Category Archives: Plants

Blog Relocation News

I’ve decided to move the blog from the free WordPress.com hosting service to a paid host called Bluehost. This blog has been a WordPress.com blog for nearly three years now, after my old self-hosted blog (which I had started in 2004 as “Rural Rambles”) expired in a tumult of bit entropy.

Having a WordPress blog on a separate host gives me a certain amount of freedom. I can edit any theme, and photos can be larger. I also will be able to directly embed audio and video in posts, an ability available to WordPress.com users only by paying for a site upgrade.

Naturally this entails more blog-management work for me, but I enjoy such geeky chores. For a while, at least, I’ll post links to new posts here, but not images. Here are the first two posts on the new blog:

Site Changes

Town Of The High Plains

As you can see, the new theme needs a bit of tweaking, but these are early days.

Bev and I have been driving from Arizona to New England these past few days. We stopped and camped near the Buffalo River in NW Arkansas, a beautiful area I haven’t visited in many years. A few trilliums were beginning to emerge in the beech/oak/pine woodlands there. Here’s a pristine example:

arkansas_trillium-s

Larry

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Filed under General and Local, Natural History, Photos, Plants

Desert Poppies

It’s easy to ignore common plants, just as it’s easy to ignore people en masse. The eye becomes surfeited easily and novelty is required to revive our flagging attentions.

This tendency can be fruitfully resisted, I’ve noticed. Magnification helps. I’ll shoot a few photos while out walking, then later find unexpected aesthetic delights lurking in the bundles of pixels disgorged into a USB cable.

The California Poppy is a common spring flower here in Bisbee. Our sub-species (Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana) is a strong clear yellow with just a hint of orange, unlike the orange-yellow form found in California. The plant grows from sidewalk cracks where there is sufficient sun. The foliage is a distinctive shade of blue-green. So far I’ve seen just two clumps in bloom, but I’ve noticed hundreds of plants girding their vegetative loins for the big reproductive push. The plants bloom sporadically for a month or two, but eventually the severity of the midsummer sun will sear the ferny foliage into green dust.

A couple of morning shots:

Poppy-2013-1

Poppy-2013-2

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

A Late Spring In Arizona

Phenology is an old-fashioned discipline, dependent as it is upon an observer staying in one place for several years. Who does that any more? I did for quite a few years, but for the time being I’m unmoored.

You could think of phenology as a blend of chronology, accounting, and natural history. It boils down to keeping records of when certain natural events happen each year in a certain place. The observer, of course, must be able to differentiate species of plant and animals; otherwise the records would be completely subjective and difficult to share with other record-keepers. Linnaeus’s wonderful idea lives on!

In the pre-computer era (most of human history) phenological observations were kept in notebooks. Aldo Leopold and his family wrote their observations in the day-squares of a large calendar, another common approach. A year-end task was transcribing those notes to a notebook so that the calendar could be disposed of.

I must confess that any phenological observations I make are a byproduct of photography. How fortunate that digital photographs, like all computer files, are intimately associated with their date of creation!

Here’s my slender contribution to Southeast Arizona phenology.

The desert spring is quite unlike those of northern climates. Many of the trees (including many oaks) are evergreen here, so there isn’t the dramatic budding, unfolding, and awakening I grew up with. Many of the plants here wait for the late-summer monsoon rains to make their growth. Still, there are a few spring ephemeral plants. One of them is the Golden Corydalis (Corydalis aurea), a beautiful and dainty plant closely related to the Dutchman’s Breeches and Bleeding Hearts common in Eastern woodlands and gardens.

I first saw and photographed this Corydalis last spring, and I had a vague idea or hunch that the flower bloomed earlier last year. Sometime in early March, I was certain, but only the existence of the photos I shot last year provided me with evidence of the flowering date. Here’s a close-up I shot last year on March 6th:

corydalis-2

This year the plants waited two weeks longer to bloom; I shot these photos a couple of days ago, on March 19th:

corydalis-3

corydalis-4

Naturally I wonder about the possible reasons for the delay. We did have an unusually chill and snowy winter. Many spring ephemeral plants bloom when the soil has warmed sufficiently. Now I wish I had records for previous years!

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

Poppy Seeds

Last spring while driving from Illinois to Arizona I began to notice a peculiar plant along the highways. Starting in central Oklahoma what looked like thistles began to appear, but rather than the typical purplish-red star-burst thistle flowers, these plants had large flowers with papery white petals. I eventually learned that these prickly plants were in the genus Argemone, and that they are commonly known as Prickly Poppies.

The species I’ve become familiar with here in Arizona is Argemone pleiacantha, the Arizona or Southwestern Prickly Poppy. It is common in overgrazed rangeland and in other disturbed sites such as roadsides.

