Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


The Succulents of Cerro Colorado

Cerro Colorado with Elephant Tree

Cerro Colorado in the distance with Volcan las Tres Virgenes beyond it

I mentioned that we started bicycling from San Ignacio, an oasis town about half way down the Baja peninsula. Before we started riding, we spent a few days exploring the desert and checking out the plants there, and especially checking out the succulents on Cerro Colorado, a volcanic hill a few kilometers from town.

Various Succulent Plants

Closer to the hill

If you’re interested in succulents, Cerro Colorado is the place. The Center for Sonoran Desert Studies/Desert Museum did a survey and found 44 unique species, which they claim is the highest number of succulent species of any spot in the southwestern U.S. Would that then make it the highest number of any spot in the world? I don’t know, but there’s a ton of succulents there, regardless. Anita and I did our own personal survey and identified 19, which we’ll obviously have to improve before we can start leading botanical bicycle tours of Baja (now accepting reservations for winter 2031). Looking at the species list for the hill, I see that it broadly defines a succulent as just about any plant that has tissue designed for storing water. The list includes a couple of Asclepias species and a bunch of caudiciform shrubs and vines: cucumber relatives, shrubby euphorbias, a wild fig, and two species of elephant trees (Bursera). Some of those are plants I wouldn’t have considered succulents, but then I’m not a botanist, and with 24 species of cactus, it’s not exactly lacking in conventional succo’s.

Organ Pipe and Cardon

Organ Pipe and Cardon

Cardon Cactuses


Cardon Forest

More Cardones

Barrel Cactus

Barrel Cactus

I think these are two different species of barrel cactus. I lost track of all the chollas. We could tell there were several different types, but the desert museum lists eight, including hybrids. A couple were jumpers.

Cholla and Barrel Cactus

Cholla and Barrel Cactus

Slipper Plant, Pedilanthus macrocarpus

Slipper Plant, Pedilanthus macrocarpus

Fouquieria trunk with Cardon Trunk

Fouquieria Trunk with Cardon Trunk

Adams Tree, Fouquieria diguetii and Cardon Cactus, Pachycereus pringlei

Fouquieria Trunk with Organ Pipe

Agave cerulata subcerulata

Agave cerulata subcerulata

It’s probably the spiniest place I’ve ever been, but plants are spaced far enough apart that we could make our way through it as long as we occasionally pulled spiny branches out of our way. I found that walking with all those spines everywhere kept my attention always focused on my immediate area and each plant immediately in front of me, so that I was constantly looking up to discover yet another awesome specimen in front of me, over and over and over.

Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla

Elephant Tree, Bursera microphylla

Elephant trees get the nod as my favorite plant down there. Has anyone seen or grown one in the Bay Area?

Bursera hindsiana, Red Elephant Tree Trunk

Red Elephant Tree, Bursera hindsiana

This is probably the best trunk I saw on a Red Elephant Tree while I was down there.

Limberbush, Jatropha cuneata

Limberbush, Jatropha cuneata, in the Euphorbia family

There were two kinds of Jatropha. The other one, J. cinerea, looks a lot like the mexican redbud, but with somewhat swollen-looking branches and twigs.

Palo Verde, Cercidium floridum

Palo Verde

The hill had great palo verdes. They aren’t a succulent, but they have chlorophyl and photosynthesize on their wood, which seems like justification for getting in with the succulent photos.

Palo Verde, Cercidium floridum

Palo Verde

Cerro Colorado

Cerro Colorado from the bridge near San Ignacio

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7 Responses to “The Succulents of Cerro Colorado”

  1. February 4th, 2010 at 11:50 am

    Town Mouse says:

    Great photos! I lived in Tucson, AZ for a few years and still remember the cacti, succulents, and Palo Verde fondly…

  2. February 4th, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Curbstone Valley Farm says:

    I spent three months living in the Patagonian desert in Argentina, and I’m always amazed at what grows in the desert. Superb photos Ryan, they really make the landscape look lush. Although I must admit, the barrel cactus looks a little intimidating!

  3. February 4th, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    ryan says:

    Thanks. I had a good time taking the photos. Really beautiful desert down there.

  4. February 4th, 2010 at 10:19 pm

    lostlandscape(James) says:

    Gorgeous final shot of the Cerro! We have what I believe are the northern-most stands of elephant trees (the B. microphylla version) in the US, just “over the hill” from us on the western flank of the desert. The ones I’ve hiked to don’t look nearly as dramatic as what you found, though. I’m struck by how easily familiar geology can be made strange with the introduction of some amazing plants.

  5. February 5th, 2010 at 10:26 pm

    Dirty Girl Gardening says:

    That elephant tree is incredible!

  6. February 10th, 2010 at 9:12 am

    Anneke DeLuycker says:

    Amazing photos! I’m only familiar with the tropical Burseras (which have really peely skins). What a gorgeous place! Where do I sign up for the botanical bicycle tour?? 🙂

  7. February 10th, 2010 at 9:43 am

    ryan says:

    Not much doubt why it’s named the red hill. I like how many of the Baja plants have a few pockets north of the border.

    Incredible indeed. My favorite tree down there.

    Yeah, the one mainland Bursera that I know is another favorite of mine, the famous gringo tree of peeling red bark. They’re great, too. As for signing up for the botanical bicycle tour..well, you could send a non-refundable deposit to our PO Box…

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