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The orchid family comprises in Mexico some 1254
species and 21 subspecific taxa (Soto Arenas
et al.
2007). Notable facts of the Mexican orchid flora are
the very uneven distribution of the species in the ter-
ritory, since about a half of the country is too dry to
permit the existence of a single orchid species, and
nearly 60% of the species are found in the cloud
forests which occupy only about 1-2% of the area of
the country (Soto Arenas 1996). A summary of the
conservation actions in Mexico can be found in
Hágsater and Soto Arenas (1998).
Like in other parts of the world, in Mexico the
orchid diversity is being lost. Orchids have intrinsic
biological traits that make them vulnerable and the
human impact on their populations and habitats is a
very important threat that is causing extinctions and
significant losses of the species’ genetic variation.
The Mexican Official Standard NOM-059-ECOL-
2001 lists 183 orchid species in a risk category (none
extinct, 16 endangered, 61 threatened, and 106 under
special protection). The official list is based on infor-
mation gathered during the decade of 1980-1990
(Soto Arenas and Hágsater 1990; Soto Arenas 1994),
nowadays the conservation status of some taxa has
changed, even some taxa have become extinct. Based
on the official list, and considering 15 additional taxa
that have been reported as extinct or severely in risk
in the last years, we constructed a data base that
includes the most relevant information in order to
plan the conservation strategies of the taxa at risk.
The information will be soon available in BIOTICA,
the data base of CONABIO, Mexico.
In this work we discuss three different aspects of
the information derived from the orchids at risk data
base: 1) Evaluation of the importance of current and
proposed areas for conservation; 2) determination of
7(1-2): 114-121. 2007.
A. S
, R
& E
Herbario AMO, Apdo. Postal 53-123, 11320 México D.F. MEXICO
Centro Interdisciplinario de Investigación para el Desarrollo Integral Regional, Unidad Oaxaca, Instituto
Politécnico Nacional. Hornos 1003, Santa Cruz Xoxocotlán, 71230, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Author for correspondence:
. La norma oficial mexicana (NOM-059-ECOL-2001) lista cerca de 200 especies de orquídeas en
alguna categoría de riesgo (Extintas, En Peligro de Extinción, Amenazadas y Sujetas a Protección Especial).
Construimos una base de datos que incluye la información más relevante para planear las estrategias de con-
servación de estos taxa (nomenclatura, descripciones e ilustraciones para identificación, datos geográficos de
todas las poblaciones conocidas, clima, hábitat, refugios, historia natural y ecología, características poblacio-
nales, factores de riesgo, etc.). La información estará disponible través de la Comisión Nacional para el
Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, México (CONABIO). Con esta base de datos y usando sistemas de
información geográfica se detectaron las áreas de concentración de orquídeas en riesgo y como éstas se rela-
cionan con las Áreas Naturales Protegidas y las Áreas Terrestres Prioritarias para la conservación. Se discuten
distintos patrones de riesgo, de amenazas y de pérdida de diversidad. Es evidente que los efectos del cambio
climático, combinados con el mal manejo de los sistemas en hábitats únicos, constituyen las mayores amena-
zas. La erradicación de poblaciones de orquídeas en amplias zonas densamente pobladas y afectadas, espe-
cialmente en Veracruz y Puebla, pueden representar una pérdida importante de la diversidad genética total de
las especies. Se hizo un esfuerzo especial por determinar las tasas de extinción de orquídeas en México.
Finalmente, y de manera conjunta con otros biólogos de la conservación se desarrolló un método para evaluar
el riesgo de extinción en plantas que está siendo adoptado por las autoridades del país y su uso pretende ser
obligatorio en el futuro para la inclusión en las distintas categorías de riesgo.
: Mexico, extinction rates, species at risk, threats,
in situ
conservation, natural protected areas
the main risk factors, and 3) estimation of the extinc-
tion rates of a rich orchid flora that it is rather well-
known compared with many other tropical countries.
This will permit us to suggest guidelines and conser-
vation strategies with sound bases.
