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.
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.
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.
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.
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.