“Ahhh, la ciudad de la eterna primavera.”
Those of us living in Cuernavaca are frequent participants in this near-ritualized dialog.
Indeed it does seem that Cuernavaca is almost singularly blessed with such a wide variety of flowering trees that it is always Spring.
Malcolm Lowry, in his world-renowned Under the Volcano, reminds us that Cuernavaca is found at the same latitude as the southernmost tip of Hawaii. Indeed many of the beautiful flowering trees of Hawaii and other tropical areas have found transplanted homes in Cuernavaca making the city a veritable feast for the eyes as varieties of trees bloom throughout the year.
In Lowry’s day, as described in the opening chapter, most of these trees could be found on the sprawling grounds of the magnificent Casino de la Selva. Sadly this forest was removed and paved to make way for one of Cuernavaca’s big box stores. Fortunately, Cuernavaca is home to Guardianes de los Arboles a non-profit organization providing some protection for the trees of Morelos.
This month the Jacaranda trees provide spectacular clouds of intense color against a cerulean sky and, as flowers begin to fall, reflective pools of deep blue purple below. The Jacaranda, native to South America but present in Mexico for millennia, is a favorite; Jacaranda seedpods were used as musical instruments in pre-Hispanic times and are still worn around the ankles and lower legs of Aztec dancers. Another tree currently in flower is the Ipê (Tabebuia), better known in Mexico as the Primavera. Mexican Primavera trees are found in shades of both yellow and pink. The inner bark of the pink Ipê is used by the indigenous to make an herbal remedy tea to combat flu, colds, and as an expectorant for smoker’s cough and lung infections.
The Tabachin (Royal Ponciana or Flame Tree) is known for its thick clusters of orange-red flowers and a wide crown. Originally from Madagascar, the Tabachin is now a favorite shade tree in tropical climates throughout the world. Long narrow seedpods of the Tabachin are also used as musical instruments. In the state of Guerrero pods are whimsically painted to resemble animals or other creatures. The Tabachin is in full bloom during the month of May.
Not surprisingly the Flor de Mayo also blooms in May. Native to Mexico this fragrant tree is the popular Plumeria used in Hawaiian leis. It is also know as Frangipani after the Italian family that first used this flower to make perfume. A relative of the Oleander the Flor de Mayo comes in many colors, is somewhat poisonous and easily propagated.
Another highly fragrant, though also toxic, tree is the Floripondio (Brugmansia or Angel’s Trumpets). It blooms throughout the year and has a long trumpet-like yellow or white flower that is highly hallucinogenic. Gardens with blooming Floripondio perfume the night air. A Mayan shaman told me that putting a sweet-scented white flower under my pillow would bring Technicolor dreams and that the dreams would come true. I don’t have access to a Floripondio and can’t speak to the veracity of his claim.
In the Fall the Tulipan (African Tulip Tree), is in full bloom. The color is similar to the Tabachin but with much larger flowers. Though gorgeous in full-bloom seed pods are full of thousands of tiny white transparent seeds. When they open it can look like snow and the nearby ground (and swimming pools) are quickly covered with a film of seed.
The somewhat scrubby looking Cazahuate is the state tree of Morelos. When it blooms in December in can cover the landscape in an incredible white feast for the eyes.
The Clavelin’s flower, in either pink or white, appears as a solid hanging bulb but instead of slowly opening, explodes, making a sound that could be confused for a gunshot. This tree demands serious attention. The Ceiba or Kapok tree, the Lluvia de Oro and the Arbol de las Orquideas are other trees that make spectacular, flashy, appearances in Cuernavaca at various times in the year.
I hope readers will decide it’s worth a trip to see this display of color yourself and highly recommend a visit to the Museum of Traditional Medicine and Herbolarium (Jardín Botánico y Museo de Medicina Tradicional y Herbolaria, Matamoros 14, Colonia Acapantzingo, Cuernavaca). The museum is housed in a residence purchased by Emperor Maximilian for his lover, La India Bonita and the Botanical Gardens are home to many varieties of flowering trees.