Yesterday morning I was hiking up Ramsey Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains with a botanically-oriented friend, Richard, who also lives in Bisbee.
The morning was pleasantly cloudy and the creek running through the canyon was ebullient, full of monsoon run-off and cheerily splashing over boulders in numerous waterfalls.
Most visitors to Ramsey Canyon, a Nature Conservancy preserve which luckily wasn’t affected by the catastrophic fires of 2011, come there to look for birds. I’m not a birder, although I enjoy seeing them. I don’t have a “life list” aside from an informal and internal mental one; I like plants and fungi, organisms which can’t run or fly away and hide.
Richard and I were happily discussing the possible IDs of several mysterious plants which we had encountered when I saw a pale mushroom growing right in the trail. It was an old but poisonous friend, one of a complex of Amanitas which I had become familiar with during my years in Missouri. This one was probably Amanita ocreata, but it showed an unmistakable resemblance to relatives in Missouri I had encountered. Here’s a 2005 photo which, thanks to blog-friend Joan Ryan, I still have archived:
Perhaps I’m perverse, but I enjoy picking and examining deadly Amanitas, knowing that one bite would kill me. These innocent-appearing fungi seem to have an aura of mortality surrounding them.
Richard was interested as well. He asked me, “What are the symptoms? Do you die right away?”
“No, they have a bait-and-switch technique. You feel deathly ill for several days as your kidneys begin to fail, then one morning you wake up and feel just fine. You think, ‘Maybe I’ll recover!’. Meanwhile your kidneys are shutting down for good, and within twenty-four hours you die.”
We walked on, and eventually began to encounter an intriguing but inconspicuous flower. It looked like some sort of orchid to me, as it had a single fleshy leaf clasping the stem, but the flower looked like that of no other orchid I had ever encountered.
Later, when I was back home, I used all of the printed and ‘net resources I had available to identify this plant. I’m certain that it is Malaxis corymbosa, an orchid that is a great example of a plant native to the Madrean Sky Islands, here at the northern extent of its range. This orchid ranges down as far as Guatemala, and it grows here in southeast Arizona as a relict of former times and climates. A photo:
A walk in such a pristine area is like a time-slice, as two weeks from now there will be a new panoply of species to observe. This is the monsoon season, when most of the scanty rainfall this drought-stricken region receives will fall. Then we’ll be back to unrelenting aridity until next summer!