Flora and Fauna
Luxuriant tropical foliage is one of the reasons that visitors are pleasantly surprised when they visit Oaxaca during the rainy summer–fall season. Then, excursions through Oaxaca’s coastal foothill forest can often reward travelers with a bounty of exotic verdure only seen in hothouses back home: Great leafy trees are swathed with mats of vines; giant-leafed philodendrons climb toward the canopy, while tropical hangers-on, such as spiny, pineapple-like red bromeliads and big, white-flowered orchids perch atop available branches.
Tropical forests are not the only places that bloom. Wildflowers sprout everywhere, especially on temperate upland plateaus. There, summer rains bring carpets of roadside blossoms—petite purple daisies, blue and yellow lupine, morning glories, tiny magenta sweet peas, and dozens more.
The dry winter–spring season also brings its surprising rewards. Many trees, especially along the coast, having lost their leaves, flower in February. Hundreds of varieties of the pea family bloom in riotous red, pink, yellow, and white. Now and then visitors stop, attracted by something remarkable, such as a host of white flowers blooming from the apparently dead branches of the appropriately named palo de muerto (tree of the dead). Other times, strikingly beautiful tree blossoms, such as the yellow, roselike rosa amarilla, tempt one’s poetic imagination.
In dry country, cactus-like plants rule. Dotted all over the state, fields of maguey in ranks and files like obedient botanical battalions wait to be harvested for mescal. In other places, you will often see farmyards fenced with bulging nopal (prickly pear) cacti, their thick leaves studded with red tunas (cactus apples). And, on the road some drowsy afternoon, when you least expect it, a big candelabra cactus might appear around a bend, bristling with a house-size row of dozens of upright fluted green columns.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Oaxaca, 5th edition