> Volume 67
(November/December 2000, pages 214 - 216)
Return to Tropical World, Fortin de las Flores, Mexico
by Dale Sena
It’s been 5 years since I last visited Tropical
World's eco-tourist facilities in Mexico. And almost that long since the
first article about it appeared in the Begonian. (See Virginia
Jens' article in the January/February 1996 issue.) Located about two hours
by car inland from the city of Vera Cruz, "la finca" (the farm, as they
affectionately refer to the former coffee farm) is a begonia lover's
Located in the town of Fortin de las Flores, it is
certainly off the regular tourist route. On this trip, we flew into Mexico
City, then took two bus rides, each two hours long. (An alternate route is
through Vera Cruz, but it's also much more expensive.) Buses are the main
form of transportation for most Mexicans, and the system is very efficient
and reliable. It's also a great opportunity to experience more of the
local flavor of Mexico.
After traveling all day, I was anxious to see Tropical
World again. What changes in 5 years! First of all, the construction is
done, and the mud is now a beautifully landscaped lawn/soccer field. The
guest facilities are beautiful and comfortable. Like small townhouses,
each room has its own unique decor - Africa, the Orient, the Pig Room, and
others. Three large greenhouses behind the kitchen are filled with lots
and lots of everything, but especially orchids, bromeliads and begonias.
Highlights of the landscaping include very attractive flat round stepping
stones of various sizes, and many wonderful begonias. Lots and lots of
other beautiful things too ... aroids, gingers, bananas, orchids, toucans,
and other birds, and butterflies, ...but I was so distracted by the
begonias. Some begonias such as B. heracleifolia, B. nelumbiifolia
and B. carolineifolia self-pollinate an drop seed and come up
everywhere. mean everywhere ... every crack and eve crevice in
sidewalks, buildings and roofs Under the greenhouse benches, and along the
sides of the roads like weeds. (Tropical World's co-owner, Bruce Pearson,
considers B. heracleifolia particularly invasive.) If you're a
plant, the climate in Fortin is perfect: Daytime highs of 70° F to 80°F at
night, year round. Summertime is the rainy season, with many frequent
brief rain showers. (Michael Marino, Tropical World's other co-owner,
claims that the climate is similar to that of Hilo, Hawaii.)
On this trip, we left Tropical World for two days to
check out a "new" (to us, anyway!) collecting area - Lake Catamoto, a
large freshwater lake near the east coast of Mexico. It's two hours by car
south of Vera Cruz, and very tropical. Also fairly "mountainous," at least
it seemed that way to this Floridian. The weather was warm and humid by
day (75 - 85° F) and cooler and humid at night (60 - 70°F). Rain was
frequent and brief, anytime of the day or night, typical of rainforest
As I mentioned earlier, the most frequently seen
begonias were B. heracleifolia, nelumbiifolia, and
carolineifolia. There were lots of others, of course, but what
particularly struck me this time was the apparent variety I observed in
these three species. Bruce (who loves begonias too) pointed to begonia
after begonia, looking for a name, and I kept saying, "B. heracleifolia
... heracleifolia.... heracleifolia," and "B.
carolineifolia... carolineifolia ... carolineifolia." Growing side by
side, each and every one was noticeably different, yet at the same time
they were also the same. For someone like myself who is so used to growing
clones, seeing the variations in their native habitat was very
Of the three, I noticed the most variety in B.
heracleifolia. Many of us are familiar with the one we refer to as B.
heracleifolia var. nigricans, the one with dark markings.
But some had narrower leaves, or wider leaves, or were more serrated, or
had different markings. Some were spotted, some plain, others had a silver
blush. In the case of B. carolineifolia, there were variations in
the leaf shapes and margins. Fewer, or more drip points for example, as
well as variations in its size. And of the three, the least amount of
variation I noticed was in B. nelumbiifolia. It remained unchanged
everywhere I saw it except one place. Out of reach and high above a
waterfall I spotted the variation we call "rubra". Unfortunately, my
camera did not pick up the distinctive red veins.
It's been suggested to me that maybe I was seeing
natural hybrids. That's possible, I'm sure. But my limited exposure to
hybridizing leads me to think that hybrids would have even more variation.
Wouldn't the first generations show the distinctive characteristics of
their respective parents? Wouldn't later generations be more blended? My
feeling is that I was seeing generations of species inbreeding, allowing
some recessive traits to pop out. Perhaps DNA technology will answer some
of these questions for us. Perhaps it'll only take us to a new level of
If you've ever thought about an eco-trip, Tropical
World is a wonderful facility, and very affordable. Those who are
interested in a trip to the Mexican facility should contact Bruce or
Michael at Tropical World in Boynton Beach, FL, by phone at 561-732-8813
or by E-mail at TROPICALW@aol.com for the details.
Right, Dale Sena in location says, "Oh, my.
Look at that begonia!" Above, she photogaphs the different looks of