Sunday, January 1, 2012

Desert Lavender

You can almost always count on Desert Lavender (Hyptis emoryi) to be blooming at the dawn of the New Year in the Sonoran Desert. Sure enough, we found many of these woolly-leaved shrubs buzzing with nectar and pollen-gathering bees on our hike in the Deem Hills yesterday. In a reverse of the phenology typical of most plants further north and at higher altitudes, the flowering season for desert lavender is between October and May. In the hotter summer months, these and many other desert shrubs drop their leaves to conserve moisture, and come back to life following monsoon rains in the fall. Desert Lavender leaves also morph according to soil moisture, growing larger, thinner, and less furry when there is more water, and thus expanding the photosynthetic capabilities. When drought sets in, the thin leaves dry up and new leaves produced are small, thick, and felted, which helps to conserve water, while still allowing the plant to photosynthesize.

If you crush the furry leaves between your fingers, you can benefit from the relaxing and healing aromatherapy attributed to other types of lavender, also in the mint family. This is a good enough reason to include desert lavender in your desert garden. Hummingbirds and butterflies are also attracted to lavender, another perk that helps celebrate the winter season in the desert.