Monthly Archives: February 2014


February has been a month full of interest.   More and more plant species are coming into bloom. I had the pleasure of speaking twice – the first in Sierra Vista to the Cochise Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society (AZNPS) on “Invisible Flowers and Other Wonders” , and two days later giving a similar speech to the Arizona Botany Meeting 2014, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum,  “Taking a Closer Look.”  Both talks gave me a chance to share pictures I have taken, some looking at familiar flowers close up, others showing “invisible flowers”, flowers that are so small or insignificant that people walk by them not knowing that they are in bloom. People responded very favorably to the two talks.
At the conference I had the pleasure of making contact with people who share a love of plants, and all things in nature. The day ended with a dinner, and a speech by local raconteur Petey Mesquite, whose radio talks have entertained people for years. He proved to be a most engaging speaker with his stories, pictures and songs. What a delightful way to end the day!

The next day there were optional nature walks. I went on the one led by Jim Verrier. There were about 15 to 17 people on the hike, including some specializing in certain aspects of botany, like sedges and rushes.  Everyone had something to contribute to the richness of our experience, and we all shared the love of discovery.

Several times our group gathered around an apparently bare patch of earth, some of us on all fours. People gave us strange looks as they walked by in bewilderment. We were definitely looking at things that they were not seeing.

We found some interesting “invisible” plants, including Mouse-tail (Myosurus cupulatus, in the Ranunculus family). This is a very small plant that grows in wet places in the early spring. I have looked for it in Molino Basin and Gordon Hirayabashi this year without success. Evidently it is too dry there. But we were in Catalina State Park, where there is some water still flowing even though it has not rained much in the last eight weeks. Another small plant is Miner’s lettuce (Claytonia perfoliata), so called because it is an edible little plant and its stems are perfoliate, going right through the center of the leaves. The tiny white flowers come out of the top leaf like a miniature lotus in its lily pad.




Myosurus cupulatusPL



Mouse-tail – a plant just a few inches high. The tail grows longer and longer and turns brown.








Myosurus cupulatusPLb


This is my most recent picture of the flower stalk of Mouse-tail with a penny to show the scale

Myosurus cupulatus9




Claytonia perfoliataFL7Here is a close up showing the anthers.








Miner’s lettuce close up, with one open flower and lots of buds






Looking down on a Miner’s lettuce plant. It is named after John Clayton, an18th century botanist from Virginia.
Claytonia perfoliataPL copy
We had two very special plant people on the walk, our leader,  Jim Verrier and one of Arizona’s most knowledgeable botanists, Richard Felger. Each of the other people on the hike brought some special knowledge of nature, which made for a very rich and enlightening experience.

We came across just a few examples of another plant that I met in Catalina State Park last year and regretted not finding it with flowers or fruit (Common pussy paws, Cistanthe monandra).  Also last year I did not have my super macro lens. We found that the plant was mostly in fruit, but Richard Felger pointed out that there were some very tiny flowers. Its species name  “monandra” which means “having only one anther”, which you can see in the picture.

Cistanthe monandraPL


Common pussy paws, a plant in the Portulaca family that looks as if it has been stepped on.


Cistanthe monandraFR




A close up showing lots of fruit on the Common pussy paws.

Cistanthe monandraFL2


A very close look at what I think is the flower








KXCI presents:
“Growing Native with Petey Mesquitey”

The following is an excellent website for looking up the meaning of plant names:

California Plant Names:
Latin and Greek Meanings and Derivations
A Dictionary of Botanical and Biographical Etymology
Compiled by Michael L. Charters

A recent and excellent website for Arizona flora:


Thanks to our alert friend David Hollombe, we know that the mystery flower noted on January 31, was not a flower at all, but a discoloration created by the fungus Puccinia monoica. He suggested it might be on the plant: Boechera perennans. This week I confirmed his suggestion. The infected plant is in a hillside with a number of boechera growing near it, and though the upper leaves on the infected plant are very different, the lower ones match the other plants near by. Boechera, or as it used to be called, Arabis, is called Rock-cress, and is a perennial (which is what perenanns means). It can have pink and white flowers on the same flowering stalk as in the second picture. Boechera perennans fungus5


Holding the top of the infected plant






Boechera perennans6



This is what the top normally looks like



Boechera perennans7pink





Some flowers are pink

Boechera perennans7white




On the same inflorescence, some are white







Later that day my wife and I saw another plant with both pink and white versions of its flowers, the tiny Slender phlox (Microsteris gracilis.) It blooms very early in the year, in this case February, and is only an inch or so high when it starts to bloom. This is a very sweet little flower.

