Sunday, February 17, 2013
Two species of filaree grow side by side in the Sonoran desert. One is a bright purple native, Erodium texanum. The other is a lavender or pink flowered species, Erodium cicutarium, that was introduced to North America from the Mediterranean region hundreds of years ago. The long pointed seed pods of both species inspired the name "heron's bill" or "stork's bill." When the seeds detach, they form coils that expand and contract with moisture, effectively drilling the seed into the soil.
Friday, February 15, 2013
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) is one desert wildflower we can count on blooming abundantly most years, no matter how little rain we've had.
There are 15 species and 9 subspecies of Sphaeralcea in Arizona. As their name suggests, they are related to marsh mallows (Althea officialis), which is the original source of thickener to make what was once a honey-based confection; modern marshmallows are made from gelatin and corn syrup. Other familiar members of the mallow family (Malvaceae) are cotton (Gossypium spp.) and okra (Hibiscus esculentus), both of which have been important agricultural crops in central and southern Arizona.
Saturday, February 9, 2013
Phacelia campanularia is native to the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. They are abundant in cool, shaded canyons throughout southern California and southwestern Arizona.
Friday, February 8, 2013
Thursday, February 7, 2013
Desert hyacinths (Dichelostemma capitatum) send thin succulent stems up through the stoney desert soils from a corm, a marble-sized swelling of the stem, similar to a bulb. Because they arise from below ground reserves, hyacinths are more resilient to drought than desert annuals that grow from seed, and may be very abundant when there are few other flowers. This is one of those years in Deem Hills.
Also known as snake lily, the stems may grow up to two feet (~60 cm) tall before blossoming into a cluster of lavender flowers.
As with most wild plants, you will occasionally find an albino variety of the flowers.
Many kinds of wildlife, especially small rodents, feast on the corms and actually help to propagate the plants by dispersing tiny "cormlets," or offshoots of the corms, in the process of digging. Indigenous people throughout the southwest deserts and California used to harvest the corms for food. The corms can be eaten raw, boiled or roasted. Digging them up is a challenge though, because they are usually deep in the soil, so you have to use a digging tool to find the tender morsel. Ethnobotanists have reported that many hyacinth populations were actively managed by native peoples so that they could rely on an abundant harvest of hyacinth corms over many years.
Monday, February 4, 2013
We rescued these two robust specimens of Golden Barrel Cactus (Echinocactus grusonii) from abandonment two months ago, and are glad to report that they are thriving in our care. They had been uprooted and overturned, tossed by the roadside near an area that is frequently used for illegal dumping. Each one must weigh at least eighty pounds, so this was a difficult rescue. How do you pick up a spiny golden barrel? Our solution was a scrap of carpet and leather gloves, plus a dolly to move it to the back of our car.
Golden Barrels are native to central Mexico where they are endangered in the wild. Cultivation for horticultural use has made them one of the most common cacti used in landscaping around Phoenix and in desert climates around the world. This makes Golden Barrels one of the many beneficiaries of the gardening trade, as there is no recorded medicinal, edible or other human use for these beautiful cacti.
Sunday, February 3, 2013
A skull is a work of art. These rodent skulls were gathered below a nest box at Robbins Butte Wildlife Area that is currently being used by a pair of barn owls. The midden below the nest box was littered with hundreds of skulls and bones from the prey that the owls have eaten over many years.
This barn owl is a resident at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center in Phoenix.
Saturday, February 2, 2013
Friday, February 1, 2013
Trail Tech series, I ventured over in Deem Hills Recreation Area, where reference posts were installed every quarter mile or so along the 8+ miles of trails. Nice idea, but what the heck do they mean? Is it 4.98 miles or 5.9 miles? And to where? And how many miles will the Palisade Trail go to wherever that is? Should I go left or right? Or is really the exact middle point on a loop trail?
Does the trail really go up?
I finally cracked the code by visiting the East Trailhead at the end of Pinnacle Vista Road, where a faded map of of the area is displayed. In the corner of the map, the cryptic numbers are explained in a handy "Trail Post Marker Guide." The only problem is that there are two major trailheads for Deem Hills, and if you've started on the west side, the mileage on the trail markers is confusing at best.
View from the Circumference Trail along the south ridge of Deem Hills.