Monthly Archives: November 2013


A few days ago we had some good rain in Arizona. The  gauge at our house registered almost two inches. Since our annual rainfall is just under eleven inches, that was quite an event. When Ed and I went hiking today in Saguaro National Park East, we could see large areas of damp earth but no running water.

For the first two hours of the hike we saw no flowers in bloom at all. The Zinnias (Zinnia acerosa) had dried up blooms, as did the Cooper’s paperflower (Psilostrophe cooperi). We especially noticed the Saguaros. This is a plant that needs to spend its early years under the canopy of some other plant, which serves as a nursery plant. We came across a Palo Verde with nine saguaros in its shade (only six show up in this photograph). It is quite a family.

Saguaros under palo verde











Later, at the top of a cliff we saw a creosote bush with a baby saguaro growing right in the middle.

Saguaro under creosote








And then we saw one probably forty years old, right along an ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), which evidently provided enough shade to protect the plant in its infancy. We had never noticed this as a nursery plant before.

Sauaro under ocotillo










We found a barrel cactus (Ferocactus sp.) that had very recently fallen over. We guessed it was just over five feet tall. These cacti point their heads to the south, toward the sun. When they get above five feet they usually fall over from their own weight.


Barrel fallen







Later we found another that was even taller and was still standing. We thought that this was the tallest barrel cactus we had ever seen. In this picture you can see that it is about the same height as Ed.
Barrel standing











We more or less gave up our search for flowers in bloom, and then came across a Slender goldenweed (Xanthisma gracilis) and later a Trixis plant (Trixis californica) with several blooms.









Recently I heard from the Desert Museum that 1,970 copies of “Mountain Wildflowers” had been sold since its first introduction in April 2011. That averages out at selling more than two copies a day for two and a half years, for which I am very grateful. 750 copies of Mountain Trees have been sold since it was published last year.

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving.


A few days ago I went to Arizona Lithographers and picked up their 2014 calendar. I knew that they included one of my paintings in the calender, but wanted to see it in print. This is part of the back of the calendar with  a portion of the August page from a painting I did of Seven Falls in the Catalina Mountains (the painting on the right in the middle row).









Yesterday Ed and I decided to revisit a trail I have hiked many times. It is a section of the Arizona Trail (a trail that goes from Mexico to Utah, a total of about 800 miles.) We drove to Molino Basin in the Catalina Mountains, and set off across the road and toward the east. It was cool with light breezes. This late in November we did not expect to see anything in bloom, but right away we saw several camphorweed plants with a few blooms (Heterotheca subaxillaris). Then one lone wire lettuce (Stephanomeria sp.), and several turpentine bushes (Ericameria laricifolia) loaded with flowers.

Turpentine bush



The leaves of the Turpentine bush smell like – you guessed it – turpentine.




It took us a while to realize that there was another plant in full and glorious bloom, one of my “invisible” flowers. We were not sure of the exact species, but it is one of the euphorbias, possibly Spurge (Euphorbia pediculifera). The plant was very dry and somewhat shriveled, and it was not until we got home that I could see that it was really in bloom. In fact it was loaded with blossoms, each one very minute.

Euphorb bellota saddle1

Here is the plant seen from above

It is about 6 inches across








Euphorb bellota saddle5

Euphorb bellota saddle2


Here I am holding two little branches of the plant. If you look closely you can see the individual flowers.






This is one flower greatly enlarged (the actual flower is less than a tenth of an inch wide)

There is a lot going on in this tiny flower.





The hillside we climbed is covered with shin daggers (Agave schottii). There were no flowers, but plenty of flower stalks, and some of them sported little baby agaves – pups – plants that were starting to form on the mother ready to drop to the ground and assert their independence. Neither of us had ever noticed shin daggers sprouting babies like this before, though we had seen other agaves that have this skill.
Bellota view
Our turn-around point afforded us a view to the south of Agua caliente hill, and behind it the Rincon mountains. It was a truly gorgeous day, and another delightful hike.


