For the last week the Catalina Mountains have been closed to all but emergency vehicles as firefighters struggle with a fairly large fire. In the last 12 hours over an inch of rain fell on our property, and probably a lot more on the mountains, so the fire must be well under control. It has been just two months since we had rain. We have had to fill our bird-bath every day, which means that the hot sun has evaporated an inch of water in twenty-four hours. If you multiply that by the number of days, over five feet of water has evaporated since the tenth of May. It is a wonder that any vegetation has survived.
Here is a picture of the Brittlebushes in our back yard. It will not be long until they revive and turn green again.
In spite of two months without rain, the Desert Milkweed (Asclepias subulata) in the same back yard is in full and glorious bloom.
With the mountain closed, I have done a few watercolors. Here is one showing a view from Oracle Ridge,. The area caught in the sunlight is the Reef of Rocks.
Now that the summer rains have begun, we can expect a profusion of wildflowers in the mountains.
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.
It has been a quiet time for flowers. Today Ed and I walked in Saguaro National Park East. On the outward journey we did not see any flowers in bloom, so we paid attention to the many forms Saguaros take. Normally they have a single trunk, but we found one that had four.
We have had about three inches of rain since January 1 this year, and the Saguaros have expanded, in some cases to the breaking point. Here is one that is not only very fat with water, but has a long split. We suppose it just burst its skin there.
Normally the ridges are vertical in saguaros, following the lines of the trunk and arms. For the first time we saw one with a different pattern on top of which is a new arm.
A little farther on an almost complete Saguaro Skeleton had fallen across the arroyo.
Saguaros need a nursery plant in their tender early years. Almost any fairly long-lived plant will do. We came across a fallen Palo Verde (or was it a Mesquite?) That had evidently given shelter to a whole ring of Saguaros. The nursery plant has fallen, and the family of Saguaros stands as if in respect.
On our return trip we found three species of plants in bloom: Desert Zinnia (Zinnia acerosa), Filaree (Erodium cicutarium), and Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa.)
We were particularly thrilled with the newly paved trail – the Mica View Trail. It goes seven tenths of a mile from the East end of Broadway to the Mica Picnic Area, and provides an opportunity for people in wheel chairs or baby strollers to easily explore the gorgeous Sonoran desert. Congratulations to those who made the desert accessible to more people.
It is December 12 in sunny Arizona. We have had a number of days where we woke up to ice on our bird-bath. It is still cool at night, but today was sunny and pleasantly warm. Dave and I went to Molino Basin. We walked up the dry stream bed, only once coming across a little pool, left over from the rains just over two weeks ago. We looked for signs of aquatic life, but only found a few dead plants and insects in the water. The dry stream bed
Althogh we knew that we were in the middle of December, we looked out for wild-flowers, and found more than we expected. Most abundant was the Hummingbird trumpet (Epilobium canum). Then we saw a few flowers of the Gumhead (Gymnosperma glutinosum) which we have seen blooming most months of the year, though its main season seems to be late fall. It was a great treat to see the blue flowers of Stemodia (Stemodia durantifolia). Then there were two more yellow composites: Little lemon head (Coreocarpus arizonicus), and, one of my favorites, Bur marigold (Bidens aurea).
Recently I was exploring the area south of the Santa Rita mountains with my friend, Jim. We were particularly interested in grasses, but kept coming across other plants of interest, including this one with the yellow flowers (Melampodium). When I processed the picture I noticed what seemed to be a yellow flower right at the base of the stem. Then I zoomed in and found it was a spider! I believe it is a Goldenrod Crab Spider (Misumena vatia). Years ago I was processing a picture of a Bouvardia plant, and found one tucked in among the red tubular flowers. It seems that this particular spider does not make a web. Its color enables it to perch unseen on a yellow flower and just wait for insects to land on it. Maybe this one was trying out a red one to see if that would also do the trick. These spiders also come in white, and can change color to match the flowers they visit.
Recently my old friend, Virginia Ames, published her charming book: Bo and the Fly-Away Kite. She is old in two senses. I have known her for many years, first meting her in 1982 – 34 years ago. Now she is 102. And this is her first children’s book which I was honored to illustrate for her. She is an accomplished water-color artist herself, but chose to have me do the illustrations. It is unique in having the text in three languages, since the story includes three boys – English speaking, Spanish speaking, and O’odham speaking. Here is the link on Amazon.com.
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.
Sixweeks Prairie Clover
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.)
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.
We have been going on plant walks every week since June, and every week we see fewer flower species in bloom than usual. The last rain here was April 11 – just under eleven weeks ago. What a thrill today when the heavens opened and almost an inch of rain was recorded in our rain gauge! In a few hours the temperature dropped thirty degrees.
There are some wildflowers in bloom, including three that I have never noticed before. One of them had been on Joan Tedford’s plant list for years, but I have never seen it. Perhaps this is because it has leaves that look very much like the walnut trees which grow in the same area (about 6000 feet in elevation.) When I saw the leaves I thought it was just another walnut tree, but then I looked at the flower cluster and knew that this was a plant I had never noticed in the mountains. I could have seen it in other places in America since apparently it is the only tree or shrub that can be found in all of the lower 48 States. It is called Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra). I look forward to seeing the red berries, and its brilliant red leaves in the autumn.
Another new plant – not yet identified – looks like a lactuca, but it seems to be one that I have never seen before. The third new plant is a Galium. I am waiting to photograph it when it starts to bloom in a week or so.
I recently produced a new book of plant photographs. I call it – “More Wildflowers and Trees.” It includes photographs of plants that did not make it into my books: “Mountain Wildflowers of Southern Arizona” and “Mountain Trees of Southern Arizona”.
The new book has been printed in a very limited edition. Later I plan to print more. It contains photographs of 342 species.
On Father’s Day (June 19) the Arizona Daily Star had a two-page article titled “Art Strengthens Family Ties – Father, son share love for creating watercolors.” This excellent article was written by Angela Pittenger and features our son, Owen, and me plus pictures of our paintings. I have had many very positive responses to the article.
Ed and I were walking along the Sunset Trail in the Catalina Mountains, and my eyes were drawn to these Douglas Fir trees. I have seen one-sided trees like this on high mountain ridges where the prevailing winds fashion them into a flag shape, but we were in a canyon about a thousand feet down from the highest poInt in the range, and these were the only two with this particular shape. I suspect that the wind at times can come roaring up the canyon from the right in this photograph. And then again, there may be another explanation for this unusual shape (called Krummholz or Flag trees).
Now it is June and the Cow Parsnip plants are huge and showy. Their botanical name, Heracleum lanatum, means Woolly Hercules, the giant of Greek mythology (Heracles in Greek, Hercules in Latin). This plant is in the carrot family and can be as high as six feet tall with large leaves and inflorescences. Using my close-up camera I was able to photograph an individual flower from one of the many clusters that make up the entire flowering head. I notice that these little flowers tend to be lopsided, with small petals facing to the center of the cluster,, and larger ones facing the outside.
It has been very dry and hot (many days over 100 in the valley), but the Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea) are flourishing and are a treat to see.