Friday, December 31, 2010

Desert Snow

Hot and dry versus cold and wet. The two came together yesterday in the hills up by Cave Creek where I ventured to help out with one of the annual Audubon Christmas bird counts. What few birds we saw were hunkered down in the scrub with feathers fully fluffed to insulate them from the blustery weather. I too had my down coat on! Here is my birding partner, Paul, braving the winter storm, and a small pile of snow-(graupel actually)-caught in the club moss.

There is also a wildflower called desert snow, a phlox aka Linanthus demissus, which will bloom in the spring if all this moisture is enough to keep it going past germination this spring! Here are some that I found in Deem Hills in March of 2008. Looks a lot like the real thing, but smells sweeter!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Arguably the most dramatic flowering plant to grace the corridors of the Phoenix metro area is Bougainvillea, a tropical shrub introduced from rain forests of South America. I decided to learn a little more about them, and found some fun historical references associated with their name, which was given in honor of this fancy dressing French admiral.

Admiral Louis Antoine de Bougainville is well regarded in his homeland as the first Frenchman to lead a sailing expedition around the world between 1766 and 1769. In addition to having a spectacular tropical plant named in his honor, the admiral’s legacy includes several south Pacific islands, ports and straights, plus 13 ships in the French navy that have celebrated his prestige on their transom. The circumnavigation was also historic for being the first to include professional naturalists and the first woman known to sail around the world as members of the ships’ crew. Historians still question the strange liaison between the expedition’s botanist, Philibert Commercon, and his valet, Jeanne Bare, whose true identity as a woman was supposedly not known until the ships landed in Tahiti, where perceptive natives instantly recognized him as a her. Bougainville’s travelogue, Voyage Autour du Monde (Journey Around the World), was influential to philosophers and artists of the time who transformed his descriptions of Tahitian society into ideals and iconic images of the Noble Savage.

Kobayashi, K.D., et al. 2007. Bougainvilleas. OF-38, Cooperative Extension Service, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, Univ. of HI, Manos.

Forster, H. Jan. 2000. Voyaging Through Strange Seas: Four Women Travellers in the Pacific. National Library of Australia News.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Buffle Grass

Buffle grass has gotten a bad rap in these parts. Maligned as an "alien" and an "invader" that exacerbates wildfire, this opportunistic immigrant from the African savannah has sunk its roots deep in the Sonoran Desert. Not happy to be outdone, descendants of European immigrants organize work parties obsessed with eradicating this lovely grass.

I joined a band of Weed Wackers one weekend last spring. Armed with pick axes, we hacked at the grass's roots and trampled dozens of other species in the process. The group bagged a giant trailer load of buffle grass after several hours of back-breaking, ankle-twisting labor. But I often wonder what gain this could possibly have, when several acres of thriving buffle grass remain, since it only takes a few seeds to repopulate the area that was uprooted. Wouldn't it be easier to welcome this lovely new addition to our landscape, just as we have invited and spread our own seed? Or is there some kind of human need to fear and loathe an "other," even if it is a non-sentient and bloodless plant? Or is compulsive weeding just an human character bred into us from our agricultural heritage?

I've decided to accept buffle grass as part of the new suburban landscape. They've got just as much right to be here as I do!

Monday, December 6, 2010


I'm a morning person. Early morning light is always magical, with or without clouds like these, but this Sunday morning show was spectacular.