Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the December 29, 2006 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

To recover our spirits Beto took me into the valley below the dying slopes. One of the star attractions there was the endemic, endangered Cloudforest Magnolia, MAGNOLIA DEALBATA. We weren't in cloudforest there but cloudforest did mantle the ridge above. Cloudforest Magnolia possesses very large leaves with eared, or cordate, bases much like the US Southeast's Bigleaf Magnolia, of which sometimes it's considered a subspecies.

So, as with our Sweetgums I've told you about, here we see another instance of North America's eastern forests having been driven south during the Ice Age, then when the glacier retreated part of the exiled forest migrated back north while part stayed here, just moving up in elevation. Among the species who stayed in Mexico and went up in elevation, evolution proceeded at different rates. Some species, like the Sweetgums, are still considered the same species as up north, while others are now recognized as local Mexican subspecies, while others are thought of as newly evolved full species. Consensus seems to be that Cloudforest Magnolia is a whole new species -- but just barely -- mothered by the US Southeast's Bigleaf Magnolia.

Also in the highland forests of this part of the state are the following plants an eastern North American woods- lover would know: Redbud; Hornbeam; Hophornbeam; Black Cherry; Deciduous Holly; Virginia Creeper, and more.

The Cloudforest Magnolia we saw must have dropped its leaves during the previous two or three days, for the dry litter of big leaves beneath it created a crunchy, crackly riot of wastepaper-like silveriness. Light poured through the newly opened canopy creating an ecological sensation like that you feel with your tongue when exploring the hole left by a newly pulled tooth. You can see Beto holding a leaf beneath near-naked limbs, and try to sense that feeling of unaccustomed-to light intruding into a previously dark, sheltered grotto, below:

Cloudforest Magnolia, MAGNOLIA DEALBATA

Mexico is a good place to see magnolias. Another species also in our Sierra Gorda area, an IUCN Red-Listed threatened species, is M. schiedeana. I find eight magnolia species listed for Mexico, plus there's a magnolia look-alike in the same family, genus Talauma.