Materials and methods
. We obtained updated information for the
nearly 200 Mexican orchids at risk, including nomen-
clature, distribution, climate, habitat, natural history,
uses, ecology, risk factors, refuges, and possible con-
servation strategies (e.g. opportunities for
in situ
servation, presence/absence in natural protected or pri-
oritary regions, the maintenance feasibility outside of
the habitat, etc.). This includes a review of literature,
herbarium collections, field work, and experience culti-
vating and propagating the species. The information
was captured in a data base using the Biotica 4.0
Information System
(CONABIO). For each taxon a
bibliographic revision and a list of every known locali-
ty, georeferenced, was recorded. This information will
be available to the public from CONABIO, except for
the precise location of sought-after taxa, subject to
intense selective collection. Botanical illustrations, dis-
tribution maps, and photos were also included.
The whole of georeferenced populations of all
the species at risk was superposed with a digital map
of Mexico with its political division in states and
showing the official Natural Protected Areas
(CONANP, 2006) and the Priority Terrestrial
Regions of Mexico (Arriaga
et al.
2000). This was
done using the program ArcView GIS 3.2.
The two most important risk factors for
every species of the 200 analyzed were assigned to
one of the following categories: habitat
conversion/destruction by agriculture, livestock graz-
ing, due to effects of unpredictable climatic events
(hurricanes, forest fires, unusual frosts), mining,
urbanization, touristic developments, forestry, and
charcoal production; habitat degradation by acidic
rain, urban warming, by changes in the local hydrolo-
gy; intrinsic biological factors, selective extraction
for the local market, gathering for the international
(often past) trade.
A method (MER, SEMARNAT 2002) to determine
the risk status was applied to each taxon, since it is
now mandatory by the Mexican regulation in order to
have an objective assigment of the taxa in the different
risk categories. We detected several problems of the
method that systematically overestimated the extinc-
tion risk. Therefore, with the empirical information in
the data base, and together with other conservation
biologists, we designed and tested a more objective
method to determine more precisely the risk categories.
This new method considers a rarity index based in the
criteria of Rawinowitz
et al.
(distributional traits, habi-
tat characteristics, intrinsic biological vulnerability;
1986) and an anthropogenic impact index. The method
will be available soon from the Mexican Ministry of
Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT)
and will be mandatory to include any plant species in
the Mexican official regulation.
. It is very difficult to determine if a taxon
is really extinct into an area or not. We critically exam-
ined every case of Mexican orchid that qualifies as
extinct. Two different estimations were done. The first
was done visiting all the known previous and verified
stations, with searching specifically directed at the par-
ticular taxon, and corroborating its later extirpation;
this approach gives us a
high confidence
in saying that
a species is extinct. The second approach is less
exhaustive, since verifying the extirpation of every
known population was impossible to do, but there is
circumstantial evidence that a particular taxon has dis-
appeared, for example, very little suitable habitat
remains, the habitat has been visited and surveyed by
our team or other botanists with unsuccessful results,
and/or there is an old date of last observation; this
approach gives us an indication that the taxon is
bly extinct
. For example,
Plectrophora alata
Garay was collected in Finca Hamburgo, near Huixtla,
Chiapas, in 1935 and it has never been located again in
the country. Documented populations exist in similar
habitats in Suchitepéquez and Sacatepéquez,
Guatemala, some 120 km eastward. Finca Hamburgo
has been visited and little suitable habitat remains and
P. alata
has not been located by us or any other
botanists that have visited the region. Since the region
of the Soconusco, where the plantation is located has
suffered extensive clearings and most land has been
et al
. - Risk of extinction and patterns of diversity loss in Mexican orchids
7(1-2), marzo 2007
© Universidad de Costa Rica, 2007
7(1-2), marzo 2007
© Universidad de Costa Rica, 2007
converted into coffee plantations it is
highly probable
P. alata
is extinct in Mexico, as suggested by its
last record 72 years ago.
We did not consider extinct those species that are
very rare, little known, and in which no field work
specifically directed to evaluate its populations and
habitat has been conducted. For example,
Salazar is known only from one collection
near Cuernavaca (Salazar 1997) and another from the
nearby locality in Ocuilan (the type of
M. andersoni-
R.González, González Tamayo 2002). It is evi-
dently very scarce, since this area has been well-
botanized in the last years, but a rare, inconspicuous
plant like this requires a specifically designed search,
and this has not been conducted. Additionally, there
are yet extensive tracts of suitable habitat that may har-
bor populations of
M. lyonnetii
. In other probable but
excluded cases a single record exists, supposedly col-
lected in Mexico, of a taxon that is very likely not
native to the country, and otherwise well-known from
other geographic areas (e.g.