One day last month I happened to be hiking through some BLM grassland in the shadow of the Dragoon Mountains. The leased range-land didn’t seem too healthy. The remaining grass was mostly a species which cattle disdain, possibly because of the insidious augur-like seeds which seemed to delight in burrowing into socks. I encountered several withered prickly poppies in that stretch of level grassland, as cattle don’t like that plant either. The Argemone seedpods were open and I had my first encounter with the seeds. I knelt down, split open a few pods and examined the contents.

Prickly Poppies are in the Poppy Family (the Papaveraceae), so I wasn’t surprised to see that the seeds looked like the familiar culinary poppy seeds from plants in the genus Papaver. Argemone seeds are about twice as large, though, and have an interesting surface texture. Here’s a shot of a pod with its seeds spilled out into my palm, which bears abrasions from a struggle with an enormous thicket of thorny “Wait-a-minute” acacia shrubs. Cattle avoid those wicked shrubs too!

poppy-1

A closer view of the seeds, which taste like commercial poppy seeds:

poppy-2

It’s easy to ignore common roadside weeds, but we may as well get used to them as people and roads proliferate unchecked. I like to see rare native plants as well as the next amateur botanist, but I also enjoy the neglected but ecologically adaptable plants as well!

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Natural History, Photos, Plants

Chinaberry Appreciation

In general, I tend to favor native trees and plants, fellow organisms which evolved nearby. I hasten to add that my ancestors didn’t evolve anywhere near here; I assume that my DNA originated on another continent, but I enjoy the company of true natives wherever I might be.

When I’m living in a town I like to see the native plants which have managed to endure human occupation, but I also like to see the alien plants and trees which have managed to gain a foothold (roothold?). These are opportunistic plants which have found niches in the human-centered landscape, nooks and crannies where they thrive.

Here in the high desert environment of Bisbee, Arizona, a tree or plant has to be able to handle months without rain. Scattered throughout the town can be found various native trees which are accustomed to such environmental duress. The Desert Willow, a native hackberry, and the Arizona Cypress thrive here without irrigation. There are a few Arizona Sycamores downtown, but they need a bit of watering, as their native habitat is along the few Arizona rivers.

Most of the trees in Bisbee are aliens. The stinky and vigorous Ailanthus trees are common along lanes and alleys, as they are in most towns in this country. Bisbee residents call them Cancer Trees.

Another common alien tree comes from Asia; its native range is broad, all the way from India to China. The Chinaberry tree (Melia azedarach) is a member of the Mahogany Family. Most members of that family favor wet tropical environments, but the Chinaberry thrives here. This summer I’ve seen examples of the species every day, and I’ve watered a young Chinaberry in the yard:

The leaves are large and compound, and they have a glossy sheen which is rare in this desert environment. I’ve grown to appreciate those leaves, a welcome addition to the typical small gray-green leaves of the native trees and shrubs:

The Chinaberry tree bears small berries which are poisonous to humans but not to birds:

So here we have an alien tree which reproduces on its own in this harsh region, but doesn’t become a pest like the Ailanthus. The tree feeds the birds and contributes another texture to the built-up town landscape.

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Photos, Plants

Misty Walk On Juniper Flats

Lately I’ve been wondering how the granite ridge Juniper Flats has responded to the monsoon rains. Juniper Flats is just a mile or so north of Bisbee, a quick drive, so Friday morning I drove through the Mule Pass Tunnel and headed up the steep and switch-backed road to the top of the Flats.

The road, with its frequent rock outcroppings, straightens out at the top of the ridge. There’s an area about two miles long and one-quarter mile wide which is reasonably flat. On the west side the drop down to Highway 80 is a sheer cliff, while on the other sides many canyons dissect the slopes.

I stopped for a while at a pull-off where I had camped for ten days back in May. Ephemeral monsoon flowers were in evidence, such as this modest narrow-leaved morning glory:

This is a plant in the Lily Family which I’ve not been able to identify; I saw it scattered among the stunted piñon pines and alligator junipers:

There are two high points at the north end of the flats, and these have been dedicated to modern communications. The existence of the cell phone towers on those eminences is the only reason the road up there is maintained. I drove to the access road which leads to the lower of the two tower complexes, parked, and walked up to the top. A view looking north:

As I looked westwards I noticed that while the San Pedro Valley was dimly visible, the clouds moving in obscured the normally-visible Huachua Mountains:

I clambered back down and drove a farther on to a dip between the two tower complexes. There was an unlocked gate barring access to a rough jeep trail which parallels a canyon I’d never explored. I parked again and slipped by the gate, which was cleverly counter-weighted by a chunk of granite enclosed by iron bands.

