows in association with tree ferns. Some of the trees of great age are covered in epiphytes, of which predominate members of the genus Tillandsia, many orchids, ferns and Lycopodiums, lianas of the genera Cissus, Smilax, Rhus (poison ivy), Philodendron and Monstera amongst others. This forest may be explored via paths and steps which disturb the habitat as little as possible and enable visitors to see the plants growing as they would in the wild.

Ornamental garden: This area basically consists of lawn, flower beds and pond. Both native and introduced plants used in domestic and municipal gardens are displayed here.

Useful plants: An area dedicated to useful native and introduced plants which include those used in traditional medicine and food. Examples are the perennial maize Zea perennis and Z. diploperennis; herbs such as rosemary, thyme, mint (of old world origin) and Bocconia, Kohleria, Bixa, amongst others of new world origin. Species of commercial interest such as ginger, Bixa orellana (lipstick tree) and vetiver are also cultivated. This area is undergoing modification to emphasize traditional "family plot" gardening and to include some of the more common species used in the family plot.

Palmetum: A collection of mainly introduced palms used as ornamentals, and other species previously not grown in the Xalapa area such as some Asian and Australian genera. Seed exchange and collaboration with The International Palm Society, Fairchild Tropical Garden and The Montgomery Foundation has made possible the addition of novel palm genera to the Garden. Native species are also being added such as Gaussia gomez-pompae, Astrocaryum mexicanum, Sabal mexicana and various Chamaedorea spp.. Though many species are native to the lowlands, they appear to adapt to conditions in the palmetum. This area gives a tropical aspect to the otherwise warm-temperate aspect of the Garden.

Arboretum: A collection of native and introduced trees that are not grouped in any geographic or taxonomic arrangement. Grouping is done mainly on the species horticultural requirements such as full sun, shade etc. Native tree species here include Acer skutchii, Cornus disciflora, Platanus mexicana, Persea americana (avocado), Magnolia schiedeana, M. dealbata, Talauma mexicana, Ulmus mexicana. Some common introduced species included are various species of Citrus, Spathodea campanulata, Phytolacca dioica, Grevillea spp. amongst others.

Pinetum: Native Mexican conifers that adapt to the local climate are grown here. Some local species are Pinus patula, P. teocote, P. ayacahuite, P. pseudostrobus, Podocarpus guatemalensis and Cupressus benthamii. The arrangement is similar to that of the arboretum. Outstanding exotic species are Metasequoia glyptostroboides, Ginkgo biloba and Cryptomeria japonica.

Exhibition greenhouses: An arid zone display houses some of the more common native cacti and succulents which need some protection from the high rainfall of the Xalapa region. The barrel cactus Echinocactus platyacanthus and the columnar Neobuxbaumia tetetzo from the Tehuacn valley are displayed here as well as the tequila agave, Agave tequilana. This area makes a contrasting display amongst the surrounding vegetation of the Xalapa region. A tropical rain-forest display exhibits some native and exotic rainforest flora. Outstanding is the rare and endangered native cycad Ceratozamia euryphyllidia on display here.

The National Collections

Though some gardens hold comprehensive collections of certain families, genera and species, the concept of national collections in Mexican botanic gardens is relatively new. It was presented at the 5th National Reunion of Botanic Gardens of the Asociacion Mexicana de Jardines Botanicos held at the JBC during August 1992, and is now considered an important policy in many Mexican botanic gardens. Three Mexican botanic gardens are now registered as holding national collections.

Cycads: This collection of Mexican cycads (over 80% endemic) began in the late 70s to have available living material for biosystematic research and for the completion of the cycad volume of the Flora de Veracruz project. The collection comprises 37 native taxa with over 500 registered individuals. Through plant and seed exchange with our sister garden, the Fairchild Tropical Garden at Miami, Florida, we have added to our collection at least one species from each exotic genus except Chigua. This collection is the most important of its type in Mexico and possibly all Latin America. A synoptic list of cycads held at the JBC is given in the appendix.

The genus Bletia: This terrestrial orchid genus has been extensively collected throughout its range and all 35 species are held, with approximately 150 specimens. These are being used for a monographic revision of the genus by Dr Victoria Sosa.

