Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What You can Find in the Desert

This morning we hiked up the buckskin mountain trail above the campground to get a better view of the location.  You can see below our campsite which is only about half full of snow birds.  We have been here for about a week or so and will head east to Tucson later in the week.

 The desert here is an intersection between the Mojave and the Sonora deserts.  Thus you see many different species that you might not see if purely in one or the other deserts. Thought I would share some of the more understated yet amazing plants we saw today on our hike

The Teddy Bear Cholla gets its appearance from spine encasing sheaths often referred to as "jumping cactus"  The segmented joints detach easily and latch onto any passerby, human or animal, thus giving it the appearance of "jumping".  I know as I encountered them last year in Tucson where they stuck to my shins and belly one day.  ouch!  Severa desert creatures, including rodents and Big Horn Sheep, depend on cactus fruit and pulp for food and water.
Teddy Bear Cholla Cactus
 One of the most ubiquitous and successful plants in these desert areas is the Creosote bush.  It can clone itself by send up new shoots from its root mass.  This cloning adaptation has led to very long lived plants, some over 10,000 years old!!  Amazing
Creosote Bush
 Palo Verde, in Spanish, means "green stick". The Palo Verde tree adapts to low water desert conditions by bearing few leaves.  Photosynthesis takes place in the green branches and trunk.  QUite a beautiful tree.  Bees find the small yellow flowers attractive and the beans, twigs and pods are edible by wildlife and livestock.
Palo Verde
 The Buckhorn Cholla Cactus grows in cylinder shaped segments which are joineted like linked sausages.  It has no true leaves and photosynthesizes with its green stems.  Wrens love to build their nests in the branches and ants collect nectar from special glands at the joints and on the flower buds
Buckhorn Cholla
 One of my favorite is the cute little Beavertail Cactus, a member of the prickly pear cactus family.  Easliy recognized by the shape of its pads like a beaver tail.  The blue grey color of the pads is due to a thick layer of wax which covers the pad, protecting it from water loss.  The pads also store water and produce flowers.  The fruit is juicy and edible when ripe.  Javelina loves to eat the fleshy insides and we saw evidence of this on several cacti in the walk.
Beavertail Cactus
 An amazing little plant here is the Desert Trumpet, a member of the buckwheat family.  Small yellow flowers and the inflation of hollow leafless stems stand out, although the flowers were absent this time of the year.  The inflations are attributed to minute larvae feeding on the stem.  After leaving its secretion in the stem of the plant, the insect will exit through a small portal.  Dry stems were use by some natives as tobacco pipes
Desert Trumpet
 We saw this Palo Verday and noticed that the green trunk actually comes out of the dead area.  amazing.
This Palo Verde is very old.  the dead limbs are connected to the green live trunks at the base.
 The edge of the Sonoran desert here means our old friend the Saquaro Cactus.  The saquaro starts from a see no bigger than a gnat and can reach 50 feet in height. In order to survive, young Saquaro plants must grow in the shade of a mature plant, known as a "nurse" plant.  Here you can see the Palo Verde nurse plant.
The Saquaro is often known and a "cactus hotel".  Many animals, rodents, lizards, snakes and birds, seek shelter in cavities made in the fleshy sides by woodpeckers and flickers.
Saquaro Cactus

Desert Milkweed was a surprise find. It forms a clump of numerous slender, erect, gray-green stems that arise from a woody base. Historically, various Native Americans throughout its range have used desert milkweed as a medicinal plant. Others have considered it toxic. The Seris used the roots for headaches, toothaches and heart problems. Locally, Pimas used it as both a purgative and an emetic, and to alleviate sore eyes and stomach disorders. Desert milkweed is fit for a queen-a queen butterfly, that is. Typical of milkweeds, this species serves as a nectar source for the adult butterflies, as well as a food source for their caterpillars. The developing larvae will munch on the foliage as well as the buds and flowers. Don't worry-more will develop later! This milkweed also attracts the colorful tarantula hawk wasp.
Desert Milkweed
 Ths smells a little like sage is loved by deer.  surprise.
Arizona Sage
 Brittlebush, a member of the sunflower family, is a short lived, rounded shrub. Its leaves are not only light in color, but also have tiny hairs to further cool the plant and reduce water loss. A sticky resin, secreted from the branches was once chewed by native Americans and used as incense in churches in Baja area.

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