Category Archives: Flowers


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.

Juglans majorLFsWalnut leaves

Rhus glabra LFcpSumac leaves

Rhus glabra 6cpSumac flower cluster

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.

Mystery lactuca plantMystery plant

Mystery lactucaMystery plant close up

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.

Fall leaves“Fall Leaves” – One of the paintings in the article:

We are all excited about the rain that fell today, and hope for more rain in the coming weeks. This should bring out many more of the wildflowers that I love so much.


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).

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.

Heracleaum lanatum 1

Heracleum lanatum 6

Heracleaum lanatum 7

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.

Heuchera sanguinea 3


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.


Peace in the Grotto

El Nino promised rains and wonderful flowers but the promises have not been kept. So far this has been an average Spring. Here is a picture of two of the favorite Spring flowers – the Mexican Gold Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica ssp. Mexicana) and Wild Heliotrope (Phacelia distans). We saw a few patches of these in Catalina State Park. Other years we would have seen fields of them.


Spring flowers


Yesterday Dave and I went to visit one of our favorite spots in the Catalina Mountains. To reach it we followed an unmarked trail up a canyon to a place where the stream drops about fifteen feet into a little pool. On the way we stopped to enjoy the view and have a little rest. We were struck by the quiet in this remote canyon. It was not completely silent. After sitting a while we could hear a background of insect and bird noises, together with the gentle flow of air through the flowers, shrubs, and trees.

There were wildflowers here and there, like this beautiful patch of Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) just by the trail.

Penstemon parryi 3c

When we reached the grotto those noises were eclipsed by the water dropping down from the cliff, and splashing on rocks and mosses before landing in the very small pool at the base. Some of the drops refreshed us with a very gentle rain.

We have been there when the pool was the size of one of those above-ground pools that are popular in Tucson back yards. Today it was scarcely three by two feet. With the binoculars we caught a glimpse into its life. There were water scorpions, water striders and other aquatic bugs with their zig-zag courses skimming on the water and bouncing into each other like bumper cars at the fair. Occasionally one would dive the six inches or so to the bottom. Over time we saw lots of different species and couldn’t help wondering what they would do when the pool dried up completely in a few weeks. We had a quarter of an inch of rain on February 1st. The only rain since then was a tenth of an inch two weeks ago.  Even so the snow melt from higher in the mountains continues to provide life-giving water to the lower canyons and every day we can expect to find new flower species coming into bloom.


Grotto 2 The Grotto with a trickle of water. Below a close-up with yellow monkey flower



An odd plants, a dead bird and lost paintings

On our walks lately we have seen plants in bloom but they are few and far between. We did see a Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) with two flowering stalks. Normally they only have one that stays on the plant for more than a year. At least we think it was one plant. Sometimes plants grow so close together that their leaves become entwined to the point that it is hard to tell whether it is one or two.
Dasylirion wheeleri 2 stalks
The Teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) has some of the densest collection of spines of all the cactus species around here. Some birds build their nests right in the thick of them where they can feel really safe and secure. How they manage to fly in and out without impaling themselves is quite a mystery. Recently we came across a dead bird lying on one of their branches. We assumed that it had been flying in and out of the plant successfully until it finally got hooked. Of course it could have died in the air and simply fallen to this resting place.

Cholla closeup

Dead bird  in cholla
My wife and I occasionally have a burst of energy to de-junk our house. Last week we tackled the shed throwing out many large plastic bags of trash. And then, to my amazement, I found two oil paintings that I had done years ago. They were tucked away in the back corner. The fact that I had not signed them proves that they have never been in a show. As it turns out our son, Owen, and I are having a joint show at the Contreras Gallery (110 E. 6th St., Tucson) the whole month of March. We will frame these two oil paintings and make them the center pieces of my part of the show. You are all invited to the opening of the show, 6-9 pm, Saturday March 5, 2016.

Douglas fir

“Douglas fir” oil painting (30×24 inches)

Navajo country

“Navajo country” oil painting (24×30 inches)

In a few weeks we will have lots of flowers to enjoy and talk about.

Fun with Saguaros

For over thirty years I have been admiring the great columnar cactus, Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea). When they are about 60 years old some, but not all, of them start growing arms. Much later, some of the arms might begin to grow arms. What if those arms grew arms? About ten years ago I became obsessed with the task of finding one with an arm on an arm on an arm, what you might call a third-generation outgrowth.

On one of our hikes in Catalina State Park years ago we saw one but I did not get a photograph. Since then every time I go to that park I look for it. So far no luck. But last week Ed and I were walking on the Pink Hill Trail in Saguaro National Park East, and there was a giant Saguaro. Ed pointed out that it did indeed have an arm on an arm on an arm.


Arm Arm Arm3Arm Arm Arm

We hiked again yesterday, this time on the Ridge Trail on the south side of the Rincon mountains. The trail ends at a beautiful outcropping of rock with a panoramic view of the area. We noticed a Saguaro whose south side was almost pure white. We studied it a little and came to the conclusion that it had been pelted with stones over the years and, for some reason the whole south flank turned white.

Saguaro white side

Then, as we retraced our steps, we looked in the distance at a Saguaro that looked like it had just had a terrible shock, with hair standing on end. Of course we were seeing two saguaros. The one behind was now a skeleton with its ribs pointing skyward.

Saguaro hair day

Then we saw an Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) with several of its branches turning downwards and then turning back skyward. It must have been injured in some way.

