Learning by Doing

This is one of my favorite environmental education projects. I worked with this very participatory, small middle school in Metztitlan. I say small, because there just 11 students and two teachers. The students are from grades 6-8, but really they are all in one class together. This year,  we built a school garden together with native cacti species. It was great fun and a great way to teach students about how to take care and protect cacti in their community. They will be responsible for taking care of the garden and training future students. Parents participated as well.


This photo was taken prior to planting. The students and teachers did all the work in clearing and preparing the ground. Cacti actually grow well in rocks, because their roots spread out horizontally instead of growing deep into the soil.




We laid out the cacti before planting to get a feel for what we wanted the garden to look like. All plants were purchased from a local greenhouse and NOT extracted from the wild!


Father and daughter plant a cactus called “organo dorado” together.


As you can imagine, handling cacti can be very painful because of their spines.  Using cardboard, we created our own tongs-like apparatus to avoid having to touch them directly.



My boss and I plant a cactus called “liendrilla.”





Parents were a great help that day. And yes, people do carry around machetes. 


All done.


And of course, we ended with comida (food).






2 thoughts on “Learning by Doing

  1. Hi Priyanka,

    Great feature! And it really makes me want to come back to Metztitlan. perhaps in March 2018. It is great to see people taking an interest in their environment, to be aware and proud of the treasures that nature and ancient history have left for people to enjoy. In England, I live in the town of Amesbury in the county of Wiltshire, about 7 m from Stonehenge, (http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/stonehenge/), an ancient monument built by an ancient civilization some 5,000 years ago. The stones are lined up so that people could celebrate the longest day of the year – the summer solstice – on 21 June and the return of the light, on 21 December. I drive past it at least once per week and hardly give it a second look. But every time that friends from abroad visit me, they want to join the long queues and walk around the stones.

    When we were in Metztitlan in February 2017, we parked at the name sign of the town. We walked for about a km. along deserted houses and took lots of photographs of the cacti and succulents growing on the hillside behind the houses. It looked like a botanical garden had been planted here, showing off the huge diversity of the cacti and other succulent plants. There were many plants that you call by its common name, ‘Liendrilla’. Within the cactus hobby in Europe, and to some extent in the USA, we refer to cacti by their Latin binomial name. Liendrilla is Astrophytum ornatum. In Spanish, this plant is also known as Algodoncillo, Liendrilla or Piojosa. I see that the plant that you are putting in the rocks and soil has lots of small white woolly ‘flecking’, just as plants grown from seed in Europe. These flecks seem not to appear on mature plants – we saw individual plants up to 2 m. tall around Metztitlan.

    You also mention a plant called ‘organo dorado’. I have searched the internet to discover its Latin name. Do you or your boss know it? Some webpages suggest that it may be Echinocactus grusonii, but that plant is said to have become extinct when it’s habitat was flooded when a dam was built to create the Presa de Zimapan. We visited this area a few years ago and still found a small (fist size) seedling, so, if left alone by humans, the population might re-establish from the seed-bank that nature holds in the soil.

    Perhaps when I visit Metztitlan in 2018, I can visit your new garden and can show you Nature’s garden on the outskirts of town. Do you have names for other plants in your garden? In Europe, people seem to find it very important to have correct (Latin) names for plants that I include in my presentations.

    By the way, I was six years of age when at school I became interested in cacti – showing that what you learn when you are young can stay with you for the rest of your life!

    Keep up the good work!


    • Hi there! Thank you so much for your comment. It is so cool that someone so far away is interested in Metztitlan. I am actually no longer there-I just left last week. I was there for two years and now I am taking a new job and will be based in Tanzania for 1 year. If you do plan on visiting however let me know. I can put you in contact with “Reserva de la Biosfera Barranca de Metztitlan,” and if you send a letter in advance they can put aside a day to take you to parts of the Reserve where you’ll find cacti species that are little harder to come across or that are found in just that area. I think there is also opportunity for collaboration on environmental education activities. It is always exciting for locals to interact with foreigners. I also think that when people see that their home is important to other people it makes them feel important and more motivated to protect the land.

      Besides the two cacti I mentioned we also planted ferocactus latispinus, cephalocereus senilis, mammillaria geminispina, pachycereus marginatus and myrtillocactus geometrizans.

      I have not been to England but certainly hope to visit! Thanks!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s