Category Archives: Nature

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

AS OLD AS THE HILLS

I was working on my new book – “An Illustrated Guide to the Santa Catalina Mountains” and wanted to know just how old these mountains are. Different books gave different dates. My favorite article was: “A Guide to the Geology of the Santa  Catalina Mountains, Arizona”
by John v. Bezy of the Arizona Geological Survey, which taught me that this is not at all a simple question. The oldest rocks (called Pinal Schist) in the Catalina mountains date back 1.65 billion years.

The process that started to shape the Catalina mountains as we know them went through several phases. The main upheaval that forms the core of the mountain range goes back about 35 million years in the Cenozoic age when the super continent known as Pangaea was further separating and the Atlantic ocean was being formed.

There was more development 26 million years ago, and again 15 million years ago.

This means that this wonderful mountain range has been in the process of construction for twenty million years or more. And it is still changing. I seem to have read somewhere that it is still growing about an inch every hundred years, but have not been able to confirm that. In any case, it is a work in progress.

And as the mountain range itself evolves over the centuries and millennia, the plants that call it home have also been changing. For example saguaros arrived after the last ice-age which ended about 11,700 years ago.   We have the privilege of coming to know some of the plants that flourish here now. Who knows what the future holds?

Look for me at the Festival of Books at the University of Arizona Campus  –

March 10, 11 booth 254.

Panoramic View of the CatalinasThis painting is for the cover of my new book, and shows a profile of the mountains viewed from the South. The range is about 20 miles wide and a mile and a half high.

AND THE RAINS CAME

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.

Cloud sausage

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.

Above the sausage

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.

Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls 3
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.