NEW CAMERA

Some years ago my life was changed by the purchase of a new camera and lens. With it I was able to photograph even the smallest flowers, and this led me to write a book, “Small Wonders” many of the pictures being only possible because of the new camera.

And then came another change. Our son, with his wife and daughter, was here on a visit, bringing an unexpected gift – a new kind of camera, unlike anything I have ever seen before. It plugs into the computer and only takes pictures of things that are really small. Amcap – Digital Microscope 20x-800x Magnification 8-LED Mini Microscope Endoscope Camera Magnifier.

Right away I was struck with the difference between human made objects and living things.

I photographed one of my recent watercolors. The new camera produced a beautiful highly textured picture, showing the paper and the way the pigment settled into its peaks and valleys. Then I photographed the painting and printed a copy. The extra close-up camera showed that this print consisted of a series of smudges and dots.

A portion of the painting

Close up of the painting

Close up of a print of the painting

 

I suspected that living plants would be very different. To test my theory I photographed a spurge in our front yard (some kind of Euphorbia). With the naked eye and with my ordinary camera, I could not tell whether it was in bloom or not. Then I took a picture with my usual close-up camera and found that indeed it was. Finally I used my new Amcap camera, and found all kinds of detail I had been missing. With the new, even more powerful equipment I could go into more and more detail, and no matter how far I went, I would still be seeing new things until finally arriving at the molecular level. There is a kind of infinity in living plants that is quite astonishing and endlessly fascinating. And, by the way, it is in bloom.

 

Euphorbia seen from above

Euphorbia with my close-up camera – below, with the new camera

LATE BLOOMERS

We live in Arizona so we expect the unexpected, like Saguaros, Creosote, Ocotillo and a host of other plants blooming more than once a year. The books say that they are Spring bloomers. The plants say they will bloom when they feel like it, which apparently, is right now.

On Halloween I made a trip to Sabino Canyon. It was a beautiful sunny day. According to my own rain gauge, we have already had over twenty inches of rain since January 1. Compare that to the normal total of ten to twelve inches and you will see why some of the plants are confused. I looked up at a very tall saguaro. Toward the top it was crestate. This word refers to the fact that with some saguaros, the top, instead of being a column topped with a dome, fans out into many folds and ridges. Sometimes normal branches grow out of the crestate top (see my posting SEEN ON NATURE WALKS April 1, 2017).

On this last day of October the one I saw not only had the crestate, and new branches emerging from it, but the top of the saguaro next to it was sporting a fresh new flower. Another had  flowers on a side arm.

Not far away there were a number of creosote bushes (Larrea tridentata) in flower. Yesterday I saw two Ocotillos (Fouquieria splendens) with their bright red flowers at their tips. On a short plant walk Ed and I saw over thirty species of otherflowers in bloom, and this was early in November.

 

Whenever they bloom, these plants are always welcome, giving us a lift with their beauty.

Fall Glory

This entry in my blog was written by my wife, Louise, telling the story of a recent trip up the mountain to see the fall colors.

“On Friday we decided to drive up the Catalina Mountains to see how the colored leaves were doing. Several earlier trips had whetted the appetite and seemed to promise more and better to come. With a free morning ahead of us, we climbed into the car and headed up the mountain.
We saw some beautiful trees with vivid yellow leaves near the bottom levels of the mountain, then miles of lovely evergreens and other trees.

As we approached Bear Wallow, at mile post 22, there were more and more trees in color, almost all of them shades of yellow.

We parked and walked down into the Wallow, rejoicing at the vividness and variety of the yellows. One tree in particular stopped us in our tracks with it high-impact golden color, which seemed to have a life of its own. Frank was taking numerous photographs. There were a good number of fellow-color-seekers on the trail, all ages, carrying children, cameras and binoculars.

Half way along we came to what our hearts were looking for – a bright red maple, a burst of flaming glory in the midst of the yellow and green. A whole flock of people were gathered in the clearing near the tree. When you looked up at the top of the tallest branches, the contrast between the glowing red of the leaves and the gorgeous blue of the sky was striking.

A smiling young woman kindly asked if we would like her to take our picture in front of this spectacular tree. We happily posed for her and she clicked this picture.

