Monthly Archives: October 2013


When I was first learning the flowers of the Catalina Mountains, I took a particular interest in the coral bean (Erythrina flabelliformis), with its beautiful red tubular flowers. I knew it grew in Molino Basin, about 4500 feet in elevation, and that the flowers usually came out before the leaves. This made the flowers easier for the pollinators to spot, but somehow I found it difficult to find them. That first year of looking, by the time I found the plants they had pretty well finished blooming, and I determined to learn where they were so that I could find them more quickly the following year. Erythrina flabelliformis1hillErythrina flabelliformis3Erythrina flabellisformis3

That fall I drove up into Molino Basin and dotted all over the hillsides were the bright yellow leaves of the coral bean. They were very easy to spot, as you can see in this photograph. I made a mental note of a number of them, and when I returned the following June found them easily.

Erythrina flabelliformis2





Here is a close up of one, with a desert spoon shrub the other side of the rock.






This picture shows the plant with flowers as well as leaves. This is unusual, since the flowers usually come before the first leaf.







I learned that this plant is not really a shrub. South of us, in Mexico, it grows into a substantial tree. But here the winters are too cold, so they never grow much above 6 feet in height. One day while exploring the stream bed in Molino Basin, I came across this coral bean plant with the roots exposed by erosion. The roots were as thick as my arm. Clearly this root system could support a fairly large tree.

In 2006 my wife and I spent three months living in Australia, mostly suburban Sydney, and one day walking in the neighborhood I came across a thirty-foot erythrina tree in full and glorious bloom. It is the same genus but not the same species as the one in Arizona.

In addition to the gorgeous red flowers, the plant produces beautifully colored seeds, varying from brown to deep red, and separated by little white cusErythrina flabellisformis6Erythrina flabellisformis8hions, as you can see in the final photograph..


Ed and I were on the return leg of our hike in Marshall Gulch in the Catalina Mountains today. We came across some flowers we had not seen on the outward journey, especially the beautiful blue Mountain Lobelia. Lobelia

I said: “Will wonders never cease?” and Ed replied: “That exact phrase has been running through my head for the last ten minutes.” I suggested that he might have planted it in my mind by some mental transference. At least it showed how much we were sharing a sense of happiness and wonder.

When we set out on the hike we expected that now, early in October, we might see some of the fall colors for which this part of the mountain is famous. We did not expect to see many flowers, not at 8000 feet. It proved to be the reverse. The fall colors were just barely starting. See this spray of big-tooth maple leaves.


And there were lots of flowers. We counted 25 on the outward journey and 12 more on the return. (See the list below)





At our turn-around point Ed noticed a plant across the stream bed. We paused, took out our binoculars, and realized that it was a collection of Spikenard plants (Aralia bicrenata). This is a plant that we have seen in only a few places on the mountain. And there, in their fall colors, was a family of at least a half a dozen plants. This photograph shows one of them.









We were surprised to see many Canadian violets. We noted one that had a lot of pink (they are usually pure white.) I also caught this picture of a seed pod that had recently burst open to fling out the seeds for the coming season.
Violet fruit Violet
Plants found flowering in Marshall Gulch, Oct 2, 2013
Ageratina  herbacea            Fragrant Snakeroot
Aquilegia chrysantha           Golden Columbine
Arenaria lanuginosa subsp. saxosa       Sandwort
Artemisia ludoviciana           Wormwood
Brickellia grandiflora            Brickellia
Brickellia rusbyi                   Brickellia
Castilleja austromontana     Mountain Paintbrush
Cirsium wheeleri                  Wheeler Thistle
Commelina dianthifolia         Dayflower
Conyza canadensis             Horseweed
Desmodium arizonicum        Arizona Tick Clover
Draba helleriana                  Heller’s Draba
Erigeron arizonicus              Arizona Fleabane
Erigeron  neomexicanum     New Mexico Fleabane
Galium mexicanum               Mexican Bedstraw
Geranium caespitosum        Wild Geranium
Geranium richardsonii          Richardson’s Geranium
Hedeoma hyssopifolia          Mock Pennyroyal
Hieracium crepidispermum (lemmoni)  Lemmon Hawkweed
Laennecia schiedeana         Laennecia
Lathyrus graminifolius          Peavine
Lobelia anatina                    Mountain Lobelia
Lupinus palmeri                   Palmer Lupine
Mimulus guttatus                 Yellow Monkeyflower
Mirabilis albida                    White Four O’clock
Penstemon barbatus           Red Penstemon
Pseudocymopterus montanus   Mountain Parsley
Pseudognaphalium macounii     Cudweed
Rumex obtusifolius              Bitter Dock
Satureja vulgaris  (Clinopodium)  Wild Basil
Senecio bigelovii                Nodding Groundsel
Silene scouleri                   Scouler’s Catchfly
Solidago velutina  subsp.sparsiflora     Sparse-flowered Goldenrod
Stevia plummerae               Plummer’s Stevia
Taraxacum officinale           Common Dandelion
Trifolium pinetorum             Pine Clover
Viola canadensis                Canada Violet

On the way up the mountain we saw crews working in Bear Canyon, putting up barriers to the washrooms and picnic areas. My first thought was: “The shut down of the government has come to the Catalina Mountains.”  When we started the hike in Marshall Gulch the bathrooms were open, but when we returned it was clear that the crew had made it to the top of the mountain, as you can see from this photograph.


