Monday, March 30, 2009


When we arrived in the desert we were told that the week before they had had severe wind storms which had 'blown all the flowers away.' Well if this is how it looks after all the flowers have blown away, I can't imagine what it looked like before! The sides of the mountains are washed in yellow and everywhere we go we discover new flowers.

The most obvious flowers are the dramatic Red Ocotillo Fouquieria splendens. On previous visits these plants had looked like bundles of bare woody stems but this time the stems are covered in leaves and at the top of each stem are heads of numerous tubular flowers which the hummingbirds just can't get enough of.

Another plant that seems to be everywhere is the Creosote Plant Larrea tridentata. The flowers are just drawing to an end and the strange little fuzzy fruits are just starting to appear on many of the bushes. Several of the plants also have the distinctive round growths caused by the creosote gall midge.

A personal favorite, the Barrel Cactus Ferocactus acanthodes is just starting to bud and only a few, in the sunniest spots, are actually beginning to open up. I didn't risk getting a pierced nose by getting too close to the flowers but I imagine that they don't smell too good because we never see any bees near the open blooms but we do see lots of flies!

The Arizona Lupine Lupinus arizonicus is everywhere to the point that I kept putting off taking a picture of it and now I discover that I don't have a particularly good one! This plant has to take the prize for being the most organised! Each individual blossom has a little creamy/yellow spot on the upper petal (barely visible in this picture-sorry) and when the flower has been pollinated the spot turns red, thus acting as a deterrent to further insects and also encouraging the insect to pollinate another blossom.

The first flower I found was beside the road at a viewing point we stopped at, on our way down into the Borrego Valley. It's leaves look exactly like a type of holly and it is covered in clusters of tiny round yellow flowers. This is the Mahonia Berberis haematocarpa. It produces purplish/red berries which the Native Americans used to make a dark purple dye and the wood produces a deep yellow dye.

The Hummingbird Bush or Chuparosa Justicia californica is very prolific. Chuparosa translates from Spanish as 'the sucking rose!' This odd name comes from the hummingbirds who are frequently found 'sucking' at the nectar in the long red blossoms. Many times when we sat near one of these bushes we would be 'buzzed' by a highly territorial hummingbird who clearly thought we were there to steal its nectar!

Rather like the Ocotillo, the Desert Senna or Spiny Senna Senna armata spends most of the year looking like a tangled mass of dead twigs but at this time of year, this member of the Bean Family is smothered in beautiful yellow blossoms. These will soon be followed by yellow spongy pods about an inch and a half long.

The delicate purplish/blue flowers of the Wild Heliotrope Phacelia distans are also very much in evidence in many of the canyons and washes right now. It is also known as the Blue-eyed Scorpion Weed because the blossoms are on a coiled structure which is similar in shape to the tail of a scorpion!

This unusual little flower caught my eye because of its strange flower structure. It was growing on a very rocky path we were hiking along on Borrego Mountain, in full sun on an otherwise very barren area and again. I had to marvel at the resilience of these desert plants. This is the Pima Ratany or Purple Heather Krameria erecta. These plants are partly parasitic and connect their roots to other plants around them, which would explain the somewhat grizzled state of the few Creosote Bushes in the immediate area! Small native bees collect saturated fats from the petals to feed to their larvae.

I think this beautiful flower is a Brown-eyed Primrose Camissonia claviformis. The flower structure looks identical but all the illustrations I can find for it show clusters of these delicate little flowers and this one was definitely not in a cluster, as you can see. However this plant is a particular favorite of the White-lined Sphinx Moth Hyles lineata caterpillar

and we certainly saw plenty of those so maybe the rest of the plant had succumbed to the voracious appetite of these caterpillars!

This bristly little character has a variety of common names like Panamint Cats Eye or Forget-me-not Cryptantha spp, although it doesn't bear much resemblance to the English forget-me-not that I know! It is a member of the Borage family and I can certainly see the resemblance there, not least with those fuzzy leaves and stems. There are eight species that occur in the desert and apparently they are notoriously difficult to identify so as the fruit is supposed to be the only sure way of identifying each species and I didn't see any fruit, I am not going to attempt to say which one it is! That is my excuse and I'm sticking to it!!

Despite its name, the Sand Verbena Abronia villosa is not a true Verbena but actually belongs to the Four O'clock family. This low growing plant appears in sandy washes after the rains have passed. We were exploring Coyote Canyon and were walking up a sand wash and this stunning flower was growing all over the place. Its blossoms can range from white to a deep pink but all the ones in the area we saw them were this wonderful purple. This flower has a rich fragrance which was very apparent from the numbers of bees that were buzzing around them.

OK enough flowers for today, believe it or not that is only half way! And that doesn't count all the species that I either couldn't get a picture of or couldn't identify! Hang in there - there will be more soon.

Photo Credits - CJT


Becky said...

Wonderful botanical journey, thanks for the tour ;-)

Louise said...

Such pretty, pretty flowers! I only knew the names of a couple of them.

jay said...

Beautiful, beautiful flowers! You are very knowledgeable!

I have a little cactus just like the barrel cactus - the flowers are the same too, except that they're shocking pink! It's in flower right now.

And we used to have a Mahonia just like that one, in our garden. I don't know what happened to it, but it's not there anymore. :(

Anonymous said...

Your knowledge base about all these plants is amazing and of course most are different from plants I would see near my house...hope you had a great time... Michelle

Arija said...

Deserts after a rain can be magnificent. What a glorious array of flora you have given us. All I can say is thank you.
I too have problems with double spacing and general formatting, I have more or less overcome it by spacing with asterisks. It also loads my pictures side by side and often I cannot get a space above the first picture. The whole thing is a pain. Good luck with yours.