Monthly Archives: March 2015


Recently Dave, Lis and I went off the beaten path to climb a hill in the front range of the Catalina Mountains. On the way I saw a large patch of Plectritis (Plectritis ciliosa). This is one of those plants that is so  easily overlooked that it does not really have a common name. The plants are about six  inches high, with an inflorescence that is about the size of a marble with a cluster of small flowers twisted around the head. Its name is from a Greek word which means ‘braided”. I always enjoy seeing this little plant which is not included in most wildflower guides, (not even my own, which I plan to make up for this in a future book.) I managed to get some good close-up pictures, but failed to take a wider view, showing a collection of them in their habitat. I returned two days later to photograph a group of them in their habitat, but couldn’t find a single one! A few days after that, Ed and I were exploring the plants in the Gordon Hirabayashi Camp Ground (formerly called Prison Camp), and found large patches of it. Plectritis ciliosa 1d Looking down at a patch of Plectritis

Plectritis ciliosa 6d A double flower head

Plectritis ciliosa 6 A closer look at the flower head

Plectritis ciliosa 7b An individual flower – many are pinker than this one

On a different walk Dave and I found ourselves in Bear Canyon, resting in the shade by the stream. I was interested in studying and photographing a plant that I have seen many times but not really noticed. At first it looks like a grass, but it is very different. I believe it is Swamp carex (Carex senta), one of a very large family called Sedges. Many look like grasses, but are quite different. I do not fully understand the various parts, but I believe that the pale yellow top, like a bottle brush, contains the male flowers, and that the female flowers may be lower down on the plant with yellow tips.

Carex senta 3b A patch of Swamp carex in the stream bed, with previous years’ leaves forming a massive mat

Carex senta 3c A look at a single plant with the inflorescence

Carex senta 5 The penny gives scale to this picture of the flower parts of the Carex

Carex senta 9 A close up – with all kinds of fascinating bits and pieces

Last Saturday, on a very pleasant nature walk with the Arizona Native Plant Society, we saw many flowers of interest. Walking back by the road we couldn’t help noticing how much the ground around many of the prickly pear cactus were all dug up. Various theories were advanced until one person knew the answer. This is Skunk work. Evidently skunks love burrowing around the roots of the cactus to get grubs, beetles, and other goodies.
Skunk works The ground around a Prickly pear  dug up by skunks
On recent walks I have come across two new flowers. One must be one of the chickweeds, (Cerastium), and the other looks like a petunia. Since this is in a camp site, I suspect that the petunia was planted by one of the campers or the camp director.  It is very pretty, but looks out of place in this mountain setting.

DSC_0037 The mystery chickweed

Petunia The Petunia (or whatever it is)

Flowers at the top

February 13th was a beautiful day on the mountains. Dave and I went looking for some Iris plants I saw last year to see if there might be signs of them this early. Nothing. But then, on the west end of the Butterfly trail, the delightful Red Fuzz Saxifrage plants (Saxifraga eriophora) were starting up. With their mixture of red and green leaves, red flower stalk, and white or pink flowers, they are quite a sight. Some years I have even seen them poking through the snow. I went there again today and caught a picture of a flower cluster, glistening from the recent rain. It was a cool day on the mountain (38 degrees), and the flowers looked like they were doing fine.


Red FuzzLooking down on the Red Fuzz Saxifrage plants

Saxifraga eriophoraFL2A close-up with my thumb giving scale

Saxifraga eriophora 5Another close-up wet with recent rain
We also saw Periwinkle and  Dandelion at 8000 feet. The beautiful Valerian (used as a medicinal plant for sleep problems)  has buds and soon will be in bloom (Valeriana arizonica).

Vinca majorPeriwinkle (Vinca Major) already in bloom

Valeriana arizonicaMy watercolor painting of Valerian

Jim and I were driving along on our way home from botanizing in the desert. Out of the clear blue sky I asked him to tell me about Tackstem (Calycoseris wrightii). He wondered why I asked the question, and I explained that my chief Botanical advisor on the Flower book, Joan,  had come to the conclusion that Tackstem does not occur on the Catalina mountains, and is fairly rare in this part of Arizona. If we see a white flower like this in the Catalina Mountains it is almost certainly Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana). He agreed, and said that sometimes, depending on weather conditions, etc, Tackstem may be found along some road sides. The flowers of the two are nearly identical, but the Tackstem has little tack-shaped glands growing along the stem, and base of the flowers.

Rafinesquia newomexicana FLtop Chicory flower

Calycoseris wrightii FLTackstem flower

Rafinesquia neomexicana base of FLChicory at the base of the flower

Calycoseris wrightii tacks2Base of the Tackstem showing the glands

A few minutes later I noticed some white flowers out of the corner of my eye and I suggested we stop and have a look. When we got out of the car and walked back to the flowers, we found that they were Tackstems! This is the first time I had ever met and photographed the plant.

Every time we go out, we see more flowers in bloom. On a recent hike I counted over 60 different flowering species. What a treat.


Green desertThe forest floor in Saguaro National Park East is carpeted in green, like a well tended
golf course. But what looks like grass is really thousands and thousands of small plants with tiny white flowers in the Borage family, possibly Bearded Cryptantha ( Cryptantha barbigera. )




Cryptantha barbigeraPLBearded Cryptantha










Three ladies

Three of the women admiring a Saguaro






Yesterday a group of women accompanied me in search of an interesting plant there: Texas Desert Rue, (Thamnosa [Greek – Smelly Shrub] Texana). It grows only a foot or two high, and has very small dark red flowers and a distinctive and pleasant (to my taste) odor. It is also called Dutchman’s Breeches, because of the shape of the fruit. It is harmful to livestock because it causes them to be oversensitive to light. The plant we were looking for was in a wash (dry river bed). This involved a fairly long walk in sand, which I found a little tiring. After we located and photographed it, we continued along the wash until we joined a trail to head back to our vehicles. After a short distance we came across several Thamnosa plants right along the side of the path. Thamnosa texana 3c


Kathleen’s hand giving an idea of scale of the Texas Desert Rue








Thamnosa texana 5


Getting a closer look









Thamnosa texana 5b


A close-up of a flower










Thamnosa texana 8


The fruit, like Dutchmen’s breeches





There were many plants to entertain us on our three and a half mile loop. Altogether we saw about fifty different species in bloom, and many more about to flower.

Earlier this week Val and I took a ride to Ajo – about 150 miles west of here, to give a talk to the Ajo Garden Club. We expected to see lots of wildflowers along the roadsides, since we have had some good winter rains. The showing was not up to our expectations, though there were many Lupines and Desert Marigold along the road. Half way to Ajo it started to rain, and continued all the way to the Ajo Public Library where I spoke about “Nature’s Small Wonders”. The talk was well received. On the return journey we stopped at a town called “Why” (possibly so named because there is a Y-shaped intersection in the middle of the town), population under 200 . I had driven through this part of Arizona before, and knew that it was just a little collection of homes and a gas station. Just for fun I asked the attendant at the gas station how far to go until we got to Why. He tilted back his head, and began to roar with laughter. “You are in it!” he said. As I left I looked up at the name of the Gas station. It read: “Why Not?”

Stenocerues thurberi 1We went through Why to the Organ Pipe National Monument with its wonderful visitor’s center, and lots of fascinating plant and animal life, resolving to go back again when the Organ Pipe Cactus and the Ajo Lily are in bloom (April or May).


Organ Pipe cactus (Stenocereus thurberi) on a cloudy day at Organ Pipe National Monument