Fortunately all of the trails are still open, but the bathrooms, picnic table and Ranger station are closed until the government is allowed to get back to work.


Some years ago I hiked Molino Basin in the Catalina Mountains once a week so I got to know it very well. The cover of the Mountain Wildflower book shows a picture of the basin seen from a saddle on the east side. Here is a similar view.
Molino basin

There are about 600 flowering species in the Catalina Mountains and over half of them are in this one area. By hiking it on a regular basis for over a year I got to appreciate the great variety of plants that grow here. My particular goal today was to find the rare and beautiful Rivina humilis (rouge plant), which I saw in bud a few weeks ago.


Rivina humilisFL copy

Today I did find the plant. As far as I could see it was finished flowering but it was buried so deep in a thicket that I could not really tell. I was not able to get a close up picture, but at least I know it is still there, though not in great numbers. As you can see from the list below there were almost 60 species in bloom on my two-mile walk, so I was well rewarded for my efforts.





Right at the parking lot there is a climbing milkweed. The flowers come in bunches and I decided to photograph just one on its own.


Funastrum cynanchoides9









In the stream bed I found a number of the Mock Pennyroyal plants. This is similar to a plant of the same name that grows along the mountain trails at the top of the mountain, but has interesting differences.


Hedeoma dentata7face
I am sure I passed by many flowers too small to notice. The list includes some guesses. I did not take the time to do a careful inspection to determine the exact species, so there may be some errors in the list. At least it gives an idea of the wide variety of plants still blooming as we approach the fall.





Acacia angustissima          White –Ball Acacia
Amaranthus fimbriatus    Careless weed
Amaranthus palmeri       Careless weed
Amauriopsis (Bahia) dissecta    Ragleaf Bahia
Ambrosia confertiflora     Slimleaf Bursage – lots of it
Anisacanthus thurberi       Desert Honeysuckle – one plant
Artemisia dracunculus       False Tarragon
Artemisia ludoviciana     Wormwood – lots of it
Asclepias linaria         Pine-leaf Milkweed – one plant
Baccharis sarothroides      Desert Broom – in bud
Brickellia californica       California Brickellia
Brickellia rusbyi       Brickellia
Brickellia venosa       Brickellia
Calliandra eriophylla         Fairy Duster – one plant
Carminatia tenuiflora        Plume Weed
Datura wrightii         Sacred Datura
Dieteria asteroides        Narrow-leaf Aster – lots of it
Epilobium canum ssp. latifolium   Hummingbird Trumpet
Erigeron divergens     Spreading Fleabane
Eriogonum polycladon      Sorrel Eriogonum
Eriogonum wrightii           Wright’s Buckwheat
Eriogonum fasciculatum   Flat-topped Buckwheat
Euphorbia pediculifera  Spurge
Funastrum (Sarcostemma) cynanchoides var. hartwegii  Climbing Milkweed (picture above)
Glandularia gooddingii       Goodding Verbena
Gomphrena sonorae         Globe Amaranth – maybe just fruit
Gossypium thurberi         Desert Cotton
Gymnosperma glutinosum       Gumhead – lots of it
Hedeoma dentata      Mock Pennyroyal (picture above)
Heliomeris  longifolia var. annua       Annual Goldeneye
Heterotheca subaxillaris      Camphorweed
Hymenothrix wrightii         Wright Beeflower
Ipomoea costellata         Crest-rib Morning Glory
Ipomoea barbatisepala     Morning Glory (blue)
Ipomoea cristulata (coccinea)       Scarlet Creeper
Ipomoea hederacea       Ivy-leaf  Morning Glory
Mentzelia isolata         Isolated Blazing-Star
Oenothera caespitosa       Tufted Evening- Primrose – one plant
Phaseolus acutifolius var. tenuifolius   Tepary Bean
Porophyllum ruderale var. macrocephalum    Poreleaf
Pseudognaphalium canescens Wright’s cudweed
Rivina humilis       Pigeon Berry, Rouge Plant  – in fruit
Salsola tragus        Russian Thistle
Sanvitalia abertii         Abert’s Dome
Sphaeralcea ambigua var. rosacea     Desert Mallow
Sphaeralcea fendleri var. venusta   Fendler Mallow
Sphaeralcea laxa       Caliche Globe Mallow
Stachys coccinea         Texas Betony – one plant
Stephanomeria pauciflora      Wire Lettuce
Viguiera dentata var. lancifolia     Lance-leaf Goldeneye
Xanthisma gracile      Slender Goldenweed – lots and lots of it