Eulophia filicaulis
–previously known as
E. ramifera
Summerh.— from
Africa, see Salazar and Cribb, in press; or
A. Rich. & Galeotti, a supposedly Mexican
taxon based on a cultivated plant, referable to the
Bifrenaria aureofulva
(Hook.) Lindl.).
Results and discussion
Besides the topics discussed in this work, the data
base is a source of important information to planning
the conservation of the Mexican orchids at risk. For
example, it records the regional declining and extirpa-
tion of most orchid populations at risk in the densely
populated areas of Veracruz and Puebla, and how the
same taxa may have healthy populations in Oaxaca.
The data base is also an important tool because it
gives precise and specific guidelines for
ex situ
servation programs. It indicates which species are
already propagated, which need urgent actions, which
present particular difficulties for propagation, which
may be traded in the international and national mar-
ket, among other issues.
. Only 120 of the nearly 200 Mexican orchids at
risk have populations located inside the System of
Natural Protected Areas (SINANP; fig. 1). The sys-
1. Localities of the Mexican orchids at risk (dots) and natural protected areas (in gray). There are 151 areas pro-
tected by the Mexican government (CONANP, 2006), but only 43 of them comprise orchid species at risk (15 bios-
phere reserves, 19 national parks, four natural monuments, and five areas of protection of flora and fauna). Only 120
orchid species at risk (from the 183 included in the NOM-059-ECOL-2001) have populations (at least one) in one of
the protected areas. It is evident in the figure that most populations of orchids at risk are found outside of the protected
areas, and that regions with a large number of populations of species at risk, as Veracruz, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and
Chiapas, are almost devoid of protected areas.
tem is insufficient to fulfill the strategy of conserva-
in situ
. Mexican orchid alpha diversity (the
diversity into the sites) is rather high in some areas,
but at national scale beta diversity (the diversity
between sites) is much more important. The biologi-
cal diversity is widely distributed and it is being
maintained by the high environmental heterogeneity,
that is, well-defined endemism areas and high beta
diversity, as recently stressed in an orchid diversity
analysis of the State of Oaxaca (Soto Arenas &
Salazar 2004). This means that in order to maintain
the biodiversity of the country, the System of Natural
Protected Areas must encompass different habitats in
different biotic provinces. It is evident that natural
protected areas are absent, or almost, in cloud forest-
ed regions and in some biotic provinces, like the
Sierra Madre del Sur, which has the higher proportion
of endemics.
The idea that the present natural protected areas are
not sufficient to maintain the biodiversity of the coun-
try is not new. In consequence, government agencies
and conservationist groups recognized priority terres-
trial regions, somewhat equivalent to “hotspots”
(regions that harbor biodiversity of global signifi-
cance, but which are highly threatened). The priority
areas attempt to serve the SINANP as a framework
when considering the incorporation of new areas, but
little effort have been done to date to convert priority
regions in protected areas. As 171 orchid species at
risk (more than 90% of the whole) have populations
inside the priority regions (fig. 2), it is evident that
these areas were properly selected and it must be an
important task to guarantee that they can maintain
their biodiversity. Certainly, the maintenance of
orchid species in protected areas is not secured with
an official decree, and much work has to be done to
provide natural protected areas with management
plans and surveillance; however, their official decree
is an important first step.
. We determined for each one of the 183
orchid species in the NOM-059-ECOL-2001 the two
main risk factors (for three species no risk factors are
known, for 11 species only a single risk factor is evi-
dent). This can be summarized as follow: In 111
2. Localities of the Mexican orchids at risk (squares) and terrestrial prioritary regions for conservation (dark gray;
et al
., 2000). There are 152 prioritary regions but only in 49 have populations of orchids at risk, most of them
in the southern part of the country. Of the 183 species at risk included in the NOM-059-ECOL-2001, 171 have popula-
tions in the prioritary regions; which indicates that these regions were appropriately selected.
