(By Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad, July 16 to 22, 2006

(All pictures by Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad)


Pinguicula laxifolia in habitat



Having gone to see P. gypsicola in San Luis Potosi, Forbes Conrad and I were left with a week of time on our hands before we were to meet Fernando Rivadavia and Ruben Resendiz in Mexico City for a final weekend of ping-hunting together. Of the locations we knew of between us and Mexico city, only two or three were of much interest - the rest had species that would not be in flower at this time of year or which we had already seen elsewhere.

"You know Forbes," I said as we sat on the desert floor by the P. gypsicola site waiting for a bus to chance by. "Maybe we should just go home. I mean, what are we going to do for the whole next week?" I was getting tired of sleeping at bus stations and $7 hotels, and the thought of being in California again in three days appealed to me. "Besides, we are already 9 hours north of Mexico City... no point in going south just to go north again. We could still go see P. emarginata, but frankly that doesn't seem worth the extra drive, time, and money. To me the only really worthwhile thing left here is P. laxifolia, and, well...". We had just left the type location of P. laxifolia a few days before after spending 25 hours in a fruitless search for the plant, and the bitter aftertaste of defeat still lingered in our mouths.

By the next morning, that aftertaste had diminished. Having slept in a bed and enjoyed a sampling of the finest that the local bakeries had to offer for breakfast, we moseyed on over to the city square to decide what to do next. "If we wanted to try to find P. laxifolia again, we would need to have more blankets so we could camp out this time," said Forbes hypothetically. "And way more food, too," I added in an equally hypothetical tone.

Two hours later we were the proud new owners of a large blanket and had loaded up on a variety of food objects we found at the open-air market that looked like they were an efficient way of packing a lot of calories into a small space. We found out much later that most of them were actually blocks of sweeteners used for cooking.



Our Hotel that evening and the view from its roof

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

From there on we made good time, and less than 24 hours later we were once again catching a ride from Gomez Farias up to the small village with no power. This time it was in a pickup truck that was giving a bunch of Mexican tourists a guided tour of the mountain. They paid big money to go on this tour, but we got a rebate since we were only going one-way and weren't taking advantage of the ice-chest stocked with beers. Occasionally we would stop to look at fossils in the rock, or because a certain moss-covered boulder would make a great backdrop for a group picture. The real reason we stopped was because the radiator was boiling over, but the tourists were oblivious and cheerfully took group pictures. This time Forbes and I were able to get a ride well past the village, which saved us at least an hour or two of walking. Again we retraced our steps up the mountain, this time stopping at the cow pasture to hide all of our non-essential equipment in the bushes for retrieval later. We had been carrying all of our food stockpile in plastic bags because our backpacks were already stuffed, and hiking all the way up the mountain this way didn't seem too appealing.

A rustic gate and dainty fern along our way.

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad


At 4:00 PM or so we reached Agua Linda, which as I mentioned in the last report is basically an unmarked freshwater spring.

Agua Linda


Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Just then it started raining, so we quickly set up our rain tarp in the clearing by the spring and set up camp. Luckily we had forgotten to unpack all of our Pinguicula articles, so we were able to entertain ourselves for the next hour by perusing Cieslak et al's "Phylogenetic analysis of Pinguicula Lentibulariaceae : chloroplast DNA sequences and morphology support several geographically distinct radiations" and Zambudio's "Embriologia de las structuras reproductoras masculinas del genero Pinguicula L. (Lentibulariaceae) ".



Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

I became so engrossed in the former publication that I completely failed to notice that the rain had ceased until Forbes suggested we poke around a bit. We did poke around, but tried to avoid doing much else since the vegetation was soaking wet. We had been to this clearing on our last trip, and had already scoured the area, so we didn't expect to find much new. Near one end of the clearing I had found P. esseriana on the last trip, and P. moranensis grew along the creek issuing forth from the spring. The spring was at the base of a cliff, as was the clearing we had set up camp in. You can kind of see the cliff behind the bushes behind our camp:



Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Several times I stood there and stared up at the cliff, trying to discern whether there were any Pinguicula on it.



Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

"You know," I said to Forbes, "there are a few plants up there that could be P. laxifolia based on the leaf shape. Then again, we've been seeing plants with that leaf shape all over this mountain, and none of them have been pings." I wandered off to inspect some rocks elsewhere. "You're right, some of those do look like Pinguicula from a distance," Forbes called back. I wandered back and we stared at the cliff some more. Nobody moved. The bushes were wet, and we had seen far too many fake "Pinguicula" on walls in the last 5 weeks to be fooled easily. "Well, there's no point in just standing here," I said finally. I ducked under and through the foliage, being careful to stay as dry as possible. At the base of the cliff, a cluster of leaves dangled pendulously. I rubbed them between my fingers. They were slimy.

"It's a Pinguicula!! PINGUICULA LAXIFOLIA!!!! WE'VE FOUND IT!!" I whooped.

Forbes came crashing through the bushes, suddenly obvlivious to the wet foliage. The plants were everywhere on this cliff, little clusters of long, pendulous leaves. Green, red, veined... wow!! Here they were, right next to our camp!! And look at them! It was only 15 minutes later and halfway up the cliff that I snapped out of my euphoric glee enough to realize that I should be taking pictures instead of just gauking.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Mosquitos were a comon prey item :

The cliff was composed of tufa, a CaCO3-based rock similar to limestone. P. laxifolia was only growing in the lower portions of the rock wall, where the wall was well-shaded by the vegetation.

The upper, P. laxifolia-free portion of the cliff

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

There was no water dripping down the walls, but it did rain every single night we were up on the mountain. Some plants, however, were growing under overhangs, and so must rely solely on moisture from the air. Interestingly, P. esseriana was also common on this wall, though the specimens on the brighter top portion of the wall were much more robust than those that grew together with the P. laxifolia. Overall, the P. laxifolia habitat reminded me of that of P. conzattii, with its well-shaded vertical rock wall in moist, high-elevation conditions.

Sunlight only filters through the trees on clear mornings. Leaves are especially narrow and pendulous in the dimmer areas of the cliff.

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

We were hoping to see flowers or seed capsules, but neither were apparent. In many of the plants, rosettes of smaller - assumedly winter - leaves were visible at the base of the plant. However, no flower stalks, either fresh or dry, could be found. This was strange since the type description mentioned flowers in March, and the plant was known to flower together with its summer leaves. Maybe that particular population just didn't flower this year? We never found any other populations, though we scoured all the rock walls in the immediate area.

Well, we ended up heading back down the mountain the next day, all the time mulling over the irony of finding the plant without hardly trying, only a week after having spent 25 hours fruitlessly searching the mountain the weekend before. This population, the only one we ever found, was a mere 2 meters from where we camped and only 10 meters from where I we had found P. esseriana on the last trip! We hadn't even planned to stop at this clearing this time around... thank God it rained when it did!!

Having finally found the P. laxifolia, we were much better able to enjoy the other life forms on the mountain, including many beautiful wildflowers (including, of course, P. moranensis!), mushrooms, and this elegant little lizard (ID anyone?).


And yet, none of these beauties could compete with P. laxifolia to arouse our excitement.... What a unique and amazing member of the genus Pinguicula !

Photo : Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad

Hope you enjoy,

Noah Elhardt and Forbes Conrad