Monthly Archives: July 2014


The rains have come, and the mountains are springing back to life. For some plants the rains came too late, as you can see in this Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum). We saw a patch of them that had already turned brown as if calling it quits for the year. Fortunately most of the ferns have survived.


The fern with its fall colors





And there are wild flowers everywhere!

On a recent hike we found ourselves studying the fallen trees and noticing that the logs had yellow highlights. It seems as if there is a fungus, also responding to the rain, that attacks only certain parts of the fallen trees. The yellow spots are knot holes, remnants of branches when the tree was very much younger.


















The horned lizards (often called horned toads, but they are really lizards)  are much in evidence, posing for quite a long time.

horned lizard 16









On my recent trip Ellen told me about a grass in bloom, Squirreltail grass (Elymus elymoides). I took some photographs, then noticed in my grass books that the awns on the head of the grass splay out. I took a piece home with me. Within a few hours it had opened up into this wonderful form.

Elymus elymoides 3



Squirreltail grass

The penny is there to give scale







Elymus elymoides 5

Elymus elymoides 8










The had of the grass closed   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and open

Today I went looking for more grasses but got distracted by coming across Desert spoon plants (Dasylirion wheeleri or Sotol), with the flowers within reach. We have one in our front yard. The flower stalk is over 10 feet tall, and half of that is covered with male flowers. This is one of those plants that has separate male and female plants (dioecious). I have been wanting to use my close up lens to see what the actual flowers looked like, and today was my day. I found many plants in Molino Basin. some of each sex with flowers near enough to the ground to be reached. After blooming the stalks stay on the plant for over a year.
Dasylirion 3fDasylirion 3m



The left picture is the female and the right is the male plant








Dasylirion 7fDasylirion 7m2


On the left, the female flowers, and the males on the right









Dasylirion 9f



A close up of the female flowers






From now on every trip up the mountain will bring new pleasures.


The Santa Catalina mountains, like the whole of South Eastern Arizona, are very dry. It has been months since we had significant rain. A group of us hiked on the Oracle Ridge Trail. I did not expect to see any plants in flower, but there were at least seventeen species in bloom, though not in great numbers. Many plants were shriveled up. In a few weeks we should see two or three times as many.

One of our group noticed the twisted branches of a long-dead tree. He had been on the trail recently, and said that he had seen a nest on one of the dead branches a few days ago. We stopped to look, and, with the help of our binoculars, were able to make out a tiny clump of matter which was the nest. We were told that it was a broad-tailed humming bird’s nest. As we studied it, the hummingbird appeared, flew around, and settled in. In the photograph you can make out her silhouette.  Hummingbird on branch



Broad-tailed hummingbird on her nest





We were also told that the magnificent Parry’s agave were in bloom. The ridge is known for being buffeted with high winds. One year I found that almost all of the flower stalks had been broken off. This year there were a number of magnificent blooms. In the picture below you see Amy admiring it. I also include a picture of one of the broken stalks. In it the flowers, which are normally at the top of the stalk, are growing out of the sides. In the bud stage they are bright red, opening to reveal beautiful yellow flowers.




The beautiful Parry’s agave





Amy and agave



Amy looking up to the agave blossoms







Agave inflorescence

The inflorescence – note the red forms at the top

are the flower buds








Agave stump

An agave broken off by the wind, with new flower buds








On the return journey Amy noticed what seemed to be a large butterfly, in the middle of a plant. It turned out to be a silk moth, possibly Glover’s.

Silk moth


Silk moth






As I drove down the mountains I noticed the storm clouds moving in. By evening time, safe at home, we could hear the thunder and rain. To our great relief, it seems that the drought will soon be broken.