Phlox gracilis3 pink white



Two of the Slender phlox plants, showing the pink and white versions

Phlox gracilis7pink



Phlox gracilis7white



The pink close up







And the white





Today I was hiking with Ed and we saw many examples of a lomatium plant. I have known this plant for years, and so far my botany friends have been unable to identify it. The flowers are similar to Lomatium nevadense, but the foliage is different, and the plant grows much larger (up to a foot high compared to only a few inches for L. nevadense). With my close-up camera I was able to see what the individual flowers of this plant in the carrot family look like. My flower books do not list it. Wikipedia notes that there are 75 species of lomatiums in the world, and it has article on 51 of them. None of them seemed to match this plant. It seems that most of the plants in this genus have yellow flowers. These are white. None of the ones I saw had long thin  leaves. Any suggestions?
Lomatium sp3




Looking down at the mystery Lomatium on the trail


Lomatium sp5





A flower cluster on the Lomatium





Looking more closely at the cluster








A close up of individual flowers in the cluster








The leaves of the mystery lomatium






I am excited about speaking to the Cochise chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society in Sierra Vista tomorrow, and as one of thirteen speakers at the Botany Conference coming up this Saturday at the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum. Both talks will be about taking a closer look, but the species shown will be different (except for one mystery plant.)


An alert individual  (David Hollombe) has pointed out that the false flower we reported on January 31, was produced on a plant by a rust fungus called: Puccinia monoica. The fungus invades the plant and prevents it from flowering. Then it turns the upper leaves yellow, making them look like flower petals. For a moment this deceived us. Evidently it also deceives pollinators who land on it, get frustrated, and fly off, helping the fungus spread. The host plant is usually in the mustard family. Thank you, David. fungus flower


Plant infected with rust fungus







Dave Larson and I went to Milagrosa Canyon (which I recently incorrectly called “Milagro” which is Spanish for “Miracle” instead of Milagrosa, Spanish for “Miraculous”). He wanted to see the honeycombs that Ed and I saw earlier. I had a different camera lens and was able to get a better picture including bees flying in and out. Honeycombs2
Cliff wall with hive










The cliff with the hive (left of the saguaro). Note Dave’s white hat in the foreground



We followed the trail up and to the left, finding a number of new flower species in bloom, like . Arizona fiesta-flower (Pholistoma auritum), Anemone, Twist Flower, and lots more of the Red Justitia.Pholistoma auritum7 We ended up at the base of a Rock climbing-wall. As we sat for our snack we couldn’t help noticing the marvelous echo, and even tested to see if burps would echo back at us (as Dave’s wife would say, “you boys!”). We saw ravens, swallows (or were they swifts?) and hummingbirds flying around. We were eventually joined by some rock climbers.

Arizona fiesta flower with its red, white and blue




The next day Ed and I walked a short distance up the Babat Do’ag. Trail, and found  29 species of wildflowers in bloom, including lots of Gordon’s bladder pod (Physaria gordonii). Noting the harsh weather conditions in other parts of the country we felt especially privileged to be in such miraculous country with warm sun and bright blue skies. Milagrosa canyon



Physaria gordoni7In Milagrosa Canyon looking back to Tucson

Note the remains of a saguaro left center, with its thin wooden skeleton tops curving to the right





Common fiddleneck (Amsinckia intermedia)

My fingers give an idea of scale







Gordon’s bladderpod (Physaria gordonii)


It was a cool, cloudy day, so Ed and I decided to stay in the valley for our weekly hike. Something drew us to explore Milagro Canyon. We found many flower species in bloom, some with only a few specimens, others out in full force, like the gorgeous Indigo Bush (Dalea pulchra) loaded with its wine colored flowers. The other was one that I have not seen very often, Arizona water-willow (Justicia candicans) also called Red justicia (which puzzles me since candicans means “white”.)
Justicia c

Arizona water-willow plant






Justicia c6




The top of Arizona water-willow with lots of blooms



Justicia c7





A close up of two flowers







The stream bed was choked with grasses, most of them invasive species, notably these two bad actors – Fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum) and Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare). Not surprisingly since they are of the same genus, they have similar flowering stalks as shown in this picture. The leaves are very different. Fountain grass has mostly straight leaves that splay out like a fountain. Buffelgrass leaves are wider and more irregular in their growth pattern. Fountain grasses is the dominant species in this canyon and is larger than Buffelgrass.
two bad grasses


On the left is Fountain Grass with straight leaves

On the right is Buffelgrass with irregular leaves


En route Ed began talking about Ragged rock flower (Crossosoma bigelovii), and very soon we spotted some up on the cliff above us. We wondered if we unconsciously noticed it, discussed it, and then spotted it or whether it was just a coincidence that we saw it almost immediately after discussing it. We love it especially for its beautiful scent. Speaking of scent, we were also delighted with the fragrance coming from some mistletoe.



Flat honeycombs


On our way up the rocky canyon, we looked up and saw something like stalactites hanging in a recess in the cliff. Our trusty binoculars revealed that these were honeycombs. Neither of us had ever seen the likes of it. We did not stay to look at it more closely, concerned that the hives might be the work of the infamous killer bees.

We got about as high in the canyon as we wanted to go, and stopped to rest. Sitting down for our break, Ed looked up into the gray sky and saw a glow where the sun was obscured by the clouds. We liked the way this glow was framed by the arms of a saguaro cactus far above us. This was about as much of the sun as we saw all day.
Ed looking up

Ed looking up at the gray sky with fountain grass clumps





saguaro sky

The sun just barely showing through a saguaro cactus







On the return to the car we saw five flower species that we had not noted on the outward journey, making a total of about twenty for the day. Not bad for early February.