et al
. - Risk of extinction and patterns of diversity loss in Mexican orchids
7(1-2), marzo 2007
© Universidad de Costa Rica, 2007
7(1-2), marzo 2007
© Universidad de Costa Rica, 2007
species the intrinsic biological factors make then very
vulnerable (high habitat specificity, hyperdispersed
populations, particular life history, etc.). In 108
species one of their two major risks is the habitat
destruction due to agricultural activities, coffee cul-
ture being by far the most important. In 49 species the
cattle ranching as one of their major risks, with only
one case due to goats grazing. In 32 species their
habitat have been lost due to forest fires linked to
extreme climatic conditions thought to be result of the
climatic change. The collection of specimens for the
local market is a major risk for 28 species and 21
species have it or had in the past, the collection of
specimens for the international horticultural market.
Forestry is a threat for 17 species. Four species are at
risk due to
urban or touristic developments. In three
taxa the habitat conversion is the result of the activi-
ties to produce charcoal. Two species are at risk due
to the industrial, extractive activities and mining.
Two species are at risk due to degradation of their
habitat because it is located too close to cities with
acid rain and urban warming. In two species the
plants have suffered severe defoliation and tissue
damage by unusual, extremely severe frosts thought
to be a result of the climatic change. In one species
the habitat has been transformed by the change in the
local hydrology of the station.
It is evident that intrinsic factors that make orchid
species potentially vulnerable interact with anthro-
pogenic factors that combined put them at risk. The
most important is agriculture, cattle raising, and sur-
prisingly the forest fires thought to be result of cli-
matic change, since fires in communities like the
mountain rainforest were very unlikely under previ-
ous conditions. These threats are followed by the col-
lection to supply the demand of orchids as adornment
or for horticulture. Although international trade with
wild specimens is probably insignificant nowadays, it
was important in the past and was the major threat for
taxa like
Laelia anceps
Phragmipedium exstaminodium
Hágsater & E.Aguirre, or
Rossioglossum grande
(Lindl.) Garay & G.C.Kenn., and the cause of their
present endangered status. Collection of wild orchids
to be sold in the local Mexican markets has been
stressed as a very important threat for species like
(Kunth) Schltr.,
Barkeria scandens
Llave & Lex.) Dressler & Halb.,
Oncidium tigrinum
La Llave & Lex.,
Prosthechea karwinskii
Soto Arenas & Salazar,
P. vitellina
W.E.Higgins, and many others (Hágsater
et al
. 2005).
. Table 1 enlist 22 orchid species (no infra-
specific taxa were considered) which we can say with
certainty that are extinct
in the wild in the country.
Three of them,
Anathallis oblanceolata
(L.O.Williams) Solano & Soto Arenas,
Laelia goul-
Rchb.f., and
Lepanthes nigriscapa
& G.W.Dillon are endemic to Mexico; therefore they
Anathallis oblanceolata
Solano & Soto Arenas
*Cochleanthes flabelliformis
Schultes & Garay
*Dracula pusilla
(Rolfe) Luer
*Dichaea tuerckheimii
*Epidendrum culmiforme
*Epidendrum pansamalae
*Epidendrum tziscaoense
*Eriopsis wercklei
*Jacquiniella gigantea
Dressler, Salazar
& García Cruz
Laelia gouldiana
before 1888
*Lepanthes guatemalensis
*Lepanthes minima
Salazar & Soto Arenas
Lepanthes nigriscapa
R.E.Schult. &
G.W. Dillon
*Lepanthes stenophylla
*Lepanthes yunckeri
Amex ex Yunck.
*Lycaste dowiana
Endres & Rchb.f.
*Lycaste lassioglossa
*Platystele caudatisepala
Rossioglossum williamsianum
Garay & G.C.Kennedy
*Sigmatostalix guatemalensis
*Specklinia samacensis
(Ames) Pridgeon
& M.W.Chase
*Trichosalpinx trachystoma
(Schltr.) Luer
1. Orchids extinct in Mexico. The following list
includes those orchid species whose all known wild
populations have been extirpated and that extinction has
been verified by field work. Those species marked with
an asterisk* were found only in the elfin forest-moun-
tain rainforest of the region of Montebello, Chiapas.
The year on the column of the right is the last date in
which a wild specimen was seen or alternatively, when
the last patch of suitable habitat disappeared.
are extinct on a global scale. Table 2 enlist 12 addi-
tional orchid species which are probably extinct
in the
country, also three of them,
Epidendrum incomp-
Maxillaria oestlundiana
Mormodes porphyrophlebia
Salazar are endemic.