I had agreed to give a talk at the “Meet the Monument” event, put on by the Friends of Ironwood Forest on Saturday, November 16.  This is an area that has appealed to me. I had often looked at Ragged Top mountain driving along I 10, hoping one day to explore this part of southern Arizona. The route took me along Silverbell Road which turns into a dirt road for over five miles before arriving at the Monument. I did not see another car for miles and wondered if I would have only three or four people for my talk. This thought was immediately dispelled when I turned the corner, and there, stretching for well over a quarter of a mile, were cars parked along the roadside. People were milling around, some about to go on a plant walk with Ries Lindley from the Native Plant Society, others going on photography walks, some visiting the various booths set up or going to see the Yaqui Deer Dancers. We were warmly greeted by Lahsha Brown, and other volunteers.
Ironwood crowd
I was the lead off speaker with about 40 people attending my talk. I talked about trees in general and then about Ironwood and other trees of the Sonoran Desert. A number of other talks  followed. There were lectures on plants, bighorn sheep, archeology, herpetology, and other topics. I learned a lot, including the suggestion that this part of the Sonoran Desert could better support life than the uplands of Arizona, because of the variety of plants many of which provided food and other useful materials. They also had extensive irrigation systems. Today there is a healthy population of bighorn sheep.



Ironwood tree flanked by saguaros in Ironwood National Monument




The crowd kept on growing until an estimated 300 people were at the event enjoying a gorgeous day and one of the most interesting parts of Arizona. As I left I knew that it would not be long before I returned to take more photographs of the views, vegetation and wildlife of this fascinating area.

Ragged top2

Ragged Top with its distinctive profile


Ed and I hiked yesterday along the Douglas Spring Trail at the East end of Speedway Boulevard in Tucson. It was a beautiful day, cool, with a good breeze blowing. We saw only one plant species in bloom, Burroweed,(Isocoma tenuisecta). Most of its flowers had dried up.

Isocoma tenuisectaPL









I did notice that some of the Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) bushes had flower buds. This reminded me of the time several years ago, when I was looking to find the plant in bloom as an illustration for Charlie Kane’s book, “Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest”. I started looking in February,  and it was already too late. The plants had finished blooming. I had to wait 11 months to try again. So here I was in November, and the male flowers were already in bud. I found some female plants with the remnants of last year’s fruit on them.


Simmondisa chinensis

My painting of Jojoba for Charlie Kane’s book



Recently I have been reading – “Among Whales” by  Roger  Payne (1995). In it he describes the devastation in the whale population caused by whalers from all over the world. He points out that many whales are hunted for their oil. Sperm oil comes from sperm whales, and is inedible. It is not really an oil, but a wax, and was used as a lubricant for fine machinery. It was found that the plant we were looking at today, Jojoba, produces nuts rich in the same liquid wax that is found in sperm whale oil. Since they have been able to grow this plant in desert areas, it has provided an excellent substitute for sperm oil, and in so doing has saved many of the world’s whales. Evidently it has many uses, including skin care, detergent, fuel, disinfectant and perfumes.

We stopped along the trail to look at a Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea). It was about 15 feet tall, but instead of coming straight up from the ground as most of them do, it came out from the base at an angle, and then pointed to the sky. On closer inspection we saw that the base had once supported one of the saguaro giants of the desert. In this picture you can see the base, the ribs of the decayed part of the plant, and the still-living arm.

Saguaro stumpSaguaro tall




It is very unusual for a Saguaro to grow an arm at the base. We wondered if a near-by Saguaro fused with it, or whether it grew a basal arm when the main trunk began to deteriorate.



We came across some Desert oregano (Aloysia wrightii). Their leaves were very much shriveled but still contained the fragrance for which this plant is famous.











At our turn-around point we wondered where to sit and enjoy a snack. Seeing nothing on the trail we walked down a stream bed and found a cool area out of the wind.

