With a dry winter, and rainless spring, we do not expect to see many wildflowers these days. Those we see come as a special treat, like this Bristlehead (Carphochaete bigelovii). The flowers are both pink and white, and when it bears fruit the seed head looks for all the world like a brush with its bristles splayed as if it had just been crushed against a rock.
Here is the Bristlehead plant with a close-up of the flowers below it, and a picture of the fruit below that.
Speaking of rocks, my friend Dave and I for the first time explored an area on the mountains we have driven past hundreds of times. It is an area alongside the Catalina highway, just past Geology Vista.
It just took a few minutes of weaving our way through some fairly thick brush before we came out onto an area surrounded by rocks weathered into fantastic shapes. It reminded me of Echo Canyon in the Chiricahua National Monument. But the wind was fierce and chilly, so we did not linger long. Instead we drove down to Bear Canyon for our snack. What a treat to find this fascinating tumble of boulders.
Here is Dave on the rocks. Then he took a picture of me.
I had a wonderful time at the Tucson Festival of Books. I sold about 24 books and about 75 notecards. But the main joy was talking with friends new and old. It was especially fun showing people mock-ups of three new books I am working on:
1. Glorious Grasses (with Jim Verrier)
2. Small Wonders (tiny, nearly invisible flowers)
3. An illustrated guide to the Santa Catalina Mountains – using my paintings to illustrate various parts of the range.
Here is one of the paintings for the book. It is of Windy Point, 14 miles up the Hitchcock Highway, with a great view to the South and West, an ideal place to watch the sunset.
Recently I had the pleasure of doing a plant walk with Bruce Homer Smith, who has developed an excellent website where people can easily look up wildflowers growing in California. Here is a link to his site, which has more than ninety-five thousand pictures, about 4248 of them taken by me (marked with an FR). Since it has been such a dry winter, we did not see many plants in bloom, but had a lot to look at and enjoy in Molino Basin.
Day after day the weather forecast had said that there was zero chance of rain in the next few days. And then the rains came. It has already rained for three days and now the forecast shows possibility of rain (if only 10% or 20%) for several days in the future. What a change this brings to the desert and the mountains! It also lifts our spirits.
Yesterday Steve and I headed for the mountains, undaunted by the forecast. As we drove north on Houghton Road, we saw something neither of us had ever noticed before. It was a cloud shaped like a rolled-up white blanket, stretching for almost twenty miles along the front range of the Catalina Mountains. You can see a portion of it in the center of this picture.
We drove up the highway and sure enough were soon in the midst of the blanket. We emerged after about three miles at Molino Canyon Vista. We parked the car and caught the view looking back at the cloud, as seen in this photograph.
We then walked along the path and turned around to see the little waterfall running at full tilt. I call this “Hidden Falls” because almost as soon as the water goes over the lip, it drops behind a large boulder, splashing into a pool at the bottom. The falls have been bone dry for about five months, so this was special.
Here is I one of the watercolors I have painted of this interesting little cascade.
In two weeks, March 3, our son Owen and I will be at the Contreras Gallery (110 E. 6th St., Tucson) from 6 to 9 pm, for an opening of a show of our art work. The show runs the month of March, and the gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 am.- 3:30 pm.
We are only three weeks away from the Tucson Festival of Books. I will be sharing a booth with the Arizona Spiritual Growth Foundation, and will be autographing five different books (Mountain Wildflowers, Mountain Trees, More Wildflowers, The Art of Effective Preaching and a book I illustrated, Bo and the Fly-away Kite.) I will also have a dummy copy of part of a book I am currently working on, which is a guide to the Santa Catalina mountains with my watercolors as illustrations.
Look for me at the Festival of Books at the University of Arizona Campus – March 10, 11 booth 254. And enjoy the change in the weather.
It is still cool in the mountains, though the valley temperatures are close to one hundred degrees. On a recent trip I started on a trail out of Marshall Gulch only to find the trail blocked by four fallen trees. This was a reminder to me of how much we owe to those who maintain trails. Without maintenance, most of the mountain trails would be impassable in a few years.
On a recent walk on Oracle Ridge in the Catalina Mountains, Ed and I were struck by the beauty of the Parry’s Agave, sending up sturdy flower stalks. We also noted something neither of us had seen before, the male flower cones of the Ponderosa pine opened to release pollen. We had seen them in their tightly closed form, with their beautiful scales. On this trip we saw how the cones expand to release pollen, seen as pale yellow dots on the picture.
My friends Hilary and Andrea took me to Oracle State Park. One of the nature trails afforded a view of the historic Kannally Ranch House in the distance. I took a photograph and later did this little watercolor of the view.
Speaking of watercolors, on Saturday, May 6, 2017, the Bear Canyon Library in Tucson will feature a show of three nature photographers, Brian Gersten, Tom Trebisky and Leslie Eguchi, plus six of my plant portraits, done in watercolor. This one is of the Canadian Violet (Viola canadensis). The opening reception is from 3 to 4:30, and you are all welcome.
Recently our congregation in Tucson, Sunrise Chapel, celebrated the 30th anniversary of its building. All five of our children were here for the event, and even put together a musical combo – “the Band of Roses” – for our enjoyment.
Our oldest son had to leave early Monday, but the other four were able to join me in a walk in Catalina State Park. The flowers were magnificent, the buttermilk sky, amazing.
One of the group spotted this unusual saguaro. There are a number of crestate saguaros in Arizona, but this one was different. The crest was surrounded with arms, and protruding out of the crest were about a dozen new arms.
