At the end of the 80s, a group of San Miguel de Allende citizens decided to meet and discuss various topics of interest –in terms of the common-, agreeing that with the wave of promotion of San Miguel de Allende by the local authorities and some individuals from the incipient entrepreneurial sector as a touristic product, the city would run the risk of detonating a series of actions derived by greed, which would limit the enjoyment of different common and public spaces from the locals. The aforementioned caused that Cesar Arias, Federico Gama, Leopoldo Estrada, amongst others, to carry out fund-raising actions and search for alliances in order to create El Charco del Ingenio (The Puddle of the Mill in English) civil association, acquiring the property that today has the same name.
El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden is a 67-hectare project located in the eastern part of the city of San Miguel de Allende.
The site is an enclosure and sanctuary for diverse species of flora and fauna
The site receives its name from two elements in its interior, which represent the opportunity to know how the then Villa de San Miguel, today San Miguel de Allende in honor of the national hero Ignacio Allende who was born here, emerged. At the bottom of the gorge that divides the site, is a spring (la poza Del Chan or the pool of Chan in English), which since time immemorial different people attend to bathe; the spring was known as “el charco”, or the puddle in English. On the other hand, close to the spring there are the traces of what is known as the first mill of the American continent, which dates from 1561; this structure, in addition to grinding, it operated an rudimentary mechanism which served to hit the wool obtained from the shearing of sheep in the region; said action gave the name to the mill of Batán, word that came from the Spanish “abatanar” which means to beat. That is why, during the 16th century every industrial work that used the force of water to generate energy was known as “ingenio” or mill. That is why, derived of the two elements found in the site that the area was already referenced since the 16th century as El Charco del Ingenio.
After nearly 25 years of initiating activities, nowadays it is a conservation project recognized in the region.
In addition, due to the diversity of plants that make up the botanical collection, El Charco del Ingenio currently protects the largest botanical collection of succulents in the country.
The initial activities of the project consisted in knowing the terrain in greater depth and characterizing what existed in it, as well as, with the help of various specialists and naturalists, it was possible to start a series of soil conservation actions that would strengthen the structure and function of the site. It is then that people like Jaime Ocampo and Miguel Maya get involved to seek to realize the dream of generating a communal space of environmental conservation based on the socio-cultural characteristics of the local population.
From the moment the fencing and soil conservation actions are carried out, at the same time an effort is made to build a plaza that is appropriate for the different sectors of the community. It is at that instance when landscape architects Enrique Pliego and Cabeza de Vaca get involved to develop the concept and construction of the Plaza de los Cuatro Vientos (Four Winds Square), replica of one Toltec-Chichimec codex, which describes the worldview of the original civilizations in relation to the territory. The Plaza de los Cuatro Vientos was a race against time, since it was expected to be entirely finished and to carry out its inauguration during the total eclipse of the sun that occurred on July 11th, 1991. Once the long-awaited date arrived, it was possible to count with the participation and blessing of different stewardships of indigenous ancestry, who, faced with the lived experience, decided that a cross of conquest should be placed on the site, thereby sacralizing the site and transforming the space in a ceremonial center. The activity celebrated during that total eclipse of the sun endorsed a union between the various attendees and traditional groups, which detonated a commitment for the preservation of traditions and different symbolic spaces.
Around 1993, Charles Glass arrives to San Miguel de Allende, a cactophilist of international recognition, who upon meeting the group of San Miguel citizens, initiators of El Charco del Ingenio, as well as their intentions for having a botanical collection of succulents, resulted in his conclusive decision to retire in San Miguel de Allende and undertake an adventure of touring the country in search of plants, as well as generating different processes for the transference of knowledge.
As a result of conservation actions, it has received certification as a Voluntary Protected Natural Area by the National Commission of Protected Natural Areas (CONANP for its acronym in Spanish
Currently, El Charco del Ingenio is not only a botanical garden; instead it has become the largest and most important botanical collection of succulents in the country, but more important perhaps is that it was conceived as a community project of biocultural resistance, due to, on one hand, it is through the Citizen Council where different people of civil society assume the legal representation of the project, stating in this way that, although the site is private property, the citizens are the ones who imprint the characteristics of public interest, and for which a deep commitment to safeguard the public and common goods is presumed.
At present, the goals of El Charco del Ingenio are the conservation of flora and fauna, education for sustainability and scientific research. Although the emphasis of the project has been the botanical garden, the need to carry out administrative and management actions has made people notice practices of an ecosystem approach, resulting in endless learning that is relevant and appropriate for the site.
The existence of four habitats (north and south xerophilous shrub, wetland and glen) within the property has forced to deepen the ecological interactions of the different species that coexist, so that often there are visits of representatives of various academic institutions of the country, achieving an enriching collaboration, since the people making their stay manage to meet the academic requirements, as well as contributing to the generation of scientific knowledge for the botanical garden, which is incorporated into the actions of education for sustainability.
Derived from the efforts to develop scientific knowledge, the organization has a Science Unit with a space integrated by an office of the department of curatorship, area of stays, laboratory and herbarium; this space is also shared with the propagation team given the shared activities that are carried out.
Evolved from the first 25 years as an organized civil society, we are anxious to undertake actions of knowledge and defense of our common goods, and with solidarity and sensitivity, we will continue the following years seeking to have a more inclusive and respectful world.
The propagation activities have been focused on the reproduction with conventional techniques of 167 species of their collection and that are in some risk category according to NOM 059-2010/SEMARNAT. Said propagation has as an objective to provide collectors of specimens with legal provenance, as well as to generate a genetic exchange between the different botanical garden members of the Mexican Association of Botanical Gardens.
Presently, the organization seeks to generate greater opportunities of collaboration with different universities in the country, so that they can update information on the site, as well as generate different lines of research that are of mutual interest. Furthermore, to explore
opportunities that strengthen environmental communication capabilities, since it is considered highly necessary to disseminate science or, what it is called “democratization of knowledge” in a focused manner.
In El Charco del Ingenio Botanical Garden and Voluntary Protected Natural Area, it is considered that there are many challenges, which are glimpsed due to the drastic change of the ecosystems throughout the world, as well as the neoliberal policies that, despite the devastation of the natural world, have not being able to lay the foundations for the protection of the common goods, that is, of the whole natural world as it is known today.
Texto: Mario Arturo Hernandez Peña
Director General del Jardín Botánico "El Charco del Ingenio"
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