Los Viejitos

Get to know Cephalocereus senilis, commonly known as Los Viejitos 

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Photograph taken by Selene Leonardo Verde.

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Los viejitos at the botanical garden in Metztitlan, Hidalgo.

I have to say, before coming to the state of Hidalgo in Mexico, I had never given cacti their much deserved respect. They are pretty cool. The federally protected zone of the Metztitlan Canyon is home to over 60 species of cacti, one of which is cephalocereus senilis, or commonly known as los viejitos. Los viejitos translates to “old guys” in English. Why old guys? Not only are they covered with white hairs to protect them from the sun, but they grow approximately just 2 cm per year. From the photographs above you can see that they are at least a couple hundred years old.

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Baby viejitos. Yea I know, oxymoron. (Photograph taken by Selene Leonardo Verde).

Unfortunately, not a lot of people (including locals) are aware of how slowly viejitos grow, and because there always seemed to be an abundance of them in the area, extracting one from the wild was thought to be no big deal… it WAS a big deal.

Viejitos are an endemic species, meaning that they are found in just few parts of the world and nowhere else. I have learned quite a bit about these guys from my coworkers at CONANP (equivalent to the US National Park Service), who are responsible for educating the public about the species, as it is now endangered. In Metztitlan, Hidalgo, there is a botanical garden where the general public can visit and view los viejitos up close (in addition to just walking up the hills, which is a good hike.) The benefit of visiting the garden is that it is safe for children and contains a diverse group of species in a small area.

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Community members visit the botanical garden. (Photograph taken by Selene Leonardo Verde):

I am grateful for the privilege to live in an area where I get to these guys every day. If you ever happen to visit Mexico, don’t miss out on the chance either.

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