Category Archives: Invisible flowers


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 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.


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.


As we wander the mountains north of Tucson we often come across unusual growths on plants, especially trees. At first glance they look like some kind of fruit. Since acorns are easy to recognize, the growths on different oak species clearly must be something else. It turns out that they are galls. These are formed by the tree in response to an irritation by an insect, mite or fungus. Here are three different oak species with their galls:

Silverleaf oak – (Quercus hypoleucoides) – This gall is a perfectly round sphere, about the size of a ping-pong ball. This is formed by a wasp that lands on a twig, irritates it in some way, and then deposits eggs in the growing gall. The eggs are well protected (and fed) as they develop. Once I cut a gall open. At first I thought there was nothing in it – just a little dark spot at the very center. Taking out my loupe I noticed that the black spot was actually a group of maybe a half dozen tiny little wasps. When the wasps hatch they eat their way out of the gall, leaving a perfectly round hole to show their exit.

Quercus hypoleucoidesGall2

Once I saw a very different collection of galls on the Mexican Blue Oak (Quercus oblongifolia). These were also little red spheres.

Quercus oblongifolia Galls

More recently we were hiking at about 8000′ with the Net Leaf Oaks (Quercus rugosa) which had galls, all on the underside of the leaves. Instead of a nice round gall, it is more like a very hairy red mass. We found that the mass consisted of a number of cylinders, each of which contained wasp larva.

Quercus rugosa gall

I have been working for several years on a book about the nearly invisible flowers that do not make it into most flower books. This coming Thursday, September 14, 2017, I will be giving a talk to the Tucson chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society, 7 pm at the City of Tucson Ward 6 Office, 3202 East 1st Street. This is south of Speedway Boulevard and east of Country Club Road. I would love to see you there and share over 60 species worth a closer look. Here is one whose name, Eucrypta micrantha means “well hidden small flower”. The “well hidden” refers to the seeds. The common name is Dainty Desert Hideseed.

Eucrypta micrantha 7

Life in the Desert

Since I have taken an interest in “invisible flowers” it made sense for me to go to go to a talk called: “Desert mistletoe: A misunderstood, but beneficial native plant” given by Kelsey Yule. This was presented to the Tucson Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society. The following Saturday Kelsey lead a walk to look at these fascinating plants. She talked about their life cycle, and how their sticky fruits are sometimes stuck on the branches of a desert tree, maybe by a bird. For a while we wondered where our leader had gone, and then she came back with a short stick of wood. On it there was a tiny lump. We had to get out our loupes to see what it was like. Fortunately my camera has good close-up power, so I was able to get a photograph. In it you see the grey lump of the seed, and a tiny red tube arching up and down into the branch. She explained that the tube was a haustorium, which is like a root, but is different enough to have its own name. She said it would take five years before the plant developed to the point where it could grow and produce flowers and fruit. She also explained that the fruit is edible, but so far I have not dared to taste one.

phoradendron-californicum-1-m-and-f An Acacia with mistletoe in the foreground

kelsey-with-stick Kelsey with the stick

phoradendron-ca-taking-root The seed with haustorium on a Mesquite branch

phoradendron-californicum-8-cluster Mistletoe fruit

Our home was enlivened by the advent of granddaughter, Gillian, her husband Dave, and 3-year old Mae, and 9-month old Siena. As part of their time here we went to Agua Caliente Park in Tucson. The first thing that caught Dave’s eye was a thin snake curled up on the path, surrounding a little whitish ball of fur. It was eating a mouse, and we were able to watch until it was just a fat lump in its slim body. Later we went to the butterfly garden where the white milkweed flowers were being visited by about a dozen Queen butterflies. Mae was thrilled to touch one of them.

agua-caliente-park Agua Caliente park pond

snake-eats-mouse The snake holding a mouse

queen-butterfly-and-milkweed The Queen butterfly on a milkweed flower

dave-family-man Dave with Mae and Siena

gillian-getting-down-to-it Gillian getting down to serious photography

It is November, and there are not many flowers, but the Desert Mistletoe plants are full of fruit, much to the delight of birds and other animal life.


