Ed and I were hiking the Sunset Trail, and our eyes caught a glimpse of a rapidly wiggling small lizard. I got out the camera, but not really in time to get a good picture. Neither of us had seen this particular lizard before. It had distinctive alternating bands of black and white the whole length of its body (about 4 inches). The next day I was hiking with a nature group about 6 miles west of Sunset Trail, and someone in the party spotted the same species of lizard. Fortunately one of our group recognized it and had an excellent book about Arizona Lizards. He said it was a juvenile Madrean Alligator Lizard, Elgaria kingii to be exact. It was strange after never having noticed the species before, to see two in less than twenty-four hours. I have read that the Alligator Lizard is largely active at night or in the early dawn or late evening. When it matures its appearance changes to something less dramatic. Very likely I have seen an adult Arizona Lizard before, but never a juvenile.
In 2011 the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum published my book: “Mountain Wildflowers of Southern Arizona” and a year later, “Mountain Trees of Southern Arizona.” Many people have thanked me for the two publications and have wondered what my next book will be. This had been on my mind some time when I attended a meeting of the Arizona Native Plant Society (AZNPS), and heard a fascinating talk on bees. The author, Stephen Buchmann, had wonderful pictures, some of them taken at very close range. I immediately began to wonder what kind of camera could take such fascinating close-ups. The author mentioned that Jillian Cowles, a friend of mine, had taken some of the pictures. She was at the meeting. When the talk was over I went to her and found it what kind of camera and lens she was using. She not only gave me all the details, but after I had bought the camera, lens and flash, took me on a field trip to show how it worked. This has led me to my current project – photographing “invisible flowers.”
People ask, “How can you find invisible flowers?” Well, they are not really invisible, of course. The plants can be seen with the naked eye. I did have the experience of sending my daughter to find one species (Drymaria molluginea) near a rocky outcropping on the Box Camp trail, and she failed. Later on the trail we came across another colony, and I said: “There they are!” Later we returned to the outcrop, and it was only after she knew what to look for that she found them.
Some of the “invisible” flowers are on very large plants. With the naked eye it is hard to know if they are in bloom. It is only with a loupe or binoculars that the average person can see the flower.
In this category of “invisible flowers’ I include flowers where the whole inflorescence is clearly visible, but the individual flowers in it are not. I plan to show pictures of these rarely seen treasures of the plant world.
Let’s start today with one of the many bedstraws on the mountain, Wright’s bedstraw (Galium wrightii). The plant has very small, elegant wine-red flowers. From a distance you can hardly tell whether the plant is in bloom or not, but the macro lens brings you into an appreciation of its beauty.
What is the hardest thing about painting? This is a question I sometimes ask my watercolor students. The answer I give is: Deciding what to paint. In the last few years I have had an annual show at the Contreras Gallery in Tucson. Here are some of the themes: “Rocks and Water”, “Clouds”, “Landscapes with Flowers”. But what was going to be my next theme? For months I could not come up with an answer. Then one day it seemed very clear: “The Grand Canyon.” I have hiked in the Grand Canyon a number of times and have taken well over a thousand photographs. A few months ago I went through my collection and came up with a dozen to paint. Here is one of them. I was drawn to this picture by the contrast of light and dark. I will be posting more of this series as I finish them.
The eastern part of the Santa Catalina mountains near Tucson has had over 14 inches of rain since the beginning of June. This is perfect weather for the many fungi that grow in the forest. Today we came across quite a few of them, the most spectacular being this shelf fungus – extending from the base of the tree as many as 8 inches. I have read that some shelf fungus are edible, and I wonder if this is one of them.
A week ago we saw a beautiful ink cap fungus (Coprinopsis atramentaria), one that is definitely edible but is dangerous if mixed with alcohol. I have observed how these beauties, as they age, simply melt into an inky-black pool.
On one of my hikes I noticed a rock about 5 inches across. Taking a closer look I realized that it was being lifted off the ground by a mushroom!
