|Desert Ironwood flowers.|
A few weeks ago the Ironwoods lost most of their leaves in the process of getting ready to bloom. Nearly every year this happens I fear the lack of rain in past months is killing the tree. Not so. Now in mid-May however, Ironwoods in the Sonoran Desert are shows off their stuff with purple blooms that cover the tree. These flowers are quite beautiful and create quite an array of busyness for several weeks. When hiking up to a blooming Ironwood this time of year the entire tree appears to be buzzing. Thousands upon thousands of bees, gnats and other insects swarm the tree, feeding upon the nectar and helping the tree out by pollinating it. Birds, such as Gnat Catchers and Fly Catchers, also actively feed on this buzzing swarm of insects. With the minimal amount of rain the desert has received this past winter it is quite amazing that the trees can produce such a spectacular amount of flowers.
|A blooming Ironwood.|
About the only place where water penetrates deep into the desert soil is in the numerous dry washes that thread through the landscape. This deep moisture penetration in dry washes, and the deep roots of the Ironwood, make dry washes a perfect habitat for the Ironwood. The deep roots do well in the loose sandy soils of washes making Ironwoods one of the more common dry wash plants. In-fact, they have been labeled as one of the "Big-Four" dry wash plants of the Sonoran Desert. Even in areas of the desert that receive only four inches of rain, where it is two dry for much of anything to occupy the uplands, Ironwoods will occupy the washes. These Ironwoods can survive quite well off of the moisture that seeps deep into wash sediments due to infrequent flash floods.
Ironwood actually derives its name from the very nature of its wood, another important desert adaptation. Like iron, the wood is extremely hard, and is so dense it actually sinks in water. The hard nature of this wood helps siphon water up from the roots to the leaves even under extreme drought conditions. Softer wood would cause a breakage of the water column being siphoned up the trunk and to the leaves.