After some wonderful summer rains, the trails are rich with flowers. Some of the smallest plants bloom at this time of year, especially the little Sixweeks Prairie Clover (Dalea polygonoides), and Drymaria (Drymaria leptophylla). Last Thursday we had a plant walk in the mountains after heavy rains the day before. At 8000′ the mountains were in cloud and each twig and flower was covered with dew. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We saw over sixty different species in bloom, and thousands of flowers.


dalea-polygonoides-7f Sixweeks Prairie Clover


drymaria-leptophyllafl Drymaria

Recently I printed a limited edition of my new plant book. I call it “More” because it is a kind of supplement to the books: “Mountain Wildflowers” and “Mountain Trees”. So far I have just sold it out of the trunk of my car but now people who are in Southern Arizona can find it at the Living Rainbow store in Summerhaven on the Catalina Mountains.


Jim Verrier and I are working on a book showing the beauty of grasses, and I am getting ready to format a book which I will call “Small Wonders” showing the beauty of little plants like the Sixweeks Prairie Clover and Drymaria, plus hundreds of others, Many of which I call “Invisible Flowers.”

Recently I have actually met some flowers that I had only read about in books. They are called “cleistogamic” referring to the fact that the flowers are entirely enclosed and never open to the fresh air. They pollinate themselves. My most recent find was several of these on a Pennelia plant (Pennellia longifolia). Prior to that I had photographed cleistogamic flowers in the violet family (Viola umbraticola, or Blue Violet.)

pennellia-longifolia-cleistofl-5 Pennellia with the round dot being an enclosed flower


The enclosed flower, above, and a cutaway showing the interior, below


Nature never cease to amazes and delight me. There is plenty of time for more flowers before the cold weather comes.


This past week I had the great pleasure of attending the Native Orchid Conference at Cochise College in Benson, Arizona. I was one of the 17 speakers, my topic being “Invisible Flora of the Sky Islands.” I also led some plant walks in the Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson.

The first walk was last Tuesday. The forecast suggested rain in the afternoon, so the 12 of us set off innocently enough at 9 o’clock in the morning thinking that we had plenty of time. As we were heading for our first orchid site, on the Turkey Run trail, we ran into heavy rain to the point where I led our little caravan of cars to the top of Carter Canyon Road instead. The largest orchid in these mountains is known as the Bog Orchid (Platanthera Limosa), and instead of walking a half a mile on the Turkey Run Trail, all we had to do was park at the trail head for the Mint Spring Trail, and there it was in great abundance and in full and glorious bloom. Our little cast of orchid lovers had no problem getting out in the drenching rain to see this sight. We then went to another location to see Malaxis Soulei, and the rain continued to the point where we abandoned the rest of the walk. When I got home I was soaked through. My handkerchief was wet, and when I opened my wallet, I found the bills in it were also wet.

Platanthera limosaPL
Two bog orchids

Platanthera limosa 1

A hill covered with Bog Orchids
Two days later we were up on the mountain again with a different group. Again we saw the two types of orchid, got drenching wet, and thoroughly enjoyed the mountain flora.

Prior to the Conference, the leaders, Ron, Ben, Doug and I went to the Chiricahua Mountains to see two different orchids. One was very small. In this picture you see Ron, Ben and Doug puting markers of two different colors so that the people could find these delightful, and small beauties.

Ron and Ben Ron, Ben and Doug (partial)


Later that day we went to Turkey Creek, also in the Chiricahua mountains. Ron mentioned that it was a little tricky crossing the creek to get on the trail, and feared that a few thunderstorms might make the trail impassable. Five days later his fears came true. The morning group was able to see the rare and beautiful Malaxis corymbosa (pictured), but by the time the second group came in the afternoon the creek was much too swollen to allow them to cross.
Malaxis corymbosa 3 Here is the whole plant, about 6 inches tall

Malaxis corymbosa 5b The flower head is relatively flat.

Malaxis corymbosa buds and FL At this point only one tiny flower was actually open.
It was a great pleasure spending time with plant lovers. The orchids in Arizona may not be very spectacular, but for orchid lovers they are worth the trip (people came to the Conference from various parts of USA, Canada and England.)

This coming Monday, August 8th, 5 pm Eastern time, I will be speaking as part of a program called:
“Spiritual Insight Through Gardening – Swedenborg and Life.”
Also taking part in the same program will be our Son, Jonathan, his wife, Kristin, their daughter, Chelsea, and others. This will be shown on Youtube, and here is the link if you are interested in watching it.

Wishing you all a happy summer.