Ed and I were looking at plants in Saguaro National Park East, and saw a flash of yellow in the middle of a nearby shrub. We wondered what it was. “I think it is a yellow mustard”, I said. Ed reached in, and pulled it out. And this is what he had in his hand. It was clearly labeled: Heinz Yellow Mustard.
Every time we hike, we see new plants coming into full and glorious bloom.
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.
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 pond
The snake holding a mouse
The Queen butterfly on a milkweed flower
Dave with Mae and Siena
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.
My wife kindly suggested that I had a senior moment when I said that the youtube program about Gardens that I am taking part in is 5 pm Eastern time. It is 8 pm Eastern time today, which is 5 pm here in Arizona.
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.
Two bog orchids
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, 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. Here is the whole plant, about 6 inches tall
The flower head is relatively flat.
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.
The forest floor in Saguaro National Park East is carpeted in green, like a well tended
golf course. But what looks like grass is really thousands and thousands of small plants with tiny white flowers in the Borage family, possibly Bearded Cryptantha ( Cryptantha barbigera. )
Three of the women admiring a Saguaro
Yesterday a group of women accompanied me in search of an interesting plant there: Texas Desert Rue, (Thamnosa [Greek – Smelly Shrub] Texana). It grows only a foot or two high, and has very small dark red flowers and a distinctive and pleasant (to my taste) odor. It is also called Dutchman’s Breeches, because of the shape of the fruit. It is harmful to livestock because it causes them to be oversensitive to light. The plant we were looking for was in a wash (dry river bed). This involved a fairly long walk in sand, which I found a little tiring. After we located and photographed it, we continued along the wash until we joined a trail to head back to our vehicles. After a short distance we came across several Thamnosa plants right along the side of the path.
Kathleen’s hand giving an idea of scale of the Texas Desert Rue
Getting a closer look
A close-up of a flower
The fruit, like Dutchmen’s breeches
There were many plants to entertain us on our three and a half mile loop. Altogether we saw about fifty different species in bloom, and many more about to flower.
Earlier this week Val and I took a ride to Ajo – about 150 miles west of here, to give a talk to the Ajo Garden Club. We expected to see lots of wildflowers along the roadsides, since we have had some good winter rains. The showing was not up to our expectations, though there were many Lupines and Desert Marigold along the road. Half way to Ajo it started to rain, and continued all the way to the Ajo Public Library where I spoke about “Nature’s Small Wonders”. The talk was well received. On the return journey we stopped at a town called “Why” (possibly so named because there is a Y-shaped intersection in the middle of the town), population under 200 . I had driven through this part of Arizona before, and knew that it was just a little collection of homes and a gas station. Just for fun I asked the attendant at the gas station how far to go until we got to Why. He tilted back his head, and began to roar with laughter. “You are in it!” he said. As I left I looked up at the name of the Gas station. It read: “Why Not?”
We went through Why to the Organ Pipe National Monument with its wonderful visitor’s center, and lots of fascinating plant and animal life, resolving to go back again when the Organ Pipe Cactus and the Ajo Lily are in bloom (April or May).
Organ Pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) on a cloudy day at Organ Pipe National Monument
Ed and I were hiking up the trail and had stopped to look at some flowers. A couple came down the trail towards us, evidently having gone over five miles of rough terrain. They asked us if we knew any of the flowers. This led to a pleasant botany lesson. The man looked at me and asked how old I was. I said: “Eighty-seven”. We then talked a little more and finally I couldn’t stand the suspense any more. “And how old are you?”
“We are both ninety” he said with a great smile. The two of them looked to be in their sixties. I felt a little ashamed. Ed, who is younger than I am, did not even admit to his age. After some awkwardness I asked him the secret of his longevity. “I haven’t died yet” was his full explanation.
Six times in the last eleven days we have explored this trail (Babat Do’ag in the Catalina Mountains) and every time we have seen new flowers in bloom. On the first trip, February 18, we saw about 30 species. Today we saw over 50. Perhaps the most interesting was the Broom rape (Orobanche), a plant that lives by drawing nourishment from the roots of other plants. It is not green at all, does not have chlorophyll, and is incapable of making food from the energy of the sun. On one trip we saw one fully grown one, with four near by just beginning to pop their heads through the soil. The next trip we found another near by. Today Jim and I saw all of those, and more than a dozen more on the Soldier Trail, just a couple of miles further down the mountain.
The Orobanche – the penny gives an idea of size
Another smaller Orobanche
A close-up of one of its flowers
Two of the many we saw on Soldier Trail
Among the most spectacular plants now is the “Indigo Bush”, Dalea pulchra. This time of year the plant is covered with deep blue or even purple flowers. And the bees and other insects love it.
There is a fairly common low growing plant imported from Europe called “Filaree” or “Heron’s Bill”, (Erodium cicutarium). It has the ability to drill its own seeds into the ground. Long ago I learned of a native Erodium, called “Texas Geranium” or “Stork’s Bill” (Erodium Texanum) and for years I have been trying to find it. This was my lucky month. I found quite a few on the Babat Do’ag trail, and then noticed it growing in our church parking lot!
Texas Geranium plant
A close-up of the flower
Since I began working on “Invisible Flowers” I have become interested in the Euphorbia family. Many of its genera and species are low growing plants with small flowers. In particular there are a half a dozen or more euphorbias called “spurges” in this area. I have been trying to learn to how tell them apart. Today Jim told me that while many spurges have single flowers at the end of each stalk, one has flowers growing in a little cluster. It is called Euphorbia capitellata (meaning “having a little head”). I find its tiny flowers quite charming.