Wild Basil in the Yucatan

Jim Conrad's Naturalist Newsletter from the Hacienda Chichén beside the Maya ruin of Chichén Itzá in the central Yucatán, Mexico is always interesting. His knowledge of flora and fauna is over my skill level many times but he always writes something fascinating.

In the issue dated March 13, 2011, Conrad describes finding wild basil in the forest. Text and photos are Conrad's.


About a month ago I was deep in the forest when along a shadowy trail I noticed what appeared to be a two- ft-tall (60cm) member of the Mint Family -- a darkish herb with two leaves arising at each node (opposite leaves) and with square stems. Pinching a leaf to see if it smelled, I wasn't prepared for the intensity of the minty fragrance that exploded around me. The odor was like very strong, sweetish Annis. The plant wasn't flowering yet, however, so I couldn't identify it.

Now it's flowering, as you can see at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/11/110313oc.jpg

Actually, those items looking like green flowers are nothing but calyxes, the white corollas having not emerged yet, or already fallen off. A close-up of some of the curiously "hooded" calyxes is shown at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/11/110313oe.jpg

It's strange about the corollas -- that on the hundreds of plants examined, only rarely were corollas seen emerging from their calyxes, though they did litter the ground below the plants. If a corolla was in place when the plant was slightly jolted, the corolla fell off. I've seldom seen such loosely attached corollas. I did find one still in place, though, its four violet-filamented stamens tipped with tan anthers, and a violet, fork-tipped style, as seen at http://www.backyardnature.net/n/11/110313od.jpg

That picture also shows better the remarkable "cap" atop a calyx in its lower, left corner.

Locally this plant is well known by the Maya, who mostly use the Spanish name for it, Albahaca de Monte, which means "Forest Basil." English speakers are bound call it "Wild Basil." It's OCIMUM CAMPECHIANUM, which means that it belongs to the same genus as Garden Basil, Ocimum basilicum, so our forest species is real basil and a real Mint Family member. Now that I think about it, its odor really is like very strong basil, with an herby undertaste.

Having the name, I could look up the plant on the Internet. Click here to read the rest
of this newsletter and previous ones. They are all fascinating.


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