It seems as if every time Ed and I go out on a plant walk we come across new species – not new to the world, just to us. This is partly because we are hiking at lower elevations than we normally do, and so are seeing plants that we had never seen in bloom before. Lately I have added eight new plants. Here are a few. Some of them fall into the “Invisible flower” category. Others are just beautiful flowers that have escaped our attention.

One is a prickly pear – which is not only one of the most abundant cactuses in Southeastern Arizona, but may be found in many other places in the world. The one we know best has pure yellow blooms – Engelman’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii). On a recent walk we came across a different prickly pear with red markings in the petals. I had never noticed this before, but had read about its existence. It turned out to be Brownspine prickly pear (Opuntia phaecantha) .

Opuntia engelemanniFL

Opuntia phaeacantha 3

Opuntia phaeacantha 7The top picture is the Engelmann Prickly Pear, the middle is the new plant, and the bottom is a close-up of the flower.

Another plant had us puzzled . It was growing near a stream in Catalina State Park. The leaves are quite beautiful and distinctive. The little white flowers almost qualify as “invisible”, not because they are so small, but because they are so easily overlooked. My hiking companion recognized the fruit as typical of the geranium, or stork’s bill genus. A little research indicated that it was the Carolina geranium.(Geranium carolinium)

Geranium carolinianum 3b

Geranium carolinianum 6c

Geranium mystery LF

On our mountain walks we often come across Mountain parsley, (Pseudocymopterus montanus). Since “pseudo” means “false” we have sometimes wondered what the real Cymopterus looks like. Iris took us on a walk and we came across the plant. It had a cluster of deep purple flower buds. None of them were opened, and it was left to our imagination to see if we could picture what it would look like when it was in full flower. Whatever we might have thought, we were way off. Ed and I revisited the plant this week, and the opened flower looked nothing like anything we expected, as you can see from these pictures. I was not able to discern the flower parts. This looks somewhat like the fruits of the Hopseed bush (Dodonea viscosa).
Cymopterus multinervatus PL

Cymopterus multinervatus P3jpg

Cymopterus multinervatus FL6

Dodonea viscosaFR

The pictures above show the Cymopterus multinervatus with flower buds, the second one with buds and flowers, then a close-up of the flowers. The last picture is the Hopseed bush fruits.

We are sure that more plants are waiting for us to discover and enjoy.

More Invisible Flowers

We are now toward the end of November and there are still plenty of flowers to see, some of them new to me this year. Here are three recent ones: A climbing milkweed with small, pale yellow flowers called Arizona swallow-wort (Metastelma arizonicum). Ed and I found it on the Tanque Verde Ridge Trail in Saguaro National Park East.

Metastelma arizonicum 3 TUS The Arizona Swallow-wort covering another plant

Metastelma arizonicum 5 TUS The penny gives an idea of how small the flowers are. The fruit is much bigger.

Metastelma arizonicum 7 TUS
A flower bud and an opened flower.
About a week later we were on the Garwood Trail and saw a beautiful pink patch. The plants looked like they belong to the buckwheat family. We were hiking in a loop and I was sure we would see more of the same plant later, but that was not to be. When we couldn’t find any, we turned back to this patch and I got a few photographs. I did not have my super close up camera with me, so I returned that same afternoon with it, and got some pictures of the flowers. It turned out to be Palmer’s Buckwheat, Eriogonum palmerianum.

Eriogonum palmerianum 1 TUS A patch of the Palmer’s Bucwheat

Eriogonum palmerianum 3c TUS An individual plant, the penny giving scale.

Eriogonum palmerianum 7b TUS An individual flower

I was about to leave the area when I saw a plant I had never noticed before, lying flat on the ground. This was a member of the Euphorbia family (New Mexico Silverbush, Argythamnia neomexicana), and I was happy to get some pictures.

Argythamnia neomexicana 3 TUS The New Mexico Silverbush plant lying on the  ground. Below is a picture of an individual flower. These are quite small.

 Argythamnia neomexicana 7 TUS

This means that in two weeks in the middle of November we had found three more “invisible flowers” to add to my growing collection.

On my last posting I noted that one of our Golden Barrel cactuses (Echinocactus grusonii, a Mexican species) that had been hollowed out from the inside by some animal, had some new growths. Today I took these pictures to show that the growths are “pups”, or new plants. So this cactus that was almost completely hollowed out and had every reason to die a year and a half ago, is producing lots of new life. It looks like we will have eighteen new plants in the spring when I cut them off and  plant them out on their own.

