Monthly Archives: November 2014


On November 26, Ed and I took a leisurely walk in Saguaro National Park East. Even this late in the year there were a number of plants in full and glorious bloom, notably the Paper Flower.

paper flower


Paper flowers (Psilostrophe cooperi) with a prickly pear in the center.






Our attention was drawn more to the cactuses, especially the dominant cactus of the Sonoran Desert, the Saguaro.  With various losses and new growths, some of them take on amazing forms.

Saguaro odd fellow


The odd shaped saguaro









Saguaro oddfellow base


The base of the odd fellow. The brown, I believe, is made by termites.




When they have completed their life cycle, they shed their thick green skin, and the mushy interior, to reveal the long, thin wooden ribs that form a skeleton.

Sauaro w skeleton


The ribs of the skeleton also extend into the arms








Normally a saguaro does not grow arms until it is about sixty years old. We saw a small one (that could have been twenty years old), with a branch, and wondered about it. Perhaps it grew an arm due to an injury. Then we saw a short one with two symmetrical arms at the top, like bunny ears. Saguaro baby with baby

The new arm is at the base on the left. What looks like an arm on the right is a small cactus just beyond it.






Saguaro two ears







Our special interest was in the nursery plants that support Saguaros in their very vulnerable early years. For some reason we had not until then, paid much attention to what particular plants provide shade and shelter for the saguaro seedlings. On this short walk we identified six different species, some of which were quite a surprise to us.

Saguaro nurse by opuntiaSaguaro w creosoteSguaro w chollaSaguaro condaliaSguaro by mesquiteSaguaro nursed by palo verde

Two saguaros nursed by a prickly pear






On the left nursed by creosote, on the right by a cholla


Outgrowing the nurse plant, in this case Mexican crucillo (Condalia warnockii)






A fairly large group under a mesquite tree








One saguaro growing under a Paloverde. Note how the central trunk broke off, and a large arm extends to the right.




Saguaros around mommaThen we came across a semicircle of huge saguaros. Lying at the center of the circle was a fallen Paloverde tree, its branches extending in all directions from the center. The saguaros looked as if they were standing at attention to honor their fallen mother.

Almost as far as the eye could see saguaros towered above the other vegetation. What a remarkable plant. What a rich desert!


Hiking in November is special. With the sun lower in the sky the light is different, the air is cool, and though most of the flowers have completed their summer blooming, there are enough still around to delight the heart and the eye.

Dave and I hiked up stream in Molino Basin, and came to this little pool of water. The night before the temperature had dropped almost to the freezing point, so we knew the water would be cool. The air was mild, and we both enjoyed standing in the water in our bare feet.

Frank in pool


Here am I standing in cool water and loving it.







I was particularly fascinated with the way in which the leaves that have fallen into the stream distort the normally flat surface of the water. At the right angle the sun reflects off of these depressions creating the effect of having each leaf rimmed with stars. Dave reminded me that the mathematical name for that is a meniscus.

Leaf in h20


Notice the ring of light around the shadow. Note too how the shadow of the stem is much fatter than the stem.







About a week later Ed and I hiked into Milagrosa (miraculous) canyon.

Milagrosa cnyn


Milagrosa canyon in the center of the picture





Our appreciation of the beauty of the grasses was more than canceled out by the realization that the two shown here are invasive and really do not belong in Arizona (Fountain Grass and Natal Grass – the one that is a deeper pink).


Mixture of Fountain grass and Natal grass





We came to the spot where we saw honeycombs on the cliff the last time we were in this canyon. At a respectful distance we watched with our binoculars as the bees in super slow motion, made their way around the combs.

Ed looking at hive


Ed looking at the cliff with the honey comb








The honeycomb left of the saguaro






On the way into the canyon we saw a saguaro whose single trunk had split into five. On the way out we saw another one up close, and realized that the central trunk had broken off, and clearly the center was gone.

Saguaro stumped 2

Saguaro stumped






On the left, a single trunk split into five. Above on split into three.


We may have seen as many as twenty flowering species on this little hike, and expect to see plants in bloom even up to Christmas.


About ten days ago Ed and I hiked in Marshall Gulch, just above 8000 feet in elevation. Though it was toward the end of October there was till plenty of color in the maple leaves. I was particularly fascinated with the way in which the leaves that have fallen into the stream distort the normally flat surface of the water. At the right angle the sun reflects off of these depressions creating the effect of having each leaf rimmed with stars. Leaf dimples







We passed a fallen tree, and noticed that the cut end of the tree was populated with a number of fungi, in a variety of colors.Stump with fungus


I wonder how many different fungi are on this log





The core of another log had evidently been burned out in one of the mountain fires. We found the overlapping scale effect quite interesting. Log core

The inside of this log looks a little like the outside bark of the Alligator Juniper





The temperature has finally dropped a little and walking in the desert is comfortable and rewarding. Ed and I had a pleasant amble in Saguaro National Park East this week and saw more than a dozen plant species in bloom. In addition we enjoyed seeing the remarkable nest of the Cactus wren (ampylorhynchus brunneicapillus, State bird of Arizona), in the densely thorned Jumping Cholla (Cylindropuntia Bigelovii). The nest was at least a foot long, shaped like an elongated football, lying horizontal with an opening at the end. Cactus wren nest


Ed admiring the Cactus wren nest

The opening is to the left in this picture







We also found a chain-fruit cholla (Cylindropuntia fulgida), with a beautifully formed nest. Ed suggested it might belong to a curve-billed thrasher (Toxostoma curvirostre). Chain fruit w nest


This nest is almost in the center of the plant





A Barrel cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) normally forms a single round ball, extending to a long cylinder as it grows, with a crown of flowers, and later fruit at the top. We saw one that had an extra layer, possibly a separate barrel cactus growing on top of it, with fruit. Barrel double



The double-barrel cactus





Barrell FR



Looking down on the fruit of a normal barrel cactus







Hiking in Molino basin, we came across a Mexican blue oak (Quercus oblongifolia) that had fallen some time ago, and was now being cut up. I found the cross-section fascinating. The heart-wood had rotted out, and left an empty center with star-like channels growing toward the bark. Quercus oblongifolia cutthrough



The fallen Mexican blue oak




The growing season is slowing down, but there is still a wealth of beauty to enjoy.