Along came a group of familiar hikers, calling out Frank’s name and waving copies of his book.
We feel fully blessed to live so near to a heavenly place like Mt. Lemmon where we can go for beauty, companionship and nature any day of the week. What a treat to keep us centered and balanced, with a taste of autumn thrown in.” Louise B. Rose

Thanks, Louise

YOU’VE GOT YOUR GALL

As you drive up the Mt. Lemmon highway you soon leave the Saguaros behind and come into a landscape with oaks and a number of different shrubs. One of the most beautiful shrubs is called: Manzanita – a Hispanic name meaning “little apple”. The botanical name, arctostaphylos, comes from two words meaning “bear grape”. In the Spring and early Summer it is covered with beautiful pink or white flowers, shaped like little bottles.

On a recent plant walk, we noticed bright red shapes on the leaf margins of a manzanita. We suspected that these shapes were galls. My friend, Larry looked it up in a book about galls, and told me that it has its own name: Tamalia coweni.

Galls are an abnormal growth that plants create in response to the activity of little critters, like tiny wasps or, in this case, an aphid. The aphid gets on a leaf margin, and somehow tricks the plant into growing in an unusual way. The portion of the leaf with the aphid, swells, and the edge of the leaf rolls over. At first this growth is green. After a while it turns bright red.

This is my photograph of a leaf with two galls, one red and the other green. When we sliced the green gall open, we saw aphids inside, barely visible in the picture below. The aphids lay eggs which develop into adults that emerge from the leaf when they are ready.

We have seen galls on other plants, especially oak trees. Galls come in many different forms, all serving as a place where eggs are protected and fed on their way to their full development.

NOW HEAR THIS

For my 91st birthday my wife, Louise, gave me a megaphone. This is not because I am losing my voice or that she is going deaf, but so that more people on my plant walks can hear me dispensing wisdom. I don’t know that it makes much difference, but we do get a laugh out of it.

(Photo by Linda Stelljes

This last walk had at least 24 people on it (I did not do an exact count), and we had a very pleasant morning in the Gordon Hirabayashi camp ground in the Catalina mountains. I got excited about seeing the tiny flowers featured in my new book, such as:
Button Weed – Diodia teres.

Another was Rattle box – Crotalaria pumila. One of our walkers pointed out that this name comes from the Genus, Crotalus, which includes the rattlesnakes. When the seeds in the pod are dry, you can hear the rattle when the wind blows. Although I had not seen it when Ed and I went out to explore the area and make a plant list,

I was happy to see Many-flowered Ipomopsis – Ipomopsis multiflora with its blue stamens.

Next Friday, October 5, I will be giving a short talk about “Small Wonders” at a book signing at Sunrise Chapel, 8421 E. Wrightstown Rd, in Tucson. There will be other authors, and a display of art work. You are all invited. It begins at 6:30 pm.

NEW BOOK JUST OUT

In the process of writing “Mountain Wildflowers” I came across a number of plants with very small flowers. I called them “invisible” since most people, including myself, would pass by and not even see them. The idea expanded to include clusters, where the individual flowers are rarely seen. I then looked at composite flowers, whose name suggests that what looks like a single flower is actually composed of many much smaller ones. Then there were those little beauties that are small, but still visible and definitely worth a closer look.

This blog has been silent for quite a while. My somewhat feeble excuse is that I was working on four new books, which is partly true. Anyway, this week I got my first shipment of my new book: “Small Wonders.” Here is a picture of the cover, designed by Owen Rose, and a sample page.

Thanks to my super macro camera, I can now take pictures of items that are smaller than a quarter of an inch.

There are over 200 species in this book. In most cases I have a life-sized picture of the flower in the upper corner, right near the enlarged version, as you fan see in the sample page.

Published by the newly formed Hardy Perennial Press, at $21.95, it will eventually be available from Amazon.com. ISBN 978-1-7325402-0-0

The other three books in the assembly line are: 1 – An illustrated guide to the Santa Catalina Mountains, 2 – Glorious Grasses, 3 – Choose Joy –  Fifty-two Tasks on Spiritual Growth.

A REALLY TOUCH LITTLE FLOWER

Driving up the mountain road, you pass mile-post 15, and soon come to a point where the road turns away from the view you have been enjoying for several miles. You are now in an Oak-Pine woodland at almost 7000 feet. The ground is a tumble of boulders, some in quite fantastic shapes. And on these boulders, seemingly growing right out of the rock surface, are these delightful little plants. On a recent hike in the mountains we came to an area with dozens of them scattered over a fairly wide area, almost all of them growing in some kind of rock crevice. Many were in bloom, though the flowers were few and far between. The plant is called: Catalina Beardtongue (Penstemon discolor), and is only found in one state in the Union – Arizona. The color ranges from a very pale blue, almost white, to a much deeper hue. The flower stalks are only a few inches high. And they certainly have a very remarkable beard on their tongue.

