Our Favorite Baja Flora. Also Plants.

These are our favorite Baja plants! And lucky us, many of these plants live in Texas too, so we get to see them year round. Photos taken at Big Bend National Park in West Texas.

This blog originally appeared as a series of posts on our Instagram feed. Follow us there for Baja tidbits, more stories and images of everything we love about Mexico’s southwest.

Ocotillo

Been spending the past few days with a few recognizable friends from Baja out at Big Bend National Park. First and easiest to spot as you’re driving through the Chihuahuan Desert is the ocotillo, who also has a cousin down in Mexico, named Palo Adan, the more shrub-like “Adam’s Tree.”

Allegedly, the Mexican name refers to the Ocotillo’s blood-red flowers, symbolic of actual blood that would be drawn if you wove these branches into a crown of thorns.

Anyone else hear this? Hit us up in the comments. PS: Ocotillo is NOT a cactus!

Candelilla

Next up on our fave plant journey is the succulent Candelilla. Seen here in @bigbendnps and seen all the time in Baja.

Y’all, don’t be mad, but I love this plant so much, that one time I tried to take a little snippet to re-plant at home. (In Baja! Not the National Park, that’s a no-no) Let’s just say that it didn’t work out. Not all plants can be transferred with clippings, I guess.

Candelilla grows in these beautiful mandala shapes and offers rosy red colors as the tips of the stalks, and even small flowers.

In the 1900’s, it was nearly wiped out of the Chihuahuan Desert due to harvesting for wax and candle making. Now protected, it’s back and beautiful along Old Ore road.

Cholla Cactus

Cholla Cactus in bloom

Cholla Cactus! Did you know there’s 27 different varieties of Cholla in Baja? Who knows how many in Big Bend, and this past weekend they were in full bloom. The variety we see most often in Baja is the “chain link cholla” or the “jumping cactus.”

Why jumping? Those little links can easily break off and hitch a ride on your leg, your arm, we’ve (sadly) seen them on the faces of many a cow. This is how the plant propagates, so if you’re in a Cholla field, watch out on the ground below! Those broken off chunks will easily spike through most shoes. Unlike other cactus, each spine is barbed at the end meaning…it really sucks if you have to pull one out.

Dangerous, yet beautiful.

Pitaya

Pitaya! Or, as Google calls it, Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus? I had never heard of this.

These guys grow in beautiful mandala shapes low to the ground and have the most incredible bright pink flowers.

Pitaya also makes a sweet fruit (there’s sour Pitaya too) and in the right season, you can find Pitaya ice cream at our favorite ice cream shop in Todos Santos, Neveria Rocco.

You’re welcome.

Prickly Pear

Last for now in our series of plants we loved at Big Bend that reminded us of plants we love in Baja!

The Prickly Pear Cactus can have yellow, pink or purple flowers. These yellow beauties were amazing this past weekend!

The name “nopalito” or “nopal” for the green paddles that you find in salads and side dishes comes from the Nahuatl, or Aztec word “nochtli.”

And yes, you can eat the fruit too, you might see it on a Mexican menu as “tuna.”

Sara-Mai Conway splits her time between her favorite cactus and succulents in Baja Sur and Austin, Texas. To travel with her to Baja, hike through the desert, and learn more about these plants, join her on an upcoming Baja Surf Yoga retreat!  

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