Golden Barrell pups The gouged out Golden Barrel showing some of the 18 pups that are developing. Below a closeup of one of them.

Golden Barrell pup


I apologize for the long gap between postings on this blog. Mostly it was due to a hernia operation that I had and complications after the surgery. I am now back on the trail and very happy to be visiting my friends, the flowers.

There is a composite flower that is not native to the Santa Catalinas Mountains, but I have seen it in two places in that range. It is called Mexican Hat, (Ratibida columnaris). I saw it years ago in Gordon Hirabayashi camp ground when it was still called Prison Camp. I have looked for it there every year for the last few years and came to the conclusion that the population has died out. The other place is along side of one of the residential roads in Summerhaven. There are lots of them near where Loma Linda Extension Road meets Ajo Avenue.  Until last week I had never seen them anywhere else on the mountain. Last Saturday I stopped at mile post 17 to get something out of my trunk and saw a collection of what looked like black flowers. On closer examination they proved to be another colony of Mexican Hat. Before driving off I decided to get out my loupe and take a closer look. Though I have known that it was a composite, meaning that what looks like a single flower is composed of many flowers, I had never looked to see what the individual flowers look like. I got out my super-close-up lens, and got these pictures.


The Mexican hat plant                                       A close-up

Ratibida columnaris 3Ratibida columnaris 7

Ratibida columnaris 6The “Hat” part has lots of individual flowers on it – below is what these individual flowers look like close-up


Ratibida columnaris 9
I used the same lens to take a closer look at the Mahogany Milkweed (Asclepias hypoleuca). This plant is fairly rare. This was taken on the Palisades Trail, less than a half a mile from the top of the trail.

A close up of the center of a Mahogany Milkweed flower – A cluster of flowers

Asclepias hypoleuca 9Asclepias hypoleuca 5


Below is Fendler hawkweed, the last picture being a close-up view.
Hieracium fendleriPL

Hieracium fendleriFL copy

Hieraceum fendleri 7
Yet another flower worth a closer look is Fendler Hawkweed (HieracIum fendleri). The plant can be six inches or even a foot high, with rather small flowers that open for a short time toward the middle of the day. This flower looks different close up.

The summer rains began in June this year, so we can expect lots and lots of flowers for the rest of the summer.


Today Ed and I drove up the mountain, and found that last Sunday morning’s rain in Tucson was snow up on the mountain. In this picture you can see the patches alternating between snow and dry ground as the trees cast their shadows on the landscape.Snowslope

The earliest Spring flowers have come and gone, but there is still plenty to see. Right now the Blue and Foothills Paloverde trees are loaded with blooms, though a little past their prime.

Palo verde

Walking along the sidewalk near our home I noticed a plant I had not seen before. “Too bad it is not in bloom” I thought to myself. A common error. I was able to get a photograph of the plant, lying flat on the desert, and was amazed to see that it was in bloom with tiny flowers. It is called Downy Prairie Clover, (Dalea neomexicana).

Dalea neomexicana 3n Looking straight down at the plant

Dalea neomexicana 3b The plant against the black velvet, The flowers are scarcely visible at the tips of the fuzzy white things

Dalea neomexicana LF A typical leaf

Dalea neomexicana 9b Side view of a flower

Dalea neomexicana 9f Bottom view of a flower

Hiking with Dave in Sabino Canyon we came across this beautiful flower. As far as I know I have not seen it before. It is very attractive growing among the green foliage by the intermittent stream. It is called Arizona Centaury (Centaurium arizonicum).

Centaurium arizonicum 5 A plant with several flowers

Centaurium arizonicum 7 Close up of one of the flowers

Thinking of invisible flowers, I caught one of the most interesting ones just near the end of its flowering period. It is called Glandular Threadplant (Nemacladus glanduliferus). If I ever get around to publishing a book on “Invisible Flowers” this would make a nice cover. The penny gives you some idea of how small it is.

Nemacladus glanduliferus 5 From the penny you can judge how small the plant is, and how very small the flower is

Nemacladus glanduliferus 7 A close-up of this little beauty

We are now in late Spring or early Summer. Today Ed and I saw our first orchid. (Spring Coral Root). We look forward to seeing all kinds of flowers as the year progresses.