Great swaths of pasturelike savanna stretch along Highway 15 in Nayarit north of Tepic. In its natural state, savanna often appears as a palm-dotted sea of grass—green and marshy during the rainy summer, dry and brown by late winter.
Although grass rules the savanna, palms give it character. Most familiar is the coconut, or cocotero (Cocos nucifera)—the world’s most useful tree—used for everything from lumber to candy. Coconut palms line the beaches and climb the hillsides—drooping, slanting, rustling, and swaying in the breeze like troupes of hula dancers. Less familiar, but with as much personality, is the Mexican fan palm, or palma real (Sabal mexicana), festooned with black fruit and spread flat like a señorita’s fan.
The savanna’s list goes on: the grapefruitlike fruit on the trunk and branches identify the gourd tree, or calabaza (Crescentia alata). The mature gourds, brown and hard, have been carved into jícaros (cups for drinking chocolate) for millennia.
Orange-sized pumpkinlike gourds mark the sand box tree, or jabillo (Hura polyandra), so named because they once served as desktop boxes full of sand for drying ink. The Aztecs, however, called it the exploding tree, because the ripe gourds burst their seeds forth with a bang like a firecracker.
The waterlogged seaward edge of the savanna nurtures forests of the red mangrove, or mangle colorado (Rhizophora mangle), short trees that seem to stand in the water on stilts. Their new roots grow downward from above; a time-lapse photo would show them marching, as if on stilts, into the lagoon.
© Bruce Whipperman from Moon Puerto Vallarta, 7th edition