Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Botanizing Intermezzo in Southeastern Arizona

I missed the spring wildflower spectacle in western Arizona this year, due to my trips to Mexico and Jamaica in March and early April. But some private guiding trips in late April to areas of Southeastern Arizona – late for spring wildflowers and outside the area where the spring show can be spectacular (and were, so I hear) – were surprisingly productive.

California Gulch, very close to the Mexican border west of Nogales, is one of my favorite places. We readily found Five-striped Sparrows here.

Parry's Beardtongue, Penstemon parryi, colored the hillsides pink in places. This and most of the flowers in this area are perennials.

Here behind Trailing Windmills, Allionia incarnata, are a couple annuals — Mexican Poppy,  Eschscholzia californica ssp. mexicana, and Distant Phacelia, Phacelia distans.

Santa Catalina Prairie Clover, Dalea pulchra, would make a nice landscaping plant and attract butterflies such as Sleepy Orange.

The stout, short spines on this Pink-flowered Hedgehog Cactus, Echinocereus fendleri ssp. rectispinus, really stood out, but the flowers were what really caught my attention.

The Fairyduster, Calliandra eriophylla, is putting on an amazing show this year.

Doll's Head, Lagascea decipiens, is one of my favorite composites. Not only is it beautiful, it's rather rare in the United States, is attractive to butterflies, and has a very unusual arrangement of flowers. It usually blooms only after the monsoon rains have begun in July, but the late winter rainfall has been so good that the several plants along this stretch of the California Gulch road were loaded with buds.
Here is why the arrangement is unusual: Most composite flowers (that is, members of the family Asteraceae, formerly Compositae) are actually a head composed of a several to many flowers. The most familiar ones have two flower types in each head – one-petaled ray flowers around the outer edge of the head and five-petaled disk flowers packed in the center. The yellow ball of Doll's Head is actually a dense cluster of many heads at the end of the stem, and each head bears but one flower. Amazing.

The Elegant Earless-Lizard is common in this area.

Another day trip in late April took me to Montosa Canyon on the west side of the Santa Rita Mountains.

On the normally dry, barren flats on the way up, where we stopped for Black-tailed Gnatcatcher, were some nice flowers. This species, also called Pink-flowered Hedgehog Cactus, Echinocereus fasciculatus, has much longer spines.

Hairyseed Bahia, Bahia absinthifolia, a composite with the more typical arrangement of flowers in the head.

Flax-flowered Ipomopsis, Ipomopsis longiflora

Leatherleaf, Croton pottsii

In the canyon proper is an amazing variety of shrubs and trees. We probably heard one of the Black-capped Gnatcatchers that live here, but had to be content with migrants such as Greater Pewee and some more flowers.

Pallid Hoptree, Ptelea trifoliata ssp. pallida var. cognata

Western Poison Ivy, Toxicodendron rydbergii

Hairy Fournwort, Tetramerium nervosum

Finally, an afternoon trip to the Huachuca Mountains resulted in fewer wildflowers (this area gets less winter rain, and is much higher and colder), but some Animalia provided some interest.

The geometrid moth Digrammia triviata (Geometrid larvae are familiar as inchworms.)

A true bug that appears to mimic a tiger beetle, Arhaphe cicindeloides (It fooled me until I sought help at

The now-famous Spotted Owls in Miller Canyon have probably been seen by more than a hundred birders this month – and who knows how many day hikers and smugglers of various kinds the owls have seen. They've seen enough to not be bothered at all by anyone anymore, at least.

1 comment:

  1. Neat little botanical intermezzo! I've wanted to go to California Gulch for a long time, but I'm afraid my little Subaru won't get me there.
    Have you seen my new blog?