Department of Botany & Microbiology

Arizona State University

Tempe, Arizona 85287


Towering limestone sierras capped by conifer forests overlook a broad desertic valley studded with playas, streams, subterranean tubes, artesian wells and ciénegas. The flora study site of more than 2,000 km2 ranges in elevations from about 740 m on the basin floor to more than 3,000 m stop Sierra de la Madera. The vegetation may be divided among (1) sacaton grasslands on the saline basin floor, (2) aquatic and semiaquatic habitats, (3) gypsum dunes, (4) transition zone, (5) desert scrub on the bajadas, (6) chaparral, (7) oak-pine and oak woodlands, and (8) montane forests.

The vascular flora consists of 879 taxa distributed among 860 species in 456 genera from 1 14 families, a very rich assemblage in the Chihuahuan Desert Region. Not only is the fauna rich in endemics but so is the flora. This study site is type locality for 49 taxa of which four are no longer recognized and of which 23 are endemic.

The once-landlocked area now bears a town with its accompanying disturbances including farming, logging, removal of gypsum, mining, and canalization of the water. There is sufficient evidence, botanically and zoologically, to warrant protection of this unique array of habitats and their biota.


Altísimas sierras, formadas de piedra caliza con cimas cubiertas por bosques de coníferas, dominan la vista de un valle ancho desértico, sembrado de playas, arroyos, tuneles subterráneos, pozos artesianos y ciénegas. El área de investigación botánica cubre mas de 2,000 km2 y se extiende desde una elevación de 74G- m en el piso de la cuenca, a mas de 3,000 m de altura sobre Sierra de la Madera. La vegetación se encuentra repartida entre (1) zacatón en el piso alcalino de la cuenca, (2) hábitats acuáticos y semi-acuáticos, (3) dunas de yeso, (4) zona de transición, (5) matorral desértico de las bajadas, (6) chaparral, (7) bosques de encino y montes compuestos de pino-encino, y (8) bosques de montaña.

La flora vascular consiste de 879 taxa repartidos entre 860 especies en 456 genera de 114 familias; un conjunto rico en la region del desierto chihuahuense. No solo la fauna es rica en endemismos sino tambien la flora. Dicha regíon de investigación es localidad tipo de 49 taxa de los cuales 4 ya no se reconocen y 23 son endémicas.

El lugar, en otro tiempo aislado, ahora sostiene un pueblo con sus disturbios acompañantes, los cuales incluyen agricultura, explotación forestal, la extracción de yeso, explotación de minas, y canalización del agua. Existen suficientes indicios botánicos y zoológicos para justificar la protección de estos hábitats singulares y su biota.

INTRODUCTION.-The Bolsón of Cuatro Ciénegas and surrounding sierras lie near the eastern limits of the Chihuahuan Desert in central Coahuila, Mexico. The Bolsón is unique because of its varied aquatic features-lagunas, playas and associated gypsum dunes, rivers, subterranean tubes, artesian wells, pozos and ciénegas. This setting is surrounded by steep limestone sierras capped by conifer forests.

This Bolsón is an intermontane valley approximately 40 km wide by 25 km long ( Fig. 1 ). It is nearly bisected from the south by the outputting tip of Sierra de San Marcos. Bordering ranges are Sierra San Vicente and Sierra de la Purísima to the east, Sierra de la Fragua (yet to be studied) to the west and Sierra de la Madera and Sierra de la Menchaca to the northwest and northeast respectively. The flora study site of approximately 2,000 km2 ranges in elevation above sea level from about 740 m on the basin floor to more than 3,000 m atop Sierra de la Madera. North-central in the basin is the town of Cuatro Ciénegas de Carranza (26059'N, 102002V). For detailed descriptions of the aquatic features and of the flora and vegetation of this region, see Gilmore (1947), Meyer (1975), Minckley (1969, 1977), Minckley and Cole (1968), Pinkava (1979-1981), and Wood (1975).

The vegetation may be divided into the following major zones: 1) basin sacaton grasslands; 2) aquatic and semi-aquatic habitats; 3) gypsum dunes; 4) transition zone (between grasslands and the bajadas); 5) desert scrub (rich in cacti); 6) chaparral; 7) oak-pine and oak woodlands; and 8) montane conifer forests.

ENDEMISM.-The Bolsón is known to support a fauna rich in endemics (See Cole, Hershler, McCoy, and Minckley, (present symposium). The very rich flora, one of the most varied in the Chihuahuan Desert, contains 49 taxa which find their type locality in the region (Table 1) . Of these 45 are currently recognized taxa and 23 are endemic, as far as is known. An even greater number of taxa are found only in the study area and immediately adjacent areas. Regions containing concentrations of endemic taxa include: 1) the Leguna Grande-Laguna Churince complex, northward to 16o Mesquites, eastward onto the north tip of Sierra de San Marcos (Figure 1, area approximately from H to K and 20 to 23, excluding Highway 30 and perhaps Pozo Becerra recreation area) for approximately 12 endemic taxa; 2) canyons and bajadas of canyons of Sierra de la Madera, east-facing slopes to crest and partly down the west-facing slopes (Canyons Agua to Hacienda to Charretera; Figure 1, area approximately from D' 5-10 to D 10-13) for approximately 10 endemic taxa; 3) south-facing bajadas and canyons just above Pozo Anteojo (Figure 1, area from C to E and 20 to 22) for an additional 2 endemic taxa. These areas need to be correlated with the endemic fauna and afforded protection, tempered by the rights of the people now living there.

