Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Where There is Water
....there is life! We took a field trip to Spur Cross Ranch Conservation Area north of Cave Creek the other morning in search of sedges. I had just returned from "Sedge Boot Camp," a plant identification workshop offered through the Jepson Herbarium of UC Berkeley for anyone interested in learning to recognize sedges, especially members of the genus Carex. If this sounds esoteric to you, it is. But, sedges are a very important component of wetland and riparian ecosystems around the world. Since these habitats are some of the most affected by human activities, botanists and ecologists like to pay attention to what grows in them. A workshop like this is a huge draw for botanists, in this case over forty people gathered to learn about these fascinating plants.
But, I digress. The workshop was in California, in an area where we could walk into a meadow and find a dozen species within fifty feet. Here in the Sonoran Desert, sedges are not quite so plentiful. In fact, mostly absent in the uplands. But, wherever there is water, you are likely to find some kind of sedge. And we did! Growing in great abundance around pools along Cave Creek we found American bulrush (Scirpus americanus) growing three and four feet high.
These languid pools exist in magnificent contrast to the Sonoran uplands where giant saguaros and cholla cactus dominate. Along the creek, cottonwoods and sycamore shade the banks. Cattails, cocklebur, sunflowers and common reed (Phragmites australis, a twelve foot tall cane grass) flourish. Leopard frogs and dace stir the muddy pools. A garter snake slithers by. Hot pink Centaury, a tiny wildflower with spiral shaped anthers, peeks out among the rushes. Queen butterflies glide through the rushes in search of fresh sunflower nectar. Dozens of dragonflies cruise the creek, perching on bulrush tips and dipping abdomens in the creek to lay eggs (the female ones). A bear-sized javelina snorts and huffs as it circles to make a resting place at the base of a cottonwood. Water striders skim the pools, creating four-spotted shadows. A Cooper's hawk rests, eyeing a flock of black throated sparrows. The sparrows and a family of gilded woodpeckers call loudly to alert their neighbors.
Nearby, the mesquite bosque has been burnt recently, blackened stems and scorched earth splattered with red fire retardant that was broadcasted from helicopters earlier this summer. But with a the creek nearby, the mesquite and bursage are sprouting new growth already. Where there is water, there is life!