 

There was a lot of road reconstruction during the rebuilding of the Hitchcock Highway up the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson from 1988 to 2005. The road goes right through this area, which is the only part of the range where I have seen this flower. We were worried as to whether it would survive. The fact is, the plant is doing extremely well, surviving on rock surfaces with practically no soil, and in a part of the year with very little rain. Through all of that, this gem of a flower keeps its beauty.

A FORGOTTEN FLOWER

I have been hiking the Catalina mountains for thirty-six years. Most of the hikes for the first seventeen were done as a means of covering the ground fairly rapidly, with occasional stops to take a landscape photograph. That all changed in 1999, when I started taking pictures of flowers too. This has meant traveling much more slowly, and has rewarded me with a growing enjoyment of plants. Seven years ago I wrote a guide to the mountain wildflowers in this part of Arizona. Since then, I occasionally come across one I have never met before, and that is always a treat, though a little discouraging since it is too late to include it in the book.

My son, Owen, and I are putting finishing touches on a new book, Small Wonders, which includes many plants that did not make it into the first flower book, some because they seemed too insignificant, others because I had not met them yet. Just recently I met a new one, too late for the book in progress. Ah well, the beauty of this kind of search is that you never come to the point where you have seen it all.

After three and a half months with no rain here, we had a downpour on Saturday, June 16. This was the day when our son, Alan, and I had planned to go up into the mountains so that I could photograph a flower that had not been recorded in this mountain range for over a hundred years. We saw it on our plant walk about a week ago, but I did not have my close-up camera to get a good picture. Besides the flower buds were not yet open.

In just a few hours two and a half inches of rain drenched our property, and obscured our view of the mountains. We almost gave up hope of going up the mountain that day. And then, in the middle of the afternoon, we saw our chance. We drove up to Turkey Run, walked the trail under a clear and cool sky, and I got the pictures shown below.

This is a member of the Ericaceae – the  Heather Family. It is related to Pyrola, and when I first saw it I thought it was Pyrola elliptica. We noticed it growing in a bed of moss. Its name, Sidebells, describes the fact that the flowers are all on one side of the stalk. This is also the meaning of the botanical name, Orthilia secunda.

The plant on the right is Pyrola Elliptica, which has flowers all around the stalk.

ARBUTUS

I grew up in suburban Philadelphia. and remember hearing references to Arbutus, a city in Maryland, north of Washington DC. In learning the plants of southern Arizona I was pleased to find that this is the botanical name of a very beautiful tree. The common name is Madrone (from a Spanish word meaning “Strawberry Tree”. It is a member of the Heather family (Ericaceae). Botanists call the species in this area, Arbutus arizonica. Recently hiking at 7000 feet, Steve and I saw one with a very wide, blackened trunk. I have read that it can grow for over two hundred years, and this one seemed to fit with that time line having been severely burnt at some time in its life, but still flourishing.

As an evergreen it keeps its leaves all year, but in June a significant number turn a beautiful red, as in this picture. This makes it easy to spot driving up the mountain.

The ones we saw at the end of May had white flowers, like little bottles. The bark is also red. In a few weeks it will support a full crop of beautiful red berries.

FLOWERS BUT LITTLE RAIN

It has been almost three months since we had rain in the Tucson valley, and there is no rain in the seven-day forecast. A couple of weeks ago snow fell in the Catalina Mountains, and my friend and I took a brief walk in the snow to say we did but it did not rain in our part of the valley.

The summer rains, called the monsoons, are now given official starting and ending points – June 15 to September 30. I looked in my personal rain log, and saw that we had no rain at all in the month of June 2017. July was good, with 11 days of precipitation. There were five more in August, and just three very light rainfalls in September. The last was September 9. Between then and the end of the calendar year we had only one rain fall that was more than a tenth of an inch (December 17). This lack of winter rain meant that we had very few Spring flowers in 2018.

It is no surprise, then, that on recent walks, the ground seems incurably dry. And yet there are flowers, and some of them look as healthy as I have ever seen them. It is just that there are not as many as usual. The air is clean, the gentle breeze refreshing, and it feels good just to be alive in these pine forests. Here are some that we saw in flower.

Blue Flax (Linum Lewisii)

Palmer Lupine (Lupinus palmeri)

New Mexico Groundsel (Packera neomexicana)