March In Southeast Arizona

I’m still not used to the climate here, just five miles north of the Mexican border. This time of year the nights are still chill, with an occasional light frost, but spring is indubitably here. As evidence I report a sighting of an ephemeral spring flower in the Bleeding Heart Family, Corydalis aurea. I found several plants blooming a couple of days ago along the driveway leading to the house. The morning light seemed to flow into the tubular whale-like corollas of the flowers, inflating them and making them buoyant:

The plant is also known as Golden Smoke. Notice how the flower’s stem is attached to the middle of the corolla, giving the inflorescence a pleasing zig-zag effect. The flowers are about an inch long.

Yesterday I was wandering across steep canyon slopes with Sage, the sure-footed collie. I saw patches of an inconspicuous gray-green plant with tiny flowers growing from the sand and granite talus. The plant looked to be a member of the Brassicacea, or Mustard Family, as it had slender spine-like seed-pods radiating from the flower-stalks, very like the pods on alien wild mustard plants which will soon create broad swaths of yellow blossoms in cultivated fields.

Once I got home I had trouble identifying the plant, but I finally narrowed it down to the genus Descurainia. The plant I had seen has white and pink blossoms, while most species of Descurainia have yellow flowers. The leaves are diagnostic, though, and I’m certain the plant belongs to that genus. The flower stalks aren’t especially photogenic, but the leaves have a pleasing fern-like shape:

Plants belonging to the genus Descurainia are also known as Tansy Mustards due to the resemblance of the leaves to those of the unrelated Tansy plant, a Eurasian alien.

I must confess I enjoy the company of the straw men which I occasionally press into service here at the blog. I can’t help but think of that classic scene in “The Wizard Of Oz” in which the Scarecrow, with an irritated look on his fabric face, stuffs straw into his empty trousers so that he can stand up. Why, here’s one of my straw men, getting here in the nick of time:

The straw man exclaims rudely, “What the hell’s the difference? Plants are just background for the truly significant dramas of human lives — like mine, for instance!”

I’m going to have to impose a cover charge here in order to keep out the chaffy riff-raff! I reply, my temper held in check:

“Maintaining an interest in the elder inhabitants of this land tends to have a salutory effect upon us, narcissistic humans that we are. We are recent occupiers of this favored continent, and I feel that it is incumbent upon us to have some respect for the original colonizers, whether they be plants, fungi, or tetrapods.”

The straw man mutters, “Humph!” and the wind catches his constituent straw, dispersing it as a thin mulch upon the desert floor. All that remains is a pile of patched clothes.

But I digress. Back to the discoveries of one canyon-slope walk:

I happened across a burled and contorted stump, the remnants of a scrubby oak tree. Decomposition is slow in this land of little rain, as fungi need moisture to do their work. The stump was very likely decades old. I was struck by the whorled patterns of growth rings on one exposed face of the stump. The patterns reminded me of a polished rock-face:

The Soap-tree Yucca is an ungainly plant which looks as if it were designed by Dr. Suess. As the tree-like succulent grows the plant forms a trunk festooned with the ragged stumps of the saw-toothed leaves of years past. The current growth, an elegant starburst of slender leaves, contrasts sharply with the ragged mess underneath. When this species is grown in towns people tend to groom the plants, neatly clipping off the dead leaves and leaving a pattern like that on the skin of a pineapple.

Here’s a Soap-tree yucca which fell or was blown over. The long trunk is now flat on the ground, but the growing rosette at the end, which was once the top, gamely survives:

A pleasant walk indeed, but I confess I bring home with me numerous stick-tight seeds which cling to my clothes and require removal — not everyone likes finding prickly little seeds in unexpected places!

My next post will consist of images and commentary stemming from a walk up Rucker Canyon, a cleft in the western slopes of the Chiricuaha Mountains.




Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

2 responses to “March In Southeast Arizona

  1. bev

    Wonderful photos – especially the Corydalis and the oak stump shots. Amazing what cool stuff you have been finding up on the mountainside.

  2. Joan

    Great photos of ‘exotic’ (to me) flora, Larry. I love the supine Yucca with his shaggy clothes. Maybe someone could use those leaves for basketry.
    The burled oak does look like a rock…but it’s too bad it could not be sawed off a littler further down, and sanded and finished. It would be a great art object. It also resembles some cross cuts of big leafy veggies.
    I didn’t see any straw men, but then my dime store glasses are just not doing the trick anymore.

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