Friday, February 24, 2012

February in the Sonoran Desert

Fiddleneck and Mexican Poppy.
Well it has been a very dry past few months here in the Sonoran Desert.  There has been no significant rainfall in the Phoenix area since mid December when we received about one inch of rainfall.  It also has been slightly warmer than usual which has forced many of the wildflowers that germinated in December into bloom early.  Even so, the weather has been absolutely beautiful for months straight.  Every day is just another day in paradise… I just wish it would rain! 

Normally, there is not a lot blooming in the desert right now.  Good rainfall in December followed by months with no significant rainfall though has resulted in a few small wildflowers blooming here and there though.  Desert wildflowers are highly adapted to this type of rainfall pattern.  Of course they grow best with more rain but still have the ability to produce after only one good rainfall.  Most Sonoran Desert wildflowers will lay dormant as seeds in the soil for years.  Only when temperatures are just right and there is sufficient rainfall will these seeds germinate.  Seeds can patiently wait decades for just the right germination conditions.  If after germination no rainfall is received the flower can quickly produce a few tiny flowers and seed before dying in the desert drought.  If more rainfall is received the plant can grow much larger, produce more flowers and more seeds.  This year with our lack of rain there are quite a few tiny wildflowers beginning to show themselves.  I have found Mexican Poppy, Lupine, Scorpionweed, Fiddleneck, and Small-Flowered Eurcrypta.  Many only a few inches tall.  In better rainfall years these flowers can often reach a foot or more.  Of the more woody plants Wolfberry is the only one in I noticed blooming in abundance, and the bees sure seem to like it.

Desert Mistletoe berries also are ripe across the desert right now.  Many Mesquites, Ironwoods, and Palo Verde trees are infected with this parasite.  Right now Phainopeplas can be found perching atop many of these infected trees and eating the abundance of reddish berries.  Of all the desert birds, the Phainopepla is the fondest and has the most intimate relationship with mistletoe.  Of course the berries feed the bird, but mistletoe also depends on the bird to distribute the seeds once they pass through the digestive tract.  There are many other birds in the desert being the northward migration is beginning.  In-fact, the other day I saw an American Robin.  If you are lucky enough to be near some water there are an abundance of waterfowl migrating though.  Canadian Geese, American Coot, Mallards, Ring-Necked, and Redheads are all relatively common right now. 
Scorpion flower
As we move into March it looks like it will continue to be dry.  Without rain, wildflower blooms should peak within the next three weeks or so.  Typically we have a decent rain mid-March that will extend the wildflower season a little longer though.  But come late March and April our days of beautiful weather are numbered as the heat begins creeping up on us.  

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