Ed among grasses







After a very pleasant respite, we rose to go and then noticed, just a short distance south of us. a rock with lichen shaped like a target.



Last Saturday I had the pleasure of giving a talk to a group of people at our Church. They were treasurers for congregations in various parts of the world including a gentleman from the Ivory Coast who did not speak English. I dug deep into my memory and conjured up some French phrases so that he would feel included: “Bonsoir mesdames et messieurs. . .” After a day of meetings the people were ready to laugh. I told them about how at my retirement as pastor of this congregation ten years ago, we were given, among other things,  a set of luggage and a camera.
When I showed this photograph of the well-worn luggage, there were ripples of laughter. We had lugged them to various destinations such as: England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Minnesota, Bryn Athyn Pennsylvania and Berkeley California.




Later I showed this picture of me using a camera.



The moment the picture came on the screen, they all laughed. Then I told them how I have had the experience of lying down on the ground, grey hair flying, and having a passerby approach with deep concern, “Sir, are you all right?”
More laughter. But the biggest laugh came when I said, “This picture was taken by my psychiatrist.” Howls of laughter. I had not finished my sentence – it was my psychiatrist friend, Ed.

Anyway, it proved to be a very pleasant evening, and I achieved one of my goals, to stimulate interest in the beauty and wonder of grasses. I showed them flower and tree pictures, plus some of the grass pictures I have posted on this blog.


Ed and I were planning our weekly nature hike. It is much cooler in Tucson now that October is almost over, which would suggest a hike in the valley, but we wanted to take one last look at the golden fall colors in Marshall Gulch. We feared that we were too late.

Just before arriving in Summerhaven we noticed a group of four or five wild turkeys, one spreading its gorgeous tail feathers. We were driving at the time and there was no chance to catch a picture of this healthy-looking group. turkeys

Wild Turkeys from a different trip up the mountain




We parked in the Gulch, and I suggested to Ed that we might see as many as four species in flower. He thought I was being terribly optimistic. After all, this was the last day in October, and temperatures in the mountain drop below freezing at night this time of the year. Four weeks ago, October 2, the fall colors were just getting started in the Gulch and we counted 37 wildflower species in bloom. Today the trees were mostly bare, though we did find many beauties, like the one in this photograph.Gold maple

Big Tooth Maple



Within the first ten yards on the trail we saw our first flower, Horseweed (Conyza canadensis). Not long after that Bitter Dock (Rumex obtusifolius) with its nearly invisible flowers. For a long while we saw nothing. As we neared our turning-around point, we spotted a rather small paintbrush (Castilleja sp.), and then three healthy looking Arizona fleabanes (Erigeron arizonicus). We had achieved our goal, and now it was time to retrace our steps back to the car.

But first we had a very pleasant encounter with Jasmine, the beautiful donkey shown in this picture, with her friend Leigh Anne who pointed out that just a few days ago a heavy wind storm swept through and tore many of the leaves off of the maple trees.








Soon after that we met up with a group of three people, and learned that they were Philip, Ellen and Marie Claude. After an enjoyable conversation, we turned to leave them and almost immediately saw our first “return” flower, a rather scruffy looking Richardson’s geranium (Geranium richardsonii). We announced the finding to our trio of new friends. When Ellen came over to look she asked: “Is it that yellow flower?”  The geranium was white. We looked down, and sure enough there was a flower we hadn’t seen, a MacDougal’s groundsel (Senecio eremophilus). As we continued down the trail Ed and I, almost at the same moment, wondered if this might be one of those hikes where we see more flowers on the return journey than on the outward one. Little did we know. By the time we reached the parking lot we had seen 13 new species, for a grand total of 17 in all. We had seen more than three times as many flowers on the second half of the hike as on the first! And some of them, like the Palmer’s lupine, were in splendid condition.
What a wonderful time we had feasting our eyes on the remains of the fall colors, catching glimpses of all those wildflowers, and enjoying the company of such interesting people on the trail. We found our gold.