Friday, April 20, 2012

Sonoran Desert in the Spring

Hedgehog Cactus in bloom.
Its spring time here in the Sonoran Desert, and it sure is dry.  Normally it is at least a little wetter around here this time of year but with only about two inches of rain since December and the recent break into 90 degree temperatures thing are bone dry.  Right now Brittlebush is in bloom but the number and size of flowers are greatly reduced due to lack of rain.  These are typically some of the most reliable and abundant flowers in the desert, often having spectacular blooms.  In-fact, there have been a few springs where I have looked at small isolated desert mountain ranges from a distance and they actually appeared to be slightly yellowish in coloration due to the abundance of Brittlebush flowers.  Unfortunately, this is not one of those years.  Lower in elevation in the valleys and basins Creosote Bush can also be found in bloom.  While not extremely showy or spectacular it does dapple the landscape reliably year to year being it is the very definition of a desert hardy plant species.
Brittlebush flower.
Most cacti will also be entering their blooming seasons very soon.  Hedgehog Cactus is just finishing up blooming with their beautiful purple flowers. Buckhorn Cholla is right in the middle of blooming currently.  I am planning on making a hiking trip in the next few days to collect some cholla flower buds for eating.  Normally there are tons of cholla buds right now but this year most seem to have finished blooming early.  Some different locations though might have more flowers in bud and bloom though.  Oddly, I also found an area of a few acres where the Saguaro's were in intense bloom, about a month ahead of schedule.  A part from this area though I couldn't find a single Saguaro in flower, lots of flower bud starting though.
Saguaro Cactus  flower.
The dry weather can also be attested to by the presence of yellow leaved Ocotillos.  Ocotillos normally only have leaves when the soil is sufficiently wet after rain.  When the soil dries out, the leaves turn yellow and fall off, causing the plant no harm.  This is a normal adaptation to dry desert conditions, allowing the plant to survive drought.  Right now, the yellow leaves are quite pretty.

An Ocotillo with yellow leaves.  The lack of rain is causing this Ocotillo to loose its leaves, a normal occurance and adaptation do dry desert conditions.
Over the next month we will head into the driest and hottest time of the year.  Not much of any hope for rain in the near future, only dry heat and the return of the scorching desert sun.  To begin that season though the Palo Verdes, Ironwoods, and Saguaros will all bloom making for great flower viewing and bird watching.  After that comes some of the easiest gathering of wild desert foods such as Mesquite pods, Palo Verde beans, and later Saguaro fruit.  Starting now, I'm going to try my best to enjoy the cool morning air by sneaking in some early hikes.

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