Chihuahuan Desert

The Candelilla plant is found nearly exclusively in a semi-desert region of Mexico, situated in the geographic zone known as “The Chihuahuan Desert”.

The Chihuahuan Desert, the largest desert area in North America, extends over more than 450,000 km2 (174,000 mi2) with approximate dimensions of 1,280 km by 400 km (800 mi by 250 mi). The largest portion of the desert is in Mexico, comprising regions of the states of San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Coahuila, Durango and Chihuahua. The desert extends to the United States, over the southeast portions of the states of Arizona, New Mexico and the south of Texas.

Two large mountain ranges, the Western Sierra Madre to the west and the Eastern Sierra Madre to the east, border the Chihuahuan Desert. These mountain ranges keep the moist currents of the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Ocean from bringing rain to the region, which is the principal cause for the desert conditions in the region.

The lowest elevation in the desert territory is 300 m (984 ft), although the largest part of its extension is between 1,000 m (3,280 ft) and 1,500 m (4,920 ft) above sea level. Temperatures can be extreme, averaging 13 °C (55 °F) in January and 36 °C (97 °F) in June, and can reach 50 °C (122 °F) during the hottest days of the year. Annual rainfall is less than 350 mm (14 in), with 8 to 12 dry months and only occasional rains during the months of January, February, July, August and September.

The Chihuahuan Desert is one of the richest desert areas in the world in terms of biological diversity. Its particular humidity, soil composition and temperature conditions favor the growth of nearly a quarter of the 1,500 known species of cactus, as well as diverse floral species that can only flourish in this particular part of the world. Such is the case of the Candelilla plant.

The gathering of the Candelilla plant for the production of natural wax has been one of the most important economic activities of the Chihuahuan Desert in five Mexican states. It is estimated that there are currently 3,500 small producers of Candelilla wax on 230 farms in 33 municipalities in the rural northeastern part of Mexico.

However, the Candelilla continues to be exploited using the same techniques as have been used for nearly a century. It is urgent that sustainable development practices for its cultivation and conservation be implemented, as well as new transformation techniques and industrial production practices.