The present extinction rate of Mexican orchids is
1.75% but rises up to 2.71% if the species considered
as probably extinct are included. On a global scale
Mexico may have contributed with three (or six)
already extinct endemic orchid species. From a single
species thought to be extinct in 1900, the number
increased to about eight species in 1970, and since
then it has had an exponential rising, that accelerated
in 1998, to reach the present estimate of 34 species.
Greuter (1995) estimated that the extinction rate in
Mediterranean higher plants was of 0.15% at the
species level, while a rate of 0.14% is derived from
the 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. While
the extinction rates in Mexican orchids are difficult to
compare with these global estimates because many
species range beyond the Mexican boundaries,
0.24%-0.48% of the endemic Mexican orchids are
extinct or probably extinct. Extinction rate in
Mexican orchids seems to be comparatively high,
especially if we consider that no orchid species are
thought to be extinct in areas like the West Indies and
Guyanas, and only one is probably extinct in the
Paleartic region. The present orchid extinction rate in
Mexico is higher that those estimated a decade ago
for Southern Africa (0.21%) and Australia (0.625%),
although lower than the 3.6% calculated for the
Indian subcontinent (data derived from the regional
accounts, IUCN/SSC Orchid Specialist Group 1996).
The extinct species share some common traits,
especially distributional and habitat preferences. Of
the 34 (certainly and probably) extinct Mexican
orchids, 28 are species restricted to the mountain
rainforest of Chiapas, 22 of them previously found
only in the region of Montebello. Four additional
species were narrow endemics previously found in
the lower mountain rainforest of little extent in the
Pacific slope of Oaxaca and Guerrero (the Pluma
Hidalgo area and the base of the Teotepec system).
Only two taxa have unique distributional traits.
is a taxon whose specific status is ques-
tionable. It has never been found in the wild, its origi-
nal range is unknown, and recent molecular data
(Soto Arenas and Márquez, unpubl. data) suggest that
it is a hybrid between
L. autumnalis
(La Llave &
Lex.) Lindl. and
L. anceps
Lindl., two taxa which are
not sympatric at present. It is probable that
is the result of an ancient hybridization
event. The other particular case is that of
(L.O.Williams) Garay, a terrestrial species
known from a tropical area of quarzic, acidic sands in
southern Veracruz.
This habitat is uncommon in the
country and it has been subject to severe human
impact due to oil extraction, mining, and livestock
The 32 (certainly and probably) extinct Mexican
orchids whose habitat was the mountain rainforest
share some things in common. They were strict in
habitat preferences, for example found only in prima-
ry, particularly humid spots of the forest; all were epi-
phytes that usually had an extralimital distribution in
Mexico, most with only one or two populations in the
country which may be termed peripherical stations.
However, there is a large variation in other traits,
some were common plants, others with hyperdis-
persed populations, some are showy species subject
to collection and trade, others are inconspicuous
miniatures unknown in cultivation, etc. In most cases
the habitat was also severely impacted by agricultural
Epidendrum incomptoides
Erycina pumilio
(Rchb.f.) N.H.Williams
& M.W.Chase
*Habenaria wercklei
Hapalorchis lineatus
(Lindl.) Schltr.
Houlletia tigrina
Linden ex Lindl. & Paxton
Lyroglossa pubicaulis
(L.O.Williams) Garay
Maxillaria oestlundiana
*Maxillaria praestans
Mormodes porphyrophlebia
Oncidium exauriculatum
(Hamer & Garay)
Oncidium wentworthianum
Bateman ex Lindl.