I encountered a piñon pine growing from a crevice in the granite, it’s squat trunk shielded by a profuse growth of Fairy Sword ferns:

The jeep trail became rougher and it was obvious that a jeep hadn’t been back along this path for several years. Granite boulders had fallen into the trail, but someone had gone to some effort once upon a time to establish the road, even building up the downhill side with rubble walls.

The trail came to an end at a green, built-up and leveled platform. Eighteen-inch concrete walls had been hand-poured on top of what must have been a slanting granite ledge, but for what purpose? It seemed like a lot of work to have done just to have a level spot for a picnic or campfire:

Spring seeps converged on this platform and the runoff joined other temporary watercourses draining from the heights. I could see down in the canyon that a temporary creek was flowing.

I jumped down from the anomalous platform and saw that traces of a crude road continued. I suspected that mines might have been the reason, as only the prospect of material gain could justify the labor that pushing that road along the slope must have involved.

Before I descended into the canyon I ended up seeing at least half-a-dozen mines, crude slots and holes blasted out of the granite, such as this one:

Piles of rotten mine timbers could be seen now and then:

The road petered out and I descended to the canyon bottom, expanses of granite shimmering with sheets of water. There was a thirty-foot drop-off, and presumably a trickling waterfall, but the water-worn stone was slick enough that I dared not venture too close to the edge:

I began to make my way upstream. A flash of red caught my eye, a flowering plant sheltered beneath a massive boulder:

A closer look revealed a species of Coral Bells, Huechera sanguinea. This was a new one for me and I enjoyed seeing it in its native habitat:

A close-up of a flower-cluster:

The vegetation around the creeklet began to close in on me as I ascended, and it became difficult to find my way around some of the pools. I began to feel confined and thought I’d make my way back up-slope to the relatively bare rock. Unfortunately I ended up in a thicket of dead and living manzanita. The weathered dead branches, with their elbow-like contortions, seemed to willfully impede my progress. Here’s another remnant of the mining days I found buried in the thicket. Perhaps an iron boiler?

During this past drought decade the canyon slopes around Bisbee have experienced a die-off of perhaps half of the manzanita trees. The dead trunks and branches will take many decades to decay. This seedling piñon pine seems determined to take over the photosynthetic duties in this particular spot of desert:

I gradually made my way through the clinging dead branches. Surely, I thought, I’d get to the typical open landscape before much longer! I happened to look up as I rested for a minute. I was surprised to see billowing plumes of mist being blown up the canyon, and I noticed that the temperature was dropping. A rainstorm in the morning is a rarity during the monsoon season, but it looked like some change in the weather was imminent. The mist obscuring the mountains was quite beautiful and I had to shoot some photos.

As I left the thicket behind I had to remind myself that getting wet was not going to hurt me, but the instinct to seek shelter as a storm approaches is a strong one. I was hoping to find the jeep trail but it eluded me. Then I saw a most peculiar structure perched on a ledge, and there appeared to be no road or trail allowing access from the outside world. It was a cleft in the granite roofed over with soldered copper sheets, and it had two skylights! The edges of the copper roof had been sealed to the irregular contours of the rock. The entrance to the structure was surrounded by a high fence:

I noticed an electrical cable snaking its way down to the building, perhaps originating at the cell phone tower complex high above. From a rock-face above the structure a 3/4″ iron pipe protruded. A standard hose-faucet was attached to it and a coil of weathered green hose lay just below. Did someone once live here?

The mist was clinging to the opposite ridge-top in a most appealing way:

I finally came up to the jeep-trail just one hundred feet from my truck. I sat in the truck, eating some bread and cheese, and watched distant showers descending upon the Huachuca Mountains. As I drove back down from the flats I pulled over at one switch-back and watched a rain shower advancing across the San Jose Mountains in the nearby Mexican state Sonora

Ten minutes later I was home. It’s nice to have such an area to explore just outside of town!

Larry

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Filed under Arizona, Photos, Plants

Geraniums Everywhere

Members of the genus Geranium are commonly encountered; they can easily be distinguished by their dissected palmate leaves and weirdly elongated seed-pods, which due to a fancied resemblance causes several species to be known as cranesbills. I have long been familiar with Midwest woodland species of Geranium, such as the common Wood Geranium or Alum Root, which some refer to as the Old Maid’s Nightcap: Geranium maculatum.

Here in central New Mexico I’ve been seeing profuse growths of another species, one with a very spiny and elongated seed-pod. You might say that the pod is a caricature of the actual bill of a crane. I’m not sure of the species, but suspect that it’s a native of Europe that has found a new home in the US, as have so many other Europeans. Some cranesbill pods growing in front of stones in a gravelly campground:

Frankly the pods are more interesting and striking than the modest pale-purple flowers, though these can have some charm when growing en masse:

Larry

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