Because of the large number of endemic taxa of both plants and animals, the unique aquatic habitats, as well as the region's scenic value, there is an urgent need to continue efforts in preserving all or at least a portion of this ecosystem before this important part of man's heritage is lost. Endangerment to endemic plant habitats include goat and cattle grazing, farming, harvesting of gypsum from dunes, and the logging of conifers.


The known vascular flora of the Bolsón of Cuatro Ciénegas and surrounding sierras currently consists of 879 taxa distributed among 860 species in 456 genera from 114 families (Table 2). Cultivars distant from habitation account for an additional 7 species, in 7 genera and 3 families.

The first significant collections of vascular, plants from Cuatro Ciénegas basin were made by Ivan M. Johnston, 24-26 August 1938. Within the next three years, additional specimens were prepared by Leroy H. Harvey, Ernest M. Marsh, Jr., Cornelius H. Muller, and Stephen S. White, all in 1939, and again by Johnston in 1941.

Nearly 25 years lapsed before the vegetation and flora were again intensively investigated, notably by a team of researchers from Arizona State University (W. L. Minckley, myself, and our students), from the University of Texas, Austin (M. C. Johnston, B. L. Turner, and their students), and from the Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix (H. S. Gentry and Rodney Engard). Many other collections have been made, e.g., James Henrickson, A. M. Powell, N. Boke, F. L. Wynd, and Jean Graber.

Nomenclature and arrangement of taxa in the following catalogue follow Cronquist, et al. (1966) for names of higher categories; Crabbe, et al. (1975) for pteridophytes; and Cronquist (1981) for angiosperms. New taxa or new names for taxa since the original catalogue (Pinkava 19791981) are indicated by asterisks (*). Documentation referring back to the original catalogue are placed in brackets. Code letters preceding collection numbers correspond to the following principal collectors whose specimens are deposited in the herbaria indicated: ADZ = A.D. Zimmerman (TEX-LL; none seen); D = T.F. Daniel (ASU; MICH, none seen); H = James Henrickson (and with others) (TEX-LL); IMJ = I.M. Johnston (GH, TEX-LL); M = C.H. Muller (TEX-LL); MCJ = M. C. Johnston (with others) (TEX-LL); P = DJ. Pinkava (and with others) (ASU); R = Tim Reeves (with Pinkava) (ASU); and W = Tom Wendt (with Emily Lott and others) (TEX-LL). Additional collectors with specimens deposited in ASU are: E. Arnold, W. Brown, J. Lewis, J. Landye, E. Meyer, and W. L. Minckley; in TEX-LL are: J. Bacon, J. Garber, E. M. Marsh, Jr., A. H. Schroeder, B. L. Turner, and S. S. White.

Additional abbreviations used in catalogue are: C = Cañón; CC = Town of Cuatro Ciénegas; L = Laguna; P = Pozo; R = Rancho; SM = Sierra de la Madera; SME = Sierra de la Menchaca; SSM = Sierra de San Marcos. Vegetation zones are: (A) = aquatic and permanent waterways habitats; (B) = basin grasslands; (C) = chaparral; (Cult.) = cultivars distant from habitations; (D) = desert scrub, bajadas and flats; (G) = gypsum dunes and flats; (M) = montane conifer forests; (0) = oak-pine and oak woodlands; (T) = transition zone between basin grasslands and desert scrub. For more details on ecology see original catalogue (Pinkava 1979-1981).


I wish to express my thanks to several taxonomists for their contributions toward this study. For their encouragement, advice, collections and identification of specimens, special appreciation is due Marshall C. Johnston, James Henrickson and Thomas Wendt. I am indebted to W. L. Minckley, Department of Zoology, Arizona State University, for the privilege of conducting botanical studies in the basin under the auspices of his grants (NSF GB-2461 and GB 64774). I extend my gratefulness to officials of Mexico for permission to undertake this study. Most helpful was Jose Lugo Guajardo of Cuatro Ciénegas during my visits.

Since the original catalogue, those who kindly contributed to the study are: John D. Bacon (Univ. of Texas, Arlington) - Nama (Hydrophyllaceae); Robert T. Clausen (CU) - Sedum (Crassulaceae); Thomas F. Daniel (ASU) Acanthaceae; Howard Scott Gentry (DES) - Agavaceae; Charles Glass (Abbey Garden) - Cactaceae; James Henrickson (CSLA) - Lamiaceac, Asteraceae and others; L.C. Higgins (WTS) - Boraginaceae; M.C. Johnston (TEX-LL) Euphorbiaceae and others; Meredith A. Lane (COLO) Gutierrezia (Asteraceae); Gerald B. Ownbey (MIN) - Cirsium; Tim Reeves (ASU) - pteridophytes, certain Orchidaceae; Reed C. Rollins (GH) - Brassicaceae; Elizabeth A. Shaw (GH) - Brassicaceae; Terrence Walters (TAES) - certain Poaceae and Chenopodiaceae; Allan D. Zimmerman (TEX-LL) - Cactaceae.


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