The Cirio Plant of Baja

Cardon Cactus in the Baja Desert

by Todos Santos Eco Adventures

Approximately 23% of plants on the Baja peninsula are endemic to the area, including the ubiquitous Cardón Cactus. The cardón is one of the most massive of all cacti – it can weigh up to 25 tons and grow as tall as 18 meters (60 feet), although 10 meters (33 feet) is the average.  It is a slow growing plant with a life span measured in hundreds of years. In fact, it is not until a cardón reaches about 80 years of age that it will start producing side branches.  It is not unusual for a cardón to have as many as 25 vertical branches, each up to 1.5 meters / 5 feet in diameter, and, in older plants, typically taller than the trunk.

Another endemic plant that grows to a ripe old age in the Baja desert has been termed “one of the wackiest looking plants in the whole wide world,” and if you’ve ever driven between Todos Santos and Ensenada, chances are you’ve seen these groves of Cirio Plants. Looking like something straight from the imagination of Dr. Seuss, Cirios resemble nothing so much as giant, inverted carrots with spiny branches all over. The Spanish named them Cirio plants after the tall wax candles used in their churches, and subsequent visitors dubbed them Boojum Trees, a name taken from Lewis Carroll’s poem, The Hunting of the Snark. Whatever you call them they are definitely wild looking things that grow to great heights – between 60 and 90 feet – vying with the Cardón Cactus for the title of Tallest Plant in Baja. Because of this height, Boojum trees are great places to spot Baja’s predatory birds, who use the height advantage of the plant to spot pray as well as to nest in safety. Also like the Cardón, Boojum trees can live for centuries. It takes them about 27 years to grow one meter, which means that some of the taller specimens you see are up to 500 years old. So next time you’re out walking among our enormous desert plants, consider that they might have been seedlings when the conquistadores arrived.