SMALL WONDERSS

After some wonderful summer rains, the trails are rich with flowers. Some of the smallest plants bloom at this time of year, especially the little Sixweeks Prairie Clover (Dalea polygonoides), and Drymaria (Drymaria leptophylla). Last Thursday we had a plant walk in the mountains after heavy rains the day before. At 8000′ the mountains were in cloud and each twig and flower was covered with dew. It was breathtakingly beautiful. We saw over sixty different species in bloom, and thousands of flowers.

dalea-polygonoides-3f

dalea-polygonoides-7f Sixweeks Prairie Clover

drymaria-leptophylla-3f

drymaria-leptophyllafl Drymaria

Recently I printed a limited edition of my new plant book. I call it “More” because it is a kind of supplement to the books: “Mountain Wildflowers” and “Mountain Trees”. So far I have just sold it out of the trunk of my car but now people who are in Southern Arizona can find it at the Living Rainbow store in Summerhaven on the Catalina Mountains.

cover-more

Jim Verrier and I are working on a book showing the beauty of grasses, and I am getting ready to format a book which I will call “Small Wonders” showing the beauty of little plants like the Sixweeks Prairie Clover and Drymaria, plus hundreds of others, Many of which I call “Invisible Flowers.”

Recently I have actually met some flowers that I had only read about in books. They are called “cleistogamic” referring to the fact that the flowers are entirely enclosed and never open to the fresh air. They pollinate themselves. My most recent find was several of these on a Pennelia plant (Pennellia longifolia). Prior to that I had photographed cleistogamic flowers in the violet family (Viola umbraticola, or Blue Violet.)

pennellia-longifolia-cleistofl-5 Pennellia with the round dot being an enclosed flower

pennellia-longifolia-cleistofl

The enclosed flower, above, and a cutaway showing the interior, below

pennellia-longifolia-cleistofl-inside

Nature never cease to amazes and delight me. There is plenty of time for more flowers before the cold weather comes.

Correction

My wife kindly suggested that I had a senior moment when I said that the youtube program about Gardens that I am taking part in is 5 pm Eastern time. It is 8 pm Eastern time today, which is 5 pm here in Arizona.

Sorry about that.

Frank

Orchids

This past week I had the great pleasure of attending the Native Orchid Conference at Cochise College in Benson, Arizona. I was one of the 17 speakers, my topic being “Invisible Flora of the Sky Islands.” I also led some plant walks in the Catalina Mountains overlooking Tucson.

The first walk was last Tuesday. The forecast suggested rain in the afternoon, so the 12 of us set off innocently enough at 9 o’clock in the morning thinking that we had plenty of time. As we were heading for our first orchid site, on the Turkey Run trail, we ran into heavy rain to the point where I led our little caravan of cars to the top of Carter Canyon Road instead. The largest orchid in these mountains is known as the Bog Orchid (Platanthera Limosa), and instead of walking a half a mile on the Turkey Run Trail, all we had to do was park at the trail head for the Mint Spring Trail, and there it was in great abundance and in full and glorious bloom. Our little cast of orchid lovers had no problem getting out in the drenching rain to see this sight. We then went to another location to see Malaxis Soulei, and the rain continued to the point where we abandoned the rest of the walk. When I got home I was soaked through. My handkerchief was wet, and when I opened my wallet, I found the bills in it were also wet.

Platanthera limosaPL
Two bog orchids

Platanthera limosa 1

A hill covered with Bog Orchids
Two days later we were up on the mountain again with a different group. Again we saw the two types of orchid, got drenching wet, and thoroughly enjoyed the mountain flora.

Prior to the Conference, the leaders, Ron, Ben, Doug and I went to the Chiricahua Mountains to see two different orchids. One was very small. In this picture you see Ron, Ben and Doug puting markers of two different colors so that the people could find these delightful, and small beauties.

Ron and Ben Ron, Ben and Doug (partial)

 

Later that day we went to Turkey Creek, also in the Chiricahua mountains. Ron mentioned that it was a little tricky crossing the creek to get on the trail, and feared that a few thunderstorms might make the trail impassable. Five days later his fears came true. The morning group was able to see the rare and beautiful Malaxis corymbosa (pictured), but by the time the second group came in the afternoon the creek was much too swollen to allow them to cross.
Malaxis corymbosa 3 Here is the whole plant, about 6 inches tall

Malaxis corymbosa 5b The flower head is relatively flat.

Malaxis corymbosa buds and FL At this point only one tiny flower was actually open.
It was a great pleasure spending time with plant lovers. The orchids in Arizona may not be very spectacular, but for orchid lovers they are worth the trip (people came to the Conference from various parts of USA, Canada and England.)