Plectrophora alata
(Rolfe) Garay
2. Orchid species that are probably extinct in
Mexico. Those species marked with an asterisk* were
found only in the elfin forest-mountain rainforest of the
region of Montebello, Chiapas. The year on the column
of the right is the last date in which a wild specimen
was seen or alternatively, when the last patch of suit-
able habitat disappeared.
et al
. - Risk of extinction and patterns of diversity loss in Mexican orchids
7(1-2), marzo 2007
© Universidad de Costa Rica, 2007
7(1-2), marzo 2007
© Universidad de Costa Rica, 2007
activities, coffee culture being the very important
threat in each and every case. In the case of the 22
species restricted to the mountain rainforest of the
Montebello region, their extirpation was due to forest
fires that completely destroyed the habitat. Crown
forest fires were previously unknown in such a wet
habitat and they were conditioned by the vegetation
damage during the severe frosts of the
winter of
1997-1998, the extreme drought in the spring of
1998, and the use of fire in the management of agri-
cultural and cattle grazing areas. The extreme climat-
ic conditions dried the epiphytic loads to convert
them in a suitable fuel for the crown fires.
Extinction was therefore a gregarious event impor-
tant in marginal (or of little extension), diverse habi-
tats which were sensitive to the effects of the climatic
change, and where bad management practices pre-
vailed. It is therefore prioritary to recognize which
habitats are the most vulnerable in order to foresee
these gregarious losses. For example, the patches of
moist coniferous forest in Coahuila and Nuevo León,
surrounded by arid regions could be very sensitive to
extreme climatic conditions (wildfires already
destroyed large tracts in 1975, near San Antonio de
las Alazanas, Coahuila). The relictual lower mountain
rainforests of southern Oaxaca and Guerrero have
been already listed as very threatened habitats (Soto
Arenas 1996). The ravines with evergreen tropical
forest near El Tuito, Jalisco, which harbor the only
populations of rainforest plants in western Mexico,
could be also very vulnerable.
Habitat condition is intuitively less adequate in
peripherical populations than in the middle of the
species’ distribution (Olson
et al.
2005). Climatic
change should cause dramatic reduction in the ranges
of many species by eliminating the peripherical, out-
lying populations. Extinction of the orchids of the
mountain rainforest of Chiapas means clearly a con-
traction of the species’ ranges. Although researches
have stressed that animal species’ responses to cli-
mate change are individualistic (Team species 2003),
plant communities are assemblages in which some
components share a high fidelity to the habitat, and
therefore plant species’ responses may be similar.
In this work we show data, if circumstantial, that
climate change is an orchid threat, perhaps much
more dangerous and imminent that previously real-
ized. The social and economic problems that provoke
a bad management of the environment combine in a
bad way with climatic change to be together, by far,
the most important extinction threats in Mexico.
Collecting evidence on this combined threats and
quantifying its effects are a prioritary task for orchid
We thank CONABIO the finan-
cial support through the Projects R225 (Diversidad de
Orquídeas en la Región El Momón-Las Margaritas-
Montebello, Chiapas, México) and W029 (Información
actualizada sobre las especies de orquídeas en el Proy-
NOM-059-ECOL-2000). We thank Elleli Huerta Ocampo,
SEMARNAT, for comments to a previous draft.
Arriaga, L., J. M. Espinoza, C. Aguilar, E. Martínez, L.
Gómez & E. Loa (coordinators). 2000
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Miguel Ángel Soto Arenas
is a research associate with the Herbario AMO, Mexico City, since 1984; he has been execu-
tive editor of the journal
Orquídea (Mexico City)
and editor of the last fascicles of “
Orchids of Mexico
”. He is particu-
larly interested in the systematics of
and the floristics, origin, and conservation of the Mexican
orchid flora.
Rodolfo Solano Gómez
is a professor at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional in Oaxaca, Mexico. He received his doctorate
at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. His interests in orchids are focused in the systematics of the sub-
tribe Pleurothallidinae and during the last decade he has been contributing with taxonomic treatments of this group. At
present he is working with the orchids of Oaxaca and maintains collaboration with the Herbario AMO.
Eric Hágsater
has been Director of the Herbario AMO since 1976; he is a recognized specialist in the genus
with more than 130 publications on the topic, as well as on the taxonomy and conservation of Neotropical orchids. He has
been editor of
Orquídea (Mexico City)
Icones Orchidacearum
, and Chair, IUCN/SSC Orchid Specialist Group, from
1984 to 1997. Since 1994 he is member of the technical committee of Remib (Biodiversity Information World Net), an
interinstitutional network formed by the research centers which host scientific collections.
et al
. - Risk of extinction and patterns of diversity loss in Mexican orchids
7(1-2), marzo 2007
© Universidad de Costa Rica, 2007