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The Boojum Tree: Nature's Weirdest Plant.?
Baja: Beauty and Mystery
Blimey! It's a 60-foot carrot!
The Boojum Tree may be Nature’s Weirdest Plant.
People driving through the desert on a trip to the hedonistic joys of Baja’s Cape region have been known to skid the car in a panicked circle and head back to the States with their foot flat to the accelerator thinking they are being chased by Triffids. Well, not really, but you try to find an exciting sentence to open a hub article all the time.
How about, then? “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, when I first saw a Boojum tree!”
The Cirio Plant, known to all Baja habitués as the Boojum Tree, the name taken from Lewis Carroll’s poem,” The Hunting of the Snark,” is one of the most wacky looking plants in the whole wide world. It looks something like a huge, upside-down carrot. That is if a carrot could reach heights of over 18 meters, with its long, tapering trunk branching into several stems at the top. And the Boojum is no hurry to reach maturity, either, each meter takes around 27 years, making large specimens up to 500 years old, seeding before the Spanish Conquest.
During the hottest months of July through September, the Boojum bedecks itself in clusters of creamy-white or yellow flowers. It may have several crops of spiky leaves along its pencil-like branches. In periods of prolonged drought - which is about always here - the Cirio drops all its leaves and forms a thick, resinous coating which protects it from water loss. Its leaves return a few days after rain. As a seedling, the Boojum is eaten by deer and other ground dwelling mammals, but it has few predators as it matures. It does have its own ecosystem of birds and insects which use the plant for various needs, such as nesting and predation of other species. One such is a spider which takes on the same colouring as the flowers and so is disguised as it waits for prey. Hummingbirds also feed on the Cirio helping to pollinate the plant along with other insects. The Boojum also seems to have its own repellent of parasitic plants, such a mistletoe, common on other plants in Baja. The main reason for the profusion of the Boojum today is that the early Indians found little use for the plant: it has no edible fruit and was of little value for firewood. As they generally slept on the ground where they stopped, they did not use the plant for furniture as some are being used today. The Boojum’s fortune is its relative inaccessibility and its protection by all the cactus around it. With the exception of the Cardon, the Boojum is the tallest plant on the Peninsula today. Those found on mainland Mexico, mainly in the Sonora desert, are much shorter than those in Central Baja. It is postulated that they were actually transplanted from Baja by the Seri, but these Indians saw the plant as having magic powers and weren’t keen on touching it at all, saying that to do so made the wind blow!
It was first named Cirio by the Spanish Missionaries after the tall wax candles used in their churches. The native Indians, such as the Pericue and Seri , were aware that the plant attracted bees which made hives in the trunks. A Boojum is also one of the best places to find one of Baja’s predatory birds, which find they get a commanding view of prey from its heights and can also nest there.
Boojums are at their tallest and most populated in the central area of the Baja Peninsula, and continue south to about the Tres Virgenes Volcanoes, just north of San Ignacio. This last place is also worth a visit as it is one of the only villages in South Baja to have natural fresh water, which travels underground from the volcanoes, and forms a small river and lakes which you can swim in…pretty and friendly little spot, too.