This coming Monday, August 8th, 5 pm Eastern time, I will be speaking as part of a program called:
“Spiritual Insight Through Gardening – Swedenborg and Life.”
Also taking part in the same program will be our Son, Jonathan, his wife, Kristin, their daughter, Chelsea, and others. This will be shown on Youtube, and here is the link if you are interested in watching it.

Wishing you all a happy summer.

LOUISE MAKES A DECISION

Looking ahead to a summer vacation Louise and I decided to visit Greer – a small town in the White Mountains of Arizona. The Little Colorado River runs through Greer, eventually ending up at the Grand Canyon. There it is just a stream, bordered with a wealth of flowers, many of them new to me.

As we were leaving Greer Louise and I decided to walk the Butler Nature Trail. It is a short walk, just about a mile long. For the first half mile it climbs up to a spring where we were able to fill our water bottles. I noticed on the walk that even though I walked slowly, finding the up-hill slope a bit of a challenge, Louise was walking even more slowly behind me. From time to time I would stop to rest as she caught up with me. When we were at the Spring she made a watershed statement. “This is my last hike. I am almost 87 years old and it is just getting too hard for me.” I admit to being a little stunned, but also pleased to have her make what must have been a difficult decision.

When we moved to Arizona in 1982, we were not hikers. This is something we came to do and love over the many years since then. We have walked hundreds of miles together, enjoying some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. It has been one of the most satisfying and worthwhile forms of exercise we have ever had. For me it has also been a great opportunity to take pictures of scenery for painting watercolors, and of plants for my nature books.

In 2000, Louise and her sister Ann, decided they would like to hike the Grand Canyon rim to rim in one day! I thought it was a daunting challenge and one I was willing to support. Louise and I began training for the big walk, including climbing Mount Wrightson, walking down to Tucson from Mt. Lemmon (about 15 miles), taking long hikes in the Rincon Mountains, and generally doing all we could do to condition ourselves for the big event. Louise bought new boots three months before, to make sure they were well worn in before the big hike.

On October 2, 2001, when Louise was 72 and I had just turned 74, we accomplished the dream. There were 8 people in our party, plus Louise’s brother Jim and sister Fran who provided transportation. Our youngest son, Owen, was also with us. We began the hike at 6 am in the ice at the North Rim of the Grand canyon, and Louise and I were the last to arrived at the South Rim 17 hours later. We had no sore muscles or blisters after that twenty-four mile walk.

In the years since then we have enjoyed many more hikes. But this one-mile hike in Greer was to be the last one. We paused to reflect on this change in our lives, and then continued the walk down hill back to the car. Somewhere along the way Louise called to me – “Look at this!” I turned around and saw her pointing to her left hiking boot, with the sole flapping down like some prehistoric jaw. I reassured her that she could still walk on the boot, since it was ruined anyway. In only about 15 minutes we were back at the car. When she took off her boots she noticed that the right boot was also losing its sole, but this one was peeling off from the back, not the front.

We could not help remarking on the proximity of the two events – the announcement that this was her last hike, and the boots giving out. “They must have heard me” was all she said. They had given her fifteen years of amazing and faithful service. As she put them in the trunk she felt a mixture of relief and sadness. A truly wonderful era in our life was coming to an end. .

Louise will continue to walk in the neighborhood for exercise, and I will continue to hike in the mountains, though I must admit that I am slowing down.

Hiking boots die

RAIN – RAIN – RAIN

We have been going on plant walks every week since June, and every week we see fewer flower species in bloom than usual. The last rain here was April 11 – just under eleven weeks ago. What a thrill today when the heavens opened and almost an inch of rain was recorded in our rain gauge! In a few hours the temperature dropped thirty degrees.

There are some wildflowers in bloom, including three that I have never noticed before. One of them had been on Joan Tedford’s plant list for years, but I have never seen it. Perhaps this is because it has leaves that look very much like the walnut trees which grow in the same area (about 6000 feet in elevation.) When I saw the leaves I thought it was just another walnut tree, but then I looked at the flower cluster and knew that this was a plant I had never noticed in the mountains. I could have seen it in other places in America since apparently it is the only tree or shrub that can be found in all of the lower 48 States.  It is called Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra).   I look forward to seeing the red berries, and its brilliant red leaves in the autumn.

Juglans majorLFsWalnut leaves

Rhus glabra LFcpSumac leaves

Rhus glabra 6cpSumac flower cluster

Another new plant – not yet identified – looks like a lactuca, but it seems to be one that I have never seen before. The third new plant is a Galium. I am waiting to photograph it when it starts to bloom in a week or so.

Mystery lactuca plantMystery plant

Mystery lactucaMystery plant close up

I recently produced a new book of plant photographs. I call it – “More Wildflowers and Trees.” It includes photographs of plants that did not make it into my books: “Mountain Wildflowers of Southern Arizona” and “Mountain Trees of Southern Arizona”.
The new book has been printed in a very limited edition. Later I plan to print more. It contains photographs of 342 species.