Ocotillo turn 3Ocotillo turn

It is the day before Christmas, and we are still seeing plants in bloom. Yesterday it was Pringle’s Prairie Clover (Dalea pringlei), and Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) plus lots of dogweed (Thymophylla pentachaeta) and others. Every month of the year we find plants in bloom. Soon the early spring flowers will brighten our walks.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all of you

Plant Mysteries

Today my wife and I drove along I 10 to visit the Amerind Foundation and I was impressed with the plants along many stretches of the highway especially between Tucson and Benson. I was not able to stop and take pictures because of it being a freeway, but on the return journey we found a frontage road which gave us access to a few of them. It looks like some kind of sunflower, but I do not know which one. Some of the plants were over eight feet tall. The flowers are about an inch and a half wide, and some of the leaves were over five inches long. As can be seen from the photographs, the plant is very open with rough, reddish stems. Since this is so abundant I am hoping that someone can help me to identify it.


Helianthus roadside 3
Helianthus roadside 5

Helianthus roadside LF

Helianthus roadside 7
In May 2014 I posted pictures on this blog of two of our golden barrel cacti in our front yard whose insides had been hollowed out by ground squirrels. I have been keeping my eye on them to see if they would die from this evisceration. About a year and a half later they are not only still alive, but one of them has new growth, and I can’t figure out what that growth is. The middle one was never attacked, and has been in bloom even though we are in the middle of October. One of the other two has these rosettes. Once again I am wondering if anyone knows what these rosettes are. Long ago the plant toppled over from being scoured out, and the new growths are along what is now the top of the plant and used to be the side.

The first picture shows the three barrel cacti. The one in the middle is still whole.

The second picture is a flower on the middle one, and the other two pictures show the mysterious growth.

Barrells three

Barrell flower

Barrell growths

Barrell growths close

It is amazing to me how I can walk past a plant for years – in this case about 30 – and not really notice it. I assumed it was a salt-cedar (Tamarix ramosissima), which is not native, so I did not look very closely. My friend Jim was with me on a recent trip and said it was Burro Brush (Ambrosia monogyra). This is a name I have encountered on my various plant lists and was amazed and delighted to find that it was right there in the parking lot of Gordon Hirabayashi camp ground. The plant is very woody. The photograph shows a portion of Jim’s jeep for scale. It is quite an impressive plant and is in full bloom right now. For the first time I am giving it the attention it deserves.
Ambrosia monogyra 3

Ambrosia monogyra 5
The days are growing shorter, and the mountain slopes are covered with large patches of yellow flowers. After a good summer rainy season, there is more rain to come, which gives us hope for a spectacular Spring.


We have had a wonderful monsoon season in this part of Arizona. The cloudscapes have been very impressive and ever-changing.
Clouds 2015



An attractive plant in the Catalina mountains is: Phytolacca icosandra,
Pokeberry. I have seen only two examples in all my years of looking. Recently I went to find one of the two, and the space where it used to be was completely empty of vegetation.

Then I stopped to check in on the other one and found it was still there though smaller than in the past. I was able to get a close-up picture of the flower and of the fruits. When the fruits drop what remains looks a lot like a flower. I noticed that the remnants of the anthers were still there, long after the rest of the flower had fallen off.

Phytolacca icosandra 3

Phytolacca icosandra 5

Phytolacca icosandra 6

Phytolacca icosandra 7b

Phytolacca icosandra 8 recept

The first picture shows the plant in its setting. The next a closer look where you can see an inflorescence in the upper left, and a fruit stalk with deep red fruits in the lower center.

Then there is a close up of part of the inflorescence, and next an individual flower. The last picture shows the place where the fruit was, leaving behind the anthers.

This is a poisonous plant, with deep wine-colored fruit used for dyes and inks.  The leaves can be eaten only after much preparation to remove the toxins.


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.


Steve and I were walking along Oracle Ridge. A fairly steady wind was whistling through the bare trunks of ponderosa pines which were burned in the fire twelve years ago. As we looked up we could see ravens circling around, playing with the wind and with each other. At first there were just a few. After a while I counted twenty-four, and knew there could have been more. When I finally woke up to the possibility that this would be worth photographing, one of the ravens had settled on the top of a burned out tree, and a few others were near. Soon the dance was over, and the sky empty. What a treat!

Raven dance A raven on a dead ponderosa pine with two more in the sky

Ed and I were making our way up Turkey Run and stopped, as we always do, to see if the rare and beautiful Shooting star flowers were in bloom. I took out my binoculars and thought I saw one lone blossom up the hill and to the right. Ed looked and questioned my perception. He said it was just a patch of sunlight on a leaf. The hill is very steep and wet. I had to scramble up and see for myself. I got near enough to the clump of foliage on the right to know that Ed was correct. Then I looked left and saw more than twenty Shooting star plants, all of them in bud and three with open flowers.

Dodecatheon dentatum Watercolor painting of shooting star plants (Dodecatheon dentatum)

Dodecatheon dentatumC Watercolor of a flower and a bud

Years ago when I first saw these plants I got some good photographs and was able to do watercolor portrait of a group of plants, and a close-up painting of a single flower.

We were taking a plant walk in Marshall Gulch. Anne called me to look at a cluster of Coral root orchids. There were four in a little group. I managed to get a picture of what I thought was one plant, but turned out to be two. This is possibly the most densely flowered of these orchids I


have ever seen.


Spotted Coral Root orchids (Corallorhiza maculata) The one with the black background is actually two plants. Note the penny for scale.

Corallhoriza maculata 3Corallhoriza maculata 1

Coming down the mountain I stopped to see if the rare and somewhat obscure Catalina beardtongue (Penstemon discolor) was in bloom. I found them where I had expected to see them, and noticed that a few of the plants in bloom. I had my close-up camera with me so could get a really nice picture of one of these beautiful flowers.

Penstemon discolor 1 Catalina beartongue (Penstemon discolor)

These plants are about six inches tall.

Penstemon discolor 7 An individual flower close up