Fascinating blooms amidst ancient Mayan ruins

The vibrant colours of Cordia sebestena and Tradescantia pallida 'Purpurea'

Credit: David Tarrant

David Tarrant discovers two fascinating plants growing amidst Mexico’s ancient Mayan ruins

Last month I was in Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula taking a Spanish language course. On the weekends, in between school, I took the opportunity to visit some of the amazing ancient Mayan sites that dot the area.

One of them is Tulum (pictured left), which is located in a spectacular location on the coast in the State of Quintana Roo. It dates back to the period of 1250–1550 AD. And while the historical facts of the site are amazing I always find the plants growing on site fascinating.

Cordia Sebestena
Cordia Sebestena, better known as the Geiger Tree

Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’

The first small tree growing near the castle is Cordia sebestena, which often goes under the common name of Geiger Tree. It is native to the Caribbean region and wildly used as an ornamental street tree throughout the islands. Its manageable overall height of six to eight metres makes it a perfect candidate for such plantings.

As you can see, the flowers are a spectacular orange-red, followed by large white, waxy fruits. It would not be hardy in BC but possibly could be grown in a large greenhouse, however it would require much sun to encourage flowers.

The second plants growing on the ruins will be more familiar to you either as a houseplant or one of those dramatic feature plants you can have outside in summer, either as a hanging basket or patio feature. It is Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’ and it is native to eastern tropical Mexico.

The rich violet purple foliage is eye-catching; the colour intensifies in bright sunlight and if the plant has it roots restricted (as verified in this picture). Also in summer it has tiny bright pink flowers in terminal cymes.

During the winter months up north, it makes a most attractive houseplant for a sunny window ledge and roots easily from cuttings in spring.