Savannas, Huamiles, and "Orchids"

The road out to the logging site is a tour through the diverse local ecology. In addition to the forests themselves,* there is also a seasonally flooded "Savannah," fallow slash and burn farms that are grading back into forest called "Huamiles" and the Matorral, a sort of thorn scrub forest that gets a little less flooding than the Savannah.

   The Savannah is as interesting as it was unexpected. Formed around a vast floodplain and covered in crawfish holes, the savannah has annual floods and muddy (probably anoxic) soils to keep trees from taking root. The landscape offers sweeping views that are impossible from within the forest, and a light morning mist makes it all the more sublime.

   There´s a very distinct line that separates the savannah (and the lagoon that forms there) from the thorny Matorral.** Beyond the line is a scrubland of white bark and green leaves. Among the brambles, one starts to notice what the locals call "Orquidias" a word that cognates to orchids but has been expanded here to include most epiphytes. Though there are a few true orchids, the majority of what people are calling by that name are classified as bromeliads, the little house plants with a water cup in the center.

Closer to town are the "huamiles" the old milpas (traditional slash and burn farms) that have been left fallow after one to three years of harvest. I was surprised at how quickly these regenerated - after one year, you could barely see an old corn storage structure rising up over the palm trees. After 3 to 5 years, it begins to feel like a forest again, with Zapote and tzalam (two valuable tree species) growing back on their own. Usually these huamiles are not allowed to grow back into forests but instead are cut, felled, and burned (roza, tumba, quema) back into milpas after four to seven years.

We often hear about slash and burn farming as an environmental swear word, but most of that bad rep comes from areas where regeneration is slow and community ownership of the land non-existent. The fact that these people can slash and burn the same plot of land multiple times gives me quite a bit of hope that they will not begin to eat away at the core of their forest anytime soon.

Though it will happen eventually.


* Wild areas with trees on them are classified by height of vegetation in Mexico - monte alto, monte mediano, monte bajo refer to tall, medium, and short vegetation
** I drew this little diagram in my notebook. Not the best artist, but I hope it helps!

No comments: