Chronicle of a (Arbolia) Death Foretold

The ahuehuete cedar is an indigenous Mexican tree that dates back to pre-Columbian times. Photo: Google


A tree may grow in Brooklyn, but its chances of surviving in Mexico City are doubtful.

Take the now-infamous case of the moribund cedar tree that replaced a dying palm along Mexico City’s stately Avenida Reforma last year by decree of the capital’s governor, Claudia Sheinbaum.

The palm, which had been a Mexico City landmark for more than a century, even having the roundabout it occupied named after it, finally succumbed to a fungus in April 2022, and Sheinbaum ordered it removed and replaced by the ahuehuete cedar.

But the scrawny little cedar just couldn’t adapt to the traffic and pollution that surrounded it, and on Thursday, March 9, Mexico City Environment Secretary Marina Robles finally threw in the towel and has announced that the tree would be replaced by — wait for it — another ahuehuete cedar from the same Xochimilco nursery that had provided Cedar Number 1.

It’s not that Sheinbaum had not been warned in advance that the original cedar was doomed, since botanists at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) had repeatedly explained to her and her team that this particular ahuehuete cedar species, which needs large amounts of water and fertile soil, was not resilient enough to withstand a transplant to such an aggressive location.

But determined to prove the specialists wrong, Sheinbaum kept saying that, sooner or later, the tree would grow back its foliage.

No such luck.

With each passing week, the cedar withered even further, becoming nothing more than a pallid silhouette of stark, leafless branches.

The Mexico City government has assured that Cedar Number 1 will now be re-transplanted at the same Xochimilco nursery that it came from, with the botanical equivalent of extreme life support, at a cost of some 80,000 pesos.

So here comes Ahuehuete Cedar Number 2, a 12-meter-high, 20-year-old that will, hopefully, prove more resilient than its predecessor.

The Mexico City authorities are optimistic about its future, but the UNAM botanists are warning that it will suffer the same fate as Cedar Number 1.

A tree grows in Brooklyn, but in Mexico City … good luck with that!

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