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Home > Begonian > Volume 67 (November/December 2000, pages 214 - 216)

Return to Tropical World, Fortin de las Flores, Mexico
by Dale Sena

Its 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 paradise.

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 80F 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 - 70F). Rain was frequent and brief, anytime of the day or night, typical of rainforest conditions.

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 interesting.

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 questions.

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.

b. heracleifolia

Dale Sena with very big begoniaRight, Dale Sena in location says, "Oh, my. Look at that begonia!"  Above, she photogaphs the different looks of B. heracleifolia.

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