Category Archives: Nature

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)

A REFRESHING TIME ON THE MOUNTAIN

The Tucson valley is getting hotter every day. Time to go up into the mountains.
Steve and I drove to Bear Wallow where it is thirty degrees cooler and the heavily wooded forest provides ample shade. Soon we were making our way up an unmarked trail, enjoying a gentle breeze and a deep feeling of peace.

We were not expecting any flowers. It has been much too dry, and too long sing significant rain. Even so we saw a patch of Wooton Ragwort (Senecio wootonii) with bright yellow flowers.  Then I noticed tiny patches of white in a shady area by the trail. I looked more closely and saw the dainty orchids known as Spring Coralroot (Corallorhiza wisteriana). This diminutive plant is the first of the three Coralroot orchids to bloom every year, hence the name. The roots are indeed shaped like coral, and there is no green, since these plants do not produce any food themselves. Their roots are linked with fungus which in turn connects with the roots of trees. The plant has no leaves, just a thin red stalk with a cluster of flowers at the top each one facing outward, and each with a white lip. We saw about a dozen of these in our half-mile trek up the mountain. I wanted to find one in full sunlight. It was not until we got to our turn-around point and sat down on a log that we noticed one just a few feet in front of us. Later in the year the spotted and striped coral roots will start their blooming season.

Steve was ahead of me on the trail, and was impressed with the trunk of a huge tree. We could hardly see its top. Fortunately the trail switched back so that we were looking at the middle of the tree. Above it split into a Y shape, which is unusual for a conifer. We calculated that it must be a hundred feet tall, which is only about a third the height of the great Sequoias, but even so this tree, the Douglas Fir, is the Giant species in Arizona.

As we drove down the mountain Steve commented that in these few hours we had the feeling of having been on a refreshing vacation.

LIFE ON THE ROCKS

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.

Bristlehead

Carphochaete bigeloviiFL

Carphochaete bigeloviiFR

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.

Dave on the rocks

Here is Dave on the rocks. Then he took a picture of me.

Frank on the rocks

WILDFLOWER SEARCH

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.

Sunset at the Windy point

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.

Bruce Homer Smith and Rosewood

Here is his web site:
PlantID.net