Images of dry tropical habitat: Mexico

Mexico is one of the most diverse countries on earth. Most of tropical Mexico is seasonally dry, and the wildly rugged and varied topography has led to a fantastically colorful and striking biota. Click on a thumbnail for a larger image:

Plants (and a fungus)

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. For more images of Mexico, head on to the Mexico 2 Page. Images from Mexico are also on the Beaucarnea Page, the Cactus Family Page , the Legume Family Page, and the Pineapple Family Page.

1. The bark of the Cuachalalà Tree (Amphipterygium adstringens ) in the family Julianiaceae is used for a variety of medicinal purposses. The corky, thorn-like projections on the tree trunk are made into small carvings. This tree was photographed on the Puebla- Oaxaca border.

2. This Giant Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus platyacanthus) is about 2 meters tall! The range of this species straddles the Tropic of Cancer. More images of cacti are on the Cactus Page.
3. Epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants without parasitizing them) are not restricted to the rainforest. This tank bromeliad in the genus Tillandsia (Bromeliaceae ) is growing on the trunk of a cactus, Cephalocereus tetetzo ( Cactaceae) in southern Puebla. The Bromeliaceae and the Cactaceae are the two largest families that are restricted to the New World. To see more images of bromeliads from Mexican tropical dry habitats, see the Bromeliad Page.
4. This Clathrus fungus was growing on the forest floor in the northern Yucatàn Peninsula.
5. The genus Bursera (Burseraceae) reaches its peak of diversity in the tropical dry forests of central Mexico. The genus consists of about 100 species and ranges from southern California to northwestern South America, but over 60 of these species are concentrated in the Balsas River basin of central Mexico! They are often wonderfully aromatic and one section of the genus is characterized by metallic, peeling bark.
6. The cactus in this picture from southern Puebla is Cephalocereus columna-trajani. Like the Column of Trajan in Rome, Cephalocereus columna-trajani is tall, white, and has no branches. It's surreal and almost eerie to see hillsides covered with these huge plants, each one with its tip pointed slightly southward like ranks of giant, ghostly people all looking in the same direction. The shrub with magenta flowers is Morkillia in the Zygophyllaceae.
7. Cycads are very old plants that were around during the time of the dinosaurs, long before flowering plants existed. Mexico has one of the highest concentrations of cycads of any country on earth. This cycad, Dioon edule, growing on sharp, fluted limestone was photographed close to the Tropic of Cancer in the state of Tamaulipas.
8. The weird bottle tree Fouquieria purpusii (Fouquieriaceae) is only found in few localities in central Mexican dry forest. It is a relative of the ocotillo of the southwestern US.
9. The orange structures covered with a checkerboard pattern in this photo are the flowering and fruiting structures of an underground parasite Bdallophyton in the family Rafflesiaceae. Most of the year, the plant is entirely underground, where it gets all of its nutrients by stealing them from the roots of other plants. Bdallophytonare usually only seen when they poke their flowers above ground. Most members of Rafflesiaceae have solitary flowers, but in Bdallophyton they are in dense spikes. 
10. Many plants in tropical dry forest flower during the dry season, such as this Ceiba parvifolia (Bombacaceae) in southern Puebla.


1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. more images... lakes, and some uses for the good soils of tropical dry forest.


1. and 2. In contrast to tropical wet forests, which experience more or less even precipitation throughout the year, tropical dry habitats have pronounced dry seasons, usually one but sometimes two. Photo 1. shows the Tule River Gorge in Hidalgo in the wet season. Photo 2. shows the same gorge in the dry season.
3. Part of the Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Valley in southern Puebla in the dry season.
4. The Tehuacan-Cuicatlan Valley in southern Puebla in the wet season. The Frangipani plant in the genus Plumeria of the Oleander Family (Apocynaceae) is often associated with Hawaiian floral necklaces. However, Plumeria is native to Mexican and Central America dry forests. A PlumeriaCephalocereus columna-trajani. plant can be seen in this photo from northern Oaxaca just to the right of center in front of the stems of the cactus
5. Many dry tropical areas are wild, strange- looking places. To me, one of the strangest combinations is the unbranched columnar cactus Cephalocereus columna-trajani (the cactus in the left foreground) occurring with a member of the Century Plant Family (Agavaceae) Beaucarnea gracilis , the fat-trunked tree with shaving brush-like tufts of leaves on skinny stems that can be seen in the middle of the photo. Other plants in this photo are Century Plants (Agave ), and Barrel Cacti (Echinocactus ). To see more, visit the Beaucarnea Page.
6. The tropical dry forest scenery of southern Puebla is hard to beat. The sinuous tree on the left is the very aromatic species Bursera morelensis (Burseraceae). From the heat of the dry forest, the ever-snowy peak of Popocatépetl can be seen in the distance on the right.
7. The Valley of Jaumave in the state of Tamaulipas is spectacular for the proximity of very different habitata. This photo was taken from the floor of the valley, which is tropical or subtropical dry scrub. The top of the mountains that separate the valley from the Gulf of Mexico, seen here shrouded in clouds, support dripping cloud forest, with tree ferns, moss, and abundant epiphytes.
For more images of Mexico, head on to the Mexico 2 Page. Images from Mexico are also on the Beaucarnea Page, the Cactus Family Page , the Legume Family Page, and the Pineapple Family Page

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Instituto de Biología, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Circuito Exterior s/n, Ciudad Universitaria
Copilco, Coyoacán A. P. 70-367
C. P. 04510, México, D. F.

(52) 55 5622-9127 fon (52) 55 5555-1760 fax

all material © 2002 Mark E Olson  except Ifaty baobas and Delonix which are © 1999 Sylvain G Razafimandimbison
and Itremo region which is ©1999 Simon T Malcomber