Impact of the JBC on Xalapa and Regional Communities

The JBC is an important educational and recreational resource for Xalapa residents, school children, students and visitors. One of the JBC's missions is to promote conservation amongst peasant communities and is being achieved through sustained management of regional plant resources and especially endangered species. The Garden also collaborates with the Xalapa municipal authorities in solving matters of ecological interest and the encouragement of eco-tourism. Excluding school visits, a recent questionnaire aimed at the general public showed that 59% visit the Garden to enjoy nature, 23% for a day's outing and 15% for educational purposes (see Figure 6).


Environmental Education Aimed at Schools and the General Public

The JBC has a collaborative programme with the local environmental protection authority, education authority and a local agricultural college for peasants, aimed at integrating educational activities and group visits for government schools. This programme started off in 1991 with two courses organized by the Garden aimed at participating school teachers. The course gave the teachers basic training on guided tours and how to make the best use of the Garden's facilities. The programme "Educacion Ambiental" (Environmental education) basically consists of giving guided tours to school groups as well as organizing varied activities including physical education which take place at the Garden. Statistics of the number of school children taken on guided tours of the Garden have been measured (see Figure 7). Tallies on general public visitors are not taken but are being contemplated for the near future. Summer courses and workshops are organized by the garden staff and include an annual horticulture course aimed at school children between the ages 11 and 14 years. Workshops aimed at children have been organized covering diverse subjects such as mammals, reptiles, insects and cycads. Researchers covering the different disciplines at the Instituto de Ecolog¡a are invited to give these workshops.

An arboriculture workshop was given to the Garden staff and other interested persons during August 1993 by Allan Hulme, then a Kew Diploma student who had won the David Dalziel Travel Scholarship Award from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew to travel to Mexico for a short period to visit the JBC, as well as the Botanic Garden at UNAM (National University at Mexico City). Allan gained an insight into the workings and problems of a regional tropical botanic garden in Mexico as part of his training whilst the staff and others at the JBC profited by Allan's course on arboriculture. This collaboration between the two gardens is a healthy approach to solving problems in common and we aim to encourage this in the future. Other facilities offered to the public are a gift shop/information centre, a coloured guide to the garden and a series of 'autoguides' which are now being elaborated.

Multi-media Education

The living collections of cycads at the JBC, Fairchild Tropical Garden, the Huntingdon Botanical Garden, private collections in Florida and California as well as images of cycads in their habitat were used to elaborate an interactive CD-ROM on the cycads of Mexico in collaboration with Dr Arturo Gomez-Pompa. This includes an introduction to the concept of interactive multi-media, the world distribution of cycads with atlas and images, conservation and particularly cycad conservation in Mexico, an interactive key for the identification of Mexican species, animation of the cycad reproductive process and images of a religious ceremony in the state of Chiapas centered on the cycad Dioon merolae.

"Biodiversity, Woman and Production": Towards a Sustained Management Module for Plant Resources.

This is a hands-on about conservation and use of biodiversity with a peasant group to promote production on an ecological basis. A sustained management module is being designed centered on organic cultivation to diversify the use of useful plants according to the traditional knowledge of the peasant women of rural communities south of the Cofre de Perote area of Veracruz. The objectives of this project is the identification of native plants with economic potential and promote their rescue and conservation, as well as species that these women consider to be in a process of decline. A permanent workshop is being set up for the exchange of ideas, knowledge and reflection amongst the participating women from some of the regional communities in this area on themes such as the diversity of useful plants and techniques on management.


With the initiative of Arturo Gomez-Pompa, Graham Pattison, A. Vovides and students of the second course on horticulture and botanic gardens management held at the JBC during the autumn of 1983 a constitutive letter was signed to form the Asociacion Mexicana de Jardines Botanicos, A.C. The Asociacion, originally founded in Xalapa and now operating from the Jardin Botanico del Instituto de Biologia, UNAM, is basically divided into north, centre and south east regions and has since held six national reunions and various regional meetings. The Asociacion has brought together various isolated gardens and has kept up communications through meetings and its journal Amaranto. Various concepts on education, records, national collections and aspects of botanic gardens management have been treated at the meetings. The Mexican Botanic Gardens Directory first published in 1988 has been updated and released in 1993. A special publication on documentation and records in botanic gardens has been published in 1994 as a result of a regional meeting held at the Jardin Botanico de San Luis Potosi and a follow-up workshop during the 5th National Reunion held at the JBC at Xalapa where the International Transfer Format (ITF) was presented.