On Father’s Day (June 19) the Arizona Daily Star had a two-page article titled “Art Strengthens Family Ties – Father, son share love for creating watercolors.” This excellent article was written by  Angela Pittenger and features our son, Owen, and me plus pictures of our paintings. I have had many very positive responses to the article.

Fall leaves“Fall Leaves” – One of the paintings in the article:

We are all excited about the rain that fell today, and hope for more rain in the coming weeks. This should bring out many more of the wildflowers that I love so much.

SUMMER TIME

Ed and I were walking along the Sunset Trail in the Catalina Mountains, and my eyes were drawn to these Douglas Fir trees. I have seen one-sided trees like this on high mountain ridges where the prevailing winds fashion them into a flag shape, but we were in a canyon about a thousand feet down from the highest poInt in the range, and these were the only two with this particular shape. I suspect that the wind at times can come roaring up the canyon from the right in this photograph. And then again, there may be another explanation for this unusual shape (called Krummholz or Flag trees).

flag trees

Now it is June and the Cow Parsnip plants are huge and showy. Their botanical name, Heracleum lanatum, means Woolly Hercules, the giant of Greek mythology (Heracles in Greek, Hercules in Latin). This plant is in the carrot family and can be as high as six feet tall with large leaves and inflorescences. Using my close-up camera I was able to photograph an individual flower from one of the many clusters that make up the entire flowering head. I notice that these little flowers tend to be lopsided, with small petals facing to the center of the cluster,, and larger ones facing the outside.

Heracleaum lanatum 1

Heracleum lanatum 6

Heracleaum lanatum 7

It has been very dry and hot (many days over 100 in the valley), but the Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea) are flourishing and are a treat to see.

Heuchera sanguinea 3

FALL OF A CHAMPION

Some time ago I heard from Jeannie at the Ranger’s Station that one of my favorite trees on the mountain had fallen. Early this month (May) we saw a front page article in the Arizona Daily Star: “100-foot tree towers no more in Catalinas”, by Doug Kreutz. Then I knew that it was time to go and see my old friend.  I have been hiking in the Catalina Mountains for thirty-four years and have come to know and love this very special tree. It was on a West-facing slope high in the mountain, and leaned over the trail. I have done a number of paintings of this magnificent specimen. This is one of them

. Granddaddy Ent

I recalled my fear for the tree in the Aspen fire of 2003 when much of the town of Summerhaven and huge stretches of forest burned. When I finally got to visit the tree again, about a year after the fire I noticed it was in fine shape. I apologized to it for doubting its ability to deal with fire. In its two or three hundred year history it must have been scorched many times.

In the end it was not fire that brought the tree down, but internal decay. This made it vulnerable to the wind.

Soon after reading the article my wife and I went to hike at the top of the mountains so that I could see it for myself. Considering the angle of the tree I knew it must have completely blocked the trail when it fell. Sure enough I found the trail impassable, but people had made a route up the slope to the base of the stump and around the other side. I had a few moments of silent respect for the tree, and returned a little saddened by our loss

It was a Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). This is a species that is second only to the Redwoods in the height to which it can attain. Fortunately there are other giants in the Catalina Mountains, but none that I know of with this much character. We will no doubt see it lying across the trail for a long time to come, and will miss its majestic presence on the mountain.

Douglas Fir Stump and trunkThe trail was about in the middle of this fallen trunk

Douglas Fir Stump and blocked tailThis is where the trail used to be

 

 

The trail now goes just by the stumpDouglas Fir Stump

FINDING NEW FRIENDS

It seems as if every time Ed and I go out on a plant walk we come across new species – not new to the world, just to us. This is partly because we are hiking at lower elevations than we normally do, and so are seeing plants that we had never seen in bloom before. Lately I have added eight new plants. Here are a few. Some of them fall into the “Invisible flower” category. Others are just beautiful flowers that have escaped our attention.

One is a prickly pear – which is not only one of the most abundant cactuses in Southeastern Arizona, but may be found in many other places in the world. The one we know best has pure yellow blooms – Engelman’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii). On a recent walk we came across a different prickly pear with red markings in the petals. I had never noticed this before, but had read about its existence. It turned out to be Brownspine prickly pear (Opuntia phaecantha) .

Opuntia engelemanniFL

Opuntia phaeacantha 3

Opuntia phaeacantha 7The top picture is the Engelmann Prickly Pear, the middle is the new plant, and the bottom is a close-up of the flower.

