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Today’s visit was dedicated to Huasteca Canyon, between Monterrey, Nuevo Leon and Saltillo, Coahuila. The key plant that we were looking for was the recently described Agave albopilosa, described as recently as 2007 by Mexicans I. Cabral, Villarreal & A.E. Estrada in Acta Botanica Mexicana. Although the location is kept vague, as the Sierra Madre Occidental, we knew that it comes from Huasteca Canyon from an article in the L.A. Times.

We made eight stops (S1809 to S1816) and were lucky to find A. albopilosa at one of them. It seems to be a very limited distribution, known only from one spot that we have been asked to keep confidential, to avoid plundering by the trade in cacti & other succulent plants. The market should have ample supplies following micro propagation by a Californian nursery, according to the LA Times article, but not until 2011. Europe may have to wait a bit longer I guess.

As today’s pictures show, it is a wonderful plant that will have great appeal for both specialist Agave collectors and the general public: a mix that could spell disaster for the plants’ survival in nature. The Canyon is a host to a large number of Agave: A. lechuiguilla, A. victoriae-reginae (described by T. Moore  in 1875). A. stricta , probably its closest relative, A. bracteosa  and A. scabra, the latter on the valley floor while the others clung on precariously to the perpendicular rock walls. Given its extremely limited distribution compared to the other taxa mention, I can’t help but feel that A. albopilosa is a natural hybrid with a mix of genes from some if not all of the other parents. For now, all I can say that I was fortunate to be one of a small number of people to have seen this plant in nature, where it’s remote location in a National Park is perhaps its best protection.

After last year’s visit to the State of Durango, where we saw  A. victoriae-reginae only through powerful zoom-lenses of our cameras, it was great, here, to be able to walk among the plants to take their pictures. It is in plentiful supply here, again protected by the boundaries of the National Park.

In case you think that I have turned from cactophile to Agave-nut, there was plenty to enjoy on the cactus front as well, with Echinocactus horizonthalonius (incl. two plants in flower) Echinocereus sp. (E. enneacanthus? E. fendleri? E. vierecki?), Opuntia sp. – there was a mule munching away on its pads –  Cylindropuntia leptocaulis and C. spinosior ? (x2), Mammillaria sp. (x2), with M. formosa as one candidate, Epithelantha micromeris ssp bokeri, according to John, as it does not show the strong apical depression that is characteristic of E. micromeris and Hamatocactus setispinus.

On the other succulent plant front, I have mentioned the Agave already. I was baffled to find Kalanchoe daigremontiana, a plant that is endemic to Madagascar, but looked very handsome growing here in Mexico.

But in the end it was the stunning scenery, among the best that I have seen, that made this a very memorable day.

Judge for yourself.

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