Chinampas are created by piling up swamp-bottom mud to make islands that can be used for farming, leaving canals between them.
Chinampas are artificial islands created in swampy areas by piling up mud from the bottom of a shallow swamp to make islands with clear canals running between them.
- The islands must be surrounded with some kind of vegetation to hold the mud in place. In the Valley of Mexico this is usually done with trees called huejotes (from Nahuatl "huexotl"), a kind of willow (Salix lasiolepis) common in the region. The roots are adapted to swampy conditions, and grow into a dense enough tangle to hold the mud in place.
- Chinampas, even when well contained by surrounding huejotes, require constant work to prevent mud gradually shifting from the islands into the canals.
- The circulation of water supporting an abundance of swamp life makes the mud quite fertile, so constantly shoveling of mud onto the islands produces extremely fertile farm plots.
- Canals can be used to cultivate edible fish. Indeed it is critical to raise fish if you live in a swamp, since they are the best way to kill mosquito larvae.
- Transportation among the chinampas is normally by boat along the canals.
- Canals are subject to becoming clogged with a range of water plants, interfering with navigation, fishing, and chinampa maintenance. With luck, a use can be found for the fibers of the weeds that must be cleared so that, in effect, they can become another useful crop.
The canals among the cultivated islands easily become choked with reeds and require constant maintenance. But the reeds themselves can be a crop.
The chinampas forming much of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan eventually became solid ground, producing huge residential islands in the lake in addition to the functioning agricultural chinampas.
Chinampas are most famous in the Valley of Mexico, where they still exist in the Xochimilco region of Mexico City. Flowers are raised on them and there is an ecological park devoted to them (in which these pictures were taken). But chinampas have been important to agriculture also in other parts of Mesoamerica. The Maya of Belize seem to have made use of this system in pre-Columbian times, for example.
Photos by DKJ
Content Revised: 2006-04-22
Software Last Modified: 2022-05-30
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