Today my buddy Ed and I went up the mountain. We thought we would stop briefly at Molino Canyon Overlook to see the flowers on the Limberbush. We found the flowers all right, but then felt drawn to go upstream in search of the Melon Loco. (Apodanthera undulata) We found many plants, some covering large areas. They had lots of bright yellow flowers, but no mature fruit.
We couldn’t help noticing that the ground was carpeted with seedlings, mostly morning glories. So far none were in bloom, but we could picture them, some with large blue flowers, and others with small red ones. It would soon make this into a glorious garden. We were puzzled by another plant, but soon realized it was the largest of the four o’clock family on the mountain, the Sweet Four O clock (Mirabilis longiflora). There were just a few drooping flowers, that had been open since last evening. If we want to see them in bloom we have to come back after five in the afternoon, or in the early morning. The flowers have trumpets that are up to four inches long – bright white with some red in the throat.
Walking along the path we were startled by what at first seemed to be a small snake. It was a giant centipede, about 8 inches long, with yellow feet, an orange-brown body, orange feelers and black head and rump. It moved very quickly across the path, but not too quick for my trusty camera. Its scientific name is Scolopendra heros, In a side drainage we saw a coral bean in bloom – very late for this plant, which usually blooms in June. Farther up the mountain I went to see if the gorgeous Rusby’s Primrose (Primula rusbyi) was blooming. After less than ten minutes climbing the hill, we found more than a hundred plants giving a wonderful show. What a treat No sooner had we returned to the car to descend the mountain than the rains came.
We hiked on Oracle Ridge today. My quest – to get a new picture of the wood sorrel (oxalis alpina), a pink beauty with three heart shaped leaves whose points meet at the stem of the flower. It took a while to see any of the plants, and the ones I found were scrawny, with flowers at the top of long slender stems, as they searched for the light in the midst of heavy summer foliage. Most of the flowers I saw were very pale, almost white. For some reason the heart-shaped leaves on lots of them drooped, as if wanting to minimize their exposure to the sun. My buddy and I hiked until we arrived at one of my favorite spots on the mountain, sitting on stumps beside a beautiful Alligator Juniper tree that I have painted several times. After a while I turned and looked down, and there, in a crevice, was the sorrel I had been looking for – but this time healthy, with pink flowers, large leaves, and even a tiny bee looking, I guess, for pollen. It was very touching to find what I was looking for after I stopped looking.
Two of us were hiking on a beautiful ridge trail and had stopped for a rest and a snack. It was a gorgeous day, cool breezes keeping us comfortable in the shade of an old tree. As I ate my snack I took out my butterfly binoculars and studied the various little creatures inhabiting that part of the mountain. I saw a beetle and recognized it as the Pleasing Fungus Beetle, with its beautiful blue spotted coat. The beetle and I spent a delightful quarter of an hour together. I watched it climb over bits of debris, ending up on a small stone. The stone sparkled with thousands of tiny pieces of mica. The beetle seemed to like the stone, and wandered around, eventually centering on a spot which it circled many times before settling down for a brief respite. It reminded me of a dog going around in circles before plopping down for a nap. After a few more journeys around the stone, my friend spread its blue wings and flew about 6 inches to the next rock, and then tumbled out of my view.
Pleasing Fungus Beetle
At my retirement party, ten years ago, I was given a set of luggage and a digital camera. My wife and I soon put the luggage to work, traveling to England, and a few years later to California, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Australia and New Zealand. The camera launched me into a career as nature photographer, resulting in two nature books, and hours of bliss hiking around Arizona. In this blog I plan to share some of my nature experiences (and pictures), as well as paintings, stories, and whatever else comes into my head. My dad, Donald Frank Rose (1890-1963), wrote a daily column published in the Philadelphia newspapers called “Stuff and Nonsense.” This blog is sort of a stuff and nonsense project – the stuff being mostly things I am learning as I continue to explore the wonderful world of nature, and the nonsense being little human interest accounts from my present and past experiences. Thanks for joining me.