Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Unfortunately I’m not that well versed in the non-cactus flora of the Mojave and Colorado deserts so I’m afraid I don’t know the names of most of the plants featured in this post. If you have more details I would appreciate a comment.
I was especially fascinated by this small plant growing in the lower Colorado portion of the Joshua Tree National Park. I visited too early in the spring to experience a full blooming desert but this guy was flashing its bright blue flower, standing out among all the earth tones amidst a wash crossing the trail from Cottonwood Spring to Lost Palm Oasis. I studied the plant and its surroundings for a while, intrigued by the habitat it had chosen to grow in - it would for certain be washed away by torrents of water during the next flash flood.
Another interesting plant displayed this beautiful yellow flower that looks like it might belong to the Fabaceae (Leguminosae) family but I’m not certain.
The yellow flowered plant had found a much more secure habitat, growing safely among the boulders in the rock-enclosed Hidden Valley (rumored to have been used by cattle rustlers in the past).
One species I’m pretty sure of is Nolina parrayii (Parry's Nolina or Giant Nolina) that has long thin leaves (and is sometimes called beargrass). It seems to be especially abundant in the lower Colorado portion of the park but also grows in some of the higher Mojave parts like e.g. the aforementioned Hidden Valley.
Its tall flower stalk is said to be edible after being baked, with a somewhat bitter taste. Alas, no fresh flower stalks were to be found at the end of February and I didn’t want to try the old dry ones out for taste ;-)
In order to be better prepared I plan to buy the following desert flora books before my next visit to Joshua Tree National Park: Sonoran Desert Wildflowersand Mojave Desert Wildflowers;-)
Friday, March 18, 2011
Near the closing of February I spent a weekend in Joshua Tree National Park. It was my third visit to the park and this time I targeted in on teddy-bear cholla (and of course cacti in general), Yucca brevifolia (one could argue they are hard to miss in the park;-), and another of my favorites that is covered in this post: the ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) with its sprawling canes soaring for the sky.
Fortunately my visit followed a period of heavy rains so the ocotillos were both draped in leaves and flowering. On the downside a strong gale was blowing making it extremely difficult to get a clear shot of the flowers (but as the pictures show I finally managed to snap a few;-)
The ocotillo, characteristic of the Colorado Desert, prefers to root in gravelly slopes of alluvial fans. Flash floods flush sand, gravel, and rock out of the canyons and onto the valley floor creating these fans.
Fouquieria splendens is sometimes confused for a cacti, but is not. The thorny multi-stem shrub is in fact a woody deciduous plant. Unlike other deciduous shrubs, which normally grow leaves in the spring and drop them in the fall, the ocotillo may grow and drop leaves as often as five times during the year. Its leaves aren’t season dependent but rain dependent.
Following a sufficient rain, the ocotillo puts forth a cluster of leaves above each torn, adorning the otherwise dead-looking canes with a flourish of green. At the same time red blossoms may appear at the tip of the canes. The leaves go about the business of photosynthesis until the next drought; then they turn red or brown and drop.
The above picture was taken standing on the ground looking up into the sprawling canes of an ocotillo. It gives an impression of the height of the plant as I stand 190 cm (6 feet 3 inches) tall and these plants tower above me.
You can find more information on Fouquieria splendens in the book Sonoran Desert Wildflowers: A Field Guide to the Common Wildflowers of the Sonoran Desert.
Friday, February 04, 2011
As mentioned in the previous post I recently visited southern California. During a day off I and a couple of colleagues decided to visit the San Diego Zoo - I have to confess that I also had a cunning plan to lure my not-so-cacti-interested colleagues into visiting the Desert Garden located in Balboa Park just next to the Zoo.
My plan succeeded and after enjoying the fabulous Zoo we spent some quality time among the cacti and succulents growing on the slopes of the Desert Garden. Unfortunately the visit was improvised and rather badly planned so I missed the Old Cactus Garden, the Botanical Building, and several other interesting gardens in Balboa Park, places that I in hindsight would have liked to visit. Then again, now I have a good excuse for going back to San Diego ;-)
According to their website “the Desert Garden contains more than 1,300 plants, including succulents and drought-resistant plants from around the world, within its 2.5 acres. The peak blooming period is January through March”. I guess my visit in very early January was a tad too early to experience the full-throttle flower fest as only a few of the plants were blooming (several of the cacti were budding, though - again a good reason for revisiting Balboa Park ;-)
Yet another reason for coming back is that several of the pathways in the Desert Garden were closed during my visit due to heavy rains just a few days prior.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
During a recent visit to Orange County I had a weekend to kill. I neither had the energy nor the time to head for the open desert so instead I decided for a stroll at Laguna Beach.
Cylindropuntia prolifera (coastal cholla) overlooking the Pacific Ocean
I never made it to Laguna Beach though. Cruising south on the Pacific Coast Highway I noticed a sign advertising Crystal Cove State Park and decided to check it out.
Opuntia littoralis (coastal prickly-pear)
And I’m glad I did - the park turned out to comprise a secluded and pristine stretch of beach, almost completely deserted in spite of its location smack in the middle of the SoCal urban sprawl. And best of all cacti were abundant ;-)
I have to admit I was a bit surprised to see cactus growing that close to the sea - they even grow on the dramatic slopes of the coastal bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It just goes to show how diverse environments cacti are capable of coping with.
I’m not well versed in opuntioids but according to this Flora of Crystal Cove State Park the Cactaceae growing in the park are Opuntia littoralis (coastal prickly-pear) and Cylindropuntia prolifera (coastal cholla).
The beach at Crystal Cove State Park
Entering the park I was greeted by a friendly ranger who recommended a hike that takes you down the coastal bluffs and onto the beach - I followed her advice and spent a couple of hours walking the beautiful trails and enjoying the peaceful beach (and of course the cacti ;-)
It was quite magical walking the beach where the only sounds were the rumble of the breaking waves and the squeaking of seagulls, knowing that only a few hundred meters inland you would be engulfed in the ubiquitous noise of cars hissing by.
Tide pool at Crystal Cove State Park
I love the rock formations along California’s beaches, savor the fascinating sea cliffs that have been sculpted by winds and the relentless battering by waves through the ages.
Unfortunately I didn’t bring my Nikon SLR for this trip and my phone is a less than ideal camera, but the pictures will have to suffice.
You can find more information on hiking Crystal Cove State Park in the book California's Coastal Parks: A Day Hiker's Guide.
Tuesday, March 08, 2005
Saturday (March 05, 2005) I visited Huntington Botanical Gardens with high expectations. Initially I was a bit disappointed by the Desert Garden – the focus seems to be more on gardening than on botanical aspects, i.e. the plants were primarily grouped by appearance instead of by biotopes, many of the plants were unmarked etc. I should have been warned by the welcoming sign saying: The garden before you is hardly a desert ;-) Also a lot of the paths were closed with “do not enter” and “no admittance” signs! That being said, I ended up spending more than 3 hours studying the various species of cacti.
An impressive group of Echinocactus grusonii
Unfortunately very few of the cacti were blooming – I would like to return in a month or two when the flowering is in full swing.
Flowering Ferocactus echidne var. victoriensis
I took a lot of pictures. As time permits I’ll process and upload them to a photo gallery.
Sunday, January 02, 2005
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