Another plant had us puzzled . It was growing near a stream in Catalina State Park. The leaves are quite beautiful and distinctive. The little white flowers almost qualify as “invisible”, not because they are so small, but because they are so easily overlooked. My hiking companion recognized the fruit as typical of the geranium, or stork’s bill genus. A little research indicated that it was the Carolina geranium.(Geranium carolinium)

Geranium carolinianum 3b

Geranium carolinianum 6c

Geranium mystery LF

On our mountain walks we often come across Mountain parsley, (Pseudocymopterus montanus). Since “pseudo” means “false” we have sometimes wondered what the real Cymopterus looks like. Iris took us on a walk and we came across the plant. It had a cluster of deep purple flower buds. None of them were opened, and it was left to our imagination to see if we could picture what it would look like when it was in full flower. Whatever we might have thought, we were way off. Ed and I revisited the plant this week, and the opened flower looked nothing like anything we expected, as you can see from these pictures. I was not able to discern the flower parts. This looks somewhat like the fruits of the Hopseed bush (Dodonea viscosa).
Cymopterus multinervatus PL

Cymopterus multinervatus P3jpg

Cymopterus multinervatus FL6

Dodonea viscosaFR

The pictures above show the Cymopterus multinervatus with flower buds, the second one with buds and flowers, then a close-up of the flowers. The last picture is the Hopseed bush fruits.

We are sure that more plants are waiting for us to discover and enjoy.

PEACE IN THE GROTTO

Peace in the Grotto

El Nino promised rains and wonderful flowers but the promises have not been kept. So far this has been an average Spring. Here is a picture of two of the favorite Spring flowers – the Mexican Gold Poppy (Eschscholtzia californica ssp. Mexicana) and Wild Heliotrope (Phacelia distans). We saw a few patches of these in Catalina State Park. Other years we would have seen fields of them.

 

Spring flowers

 

Yesterday Dave and I went to visit one of our favorite spots in the Catalina Mountains. To reach it we followed an unmarked trail up a canyon to a place where the stream drops about fifteen feet into a little pool. On the way we stopped to enjoy the view and have a little rest. We were struck by the quiet in this remote canyon. It was not completely silent. After sitting a while we could hear a background of insect and bird noises, together with the gentle flow of air through the flowers, shrubs, and trees.

There were wildflowers here and there, like this beautiful patch of Parry’s Penstemon (Penstemon parryi) just by the trail.

Penstemon parryi 3c

When we reached the grotto those noises were eclipsed by the water dropping down from the cliff, and splashing on rocks and mosses before landing in the very small pool at the base. Some of the drops refreshed us with a very gentle rain.

We have been there when the pool was the size of one of those above-ground pools that are popular in Tucson back yards. Today it was scarcely three by two feet. With the binoculars we caught a glimpse into its life. There were water scorpions, water striders and other aquatic bugs with their zig-zag courses skimming on the water and bouncing into each other like bumper cars at the fair. Occasionally one would dive the six inches or so to the bottom. Over time we saw lots of different species and couldn’t help wondering what they would do when the pool dried up completely in a few weeks. We had a quarter of an inch of rain on February 1st. The only rain since then was a tenth of an inch two weeks ago.  Even so the snow melt from higher in the mountains continues to provide life-giving water to the lower canyons and every day we can expect to find new flower species coming into bloom.

 

Grotto 2 The Grotto with a trickle of water. Below a close-up with yellow monkey flower

 

Grotto

An odd plants, a dead bird and lost paintings

On our walks lately we have seen plants in bloom but they are few and far between. We did see a Desert Spoon (Dasylirion wheeleri) with two flowering stalks. Normally they only have one that stays on the plant for more than a year. At least we think it was one plant. Sometimes plants grow so close together that their leaves become entwined to the point that it is hard to tell whether it is one or two.
Dasylirion wheeleri 2 stalks
The Teddy bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii) has some of the densest collection of spines of all the cactus species around here. Some birds build their nests right in the thick of them where they can feel really safe and secure. How they manage to fly in and out without impaling themselves is quite a mystery. Recently we came across a dead bird lying on one of their branches. We assumed that it had been flying in and out of the plant successfully until it finally got hooked. Of course it could have died in the air and simply fallen to this resting place.
Chollas

Cholla closeup

Dead bird  in cholla
My wife and I occasionally have a burst of energy to de-junk our house. Last week we tackled the shed throwing out many large plastic bags of trash. And then, to my amazement, I found two oil paintings that I had done years ago. They were tucked away in the back corner. The fact that I had not signed them proves that they have never been in a show. As it turns out our son, Owen, and I are having a joint show at the Contreras Gallery (110 E. 6th St., Tucson) the whole month of March. We will frame these two oil paintings and make them the center pieces of my part of the show. You are all invited to the opening of the show, 6-9 pm, Saturday March 5, 2016.

Douglas fir

“Douglas fir” oil painting (30×24 inches)

Navajo country

“Navajo country” oil painting (24×30 inches)

In a few weeks we will have lots of flowers to enjoy and talk about.