Monday, December 31, 2012

It's a beautiful day!

Photos by Marty Horowitz 12/14/2012

Marty writes:
Pot o' gold! Unusual to see the top of a rainbow so low in the sky (the sun was at ~29 deg elevation at ~2pm when I took these pix 12/14/2012). The background is Ventana Canyon as viewed from my yard about 1/3 miles west of the canyon mouth.
Anne says: Make every day a good day!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Owl be back!

Photo by Ned Harris 11/13/2012
Thanks to all the contributors to this blog in 2012! Especially Ned HarrisCouldn't even have a blog without Ned's great photos. Also Mark and Jean Hengesbaugh, Marty Horowitz, Fred Fisher, Fred Heath, Bob and Peggy Wenrick, Carol Tornow, and Angie Perryman.
A special thanks to Honey Matt and Ellen.
Thank you to all of you readers, wherever you are! It was another great year in Sabino Canyon!

Some blog stats:
Total posts in 2012: 340
Total in 2011: 330 - ten more posts, no extra charge :-)

Top  three posts for the year:
1) May 22, 2012  Ellen's speech  122 views  (this does not include email subscriptions)
2) Aug 7, 2012     Sabino Bobcat    91 views  (ditto)
3) Oct 14, 2012   Giant Swallowtail Salute  72 views (again, ditto)

Top three countries of readers: 1) US, 2) Russia, 3) Germany

I won't be posting again until 1/1/2013. In the meantime, you can spend a happy hour (or two) searching the blog or browsing through the archives. Click here.
If you want to let others know about this blog (I'd appreciate it), just remember: sabinocanyon dot net - (dot com is the shuttle service; dot org is the Friends of Sabino; dot net is me!)

See you in 2013!

Saturday, December 15, 2012


Photo by Marty Horowitz 12/09/2012

Hermit Thrush in the riparian area above the dam.

And an article about hummingbirds hummingbirds in Scientific American. Susan Wethington, founder of the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, is featured. Thanks to Jean Hengesbaugh for sending. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

A fruit you don't see every day

Photo by Debbie Bird 11/27/2012
Debbie showed us this Limber Bush (Jatropha cardiophylla) fruit on a recent plant walk. This is the only fruit anyone in that group could recall seeing (ever), so we were understandably reluctant to pick it to check out the seed. We waited. The fruit was still there on 12/11/2012 and, as others reported seeing fruits in the past, we made the decision to open this one.

Photo by Debbie Bird 12/11/2012
Behold! The lone seed, very firm. I planted it after showing everyone on the plant walk. Thanks to Debbie for documenting this (for me) rare find.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Peregrin liftoff

Photo by Ned Harris 12/7/2012

Now THAT'S a bird of prey! For more of these and many other birds from Ned's trips to Bosque del Apache, Sulphur Springs Valley, Sweetwater Wetlands, and the magic telephone poles of Tucson, click here!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Seeing an echo

Photos by Marty Horowitz 12/6/2012

Echo Azure butterfly.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Fruity goodness

Photos by Ned Harris 12/5/2012

These plump pineapple-looking things are Arizona Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii) fruits. Ground squirrels, deer, and other mammals (including me) like them. (I generally stick to eating the fruits from the barrel cacti in my yard.) Unlike prickly pear fruits, these have NO spines or glochids. You do have to take care when picking them, though. The fishhook spines on the barrel cactus don't mess around! To eat safely:  look for a ripe fruit (no green), grasp the brownish top and pull gently. If it comes off reasonably easily, it's ripe. Inspect for evidence of other critter bites. If none, take a shallow bite. The skin and flesh have the consistency of an apple; the flesh is quite tart. I avoid the seeds, but they are safe to eat.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Invasive Buffelgrass Overruns 7 Falls in Bear Canyon

Buffelgrass has overrun Bear Canyon’s Seven Falls area.
Saguaros are devastated by the wildfires Buffelgrass promotes
and few new Saguaros will grow in Buffelgrass infested area.

Telltale: the Buffelgrass rachis, or central stem of the seed head,
is coarse and abrasive.
Click on photo for a closer look.

Photos by Tom Skinner. Text by Mark Hengesbaugh:

In Oct. 2012, two scientific studies on Santa Catalina Mountains Buffelgrass were published. One study documents the transformation of rich, diverse Sonoran Desert upland habitat of 15-20 plant species into a “depauperate,” or impoverished, landscape containing only 2-5 species after Buffelgrass invades. The longer Buffelgrass remains on a site, the more species richness and diversity decline.
The second study documents the rate at which Catalina Buffelgrass is spreading: It doubles in acreage every 2.26-7.04 years.
Combining findings of the two studies: Those Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon hillside sections overrun with invasive Buffelgrass will double again in size within approximately five years, much sooner on south facing slopes. 
Click here to access the studies. Scroll down to Buffelgrass.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hooves and Tusks

Photo by Ned Harris 11/13/2012
Click on this photo for a clear view of the two 'toes' of the javelina. Their canines (also called tusks) are sharp and used for digging up insects and worms. And also your plants.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

DON'T LOOK Honey Matt!!

Photos by Fred Fisher 11/12/12

If you click on these photos, you'll see the Green Lynx spiderlings coming out of the egg sac! (Very cool, despite what my husband might say.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Kindergarten Snake

Photo by Pam Bridgmon 12/4/2012

Some eagle-eyed spotting by Marie Graninger had the kindergarten group clustered around (but not, of course, touching or picking up) this tiny snake. Pam Bridgmon writes:

We saw this tiny snake on the Kinder Nature Walk yesterday. The kids just loved it. It was not more than 4 inches long. It was alive but moving very slowly. It's in the center to the right of the rock.
(You'll need to click on the photo and look for stripes.)
Tom "(Not that kind of) Grass-man" Skinner asked Larry "Lizard-man" Jones for the identification. Larry wrote:

That would be a Variable Sandsnake, Chilomeniscus stramineus. I don't see very many, so it is a pretty good find. This would be an adult. They are good burrowers so spend a lot of time underground. Completely harmless. They eat centipedes and other inverts. Usually found in areas of loose soil, and I think all I have seen were in AZ upland desert on gravelly soils (like you show), rather than, say, washes with sand, but I'm sure they are in those areas, also.
Thank you to all the contributors to this little story!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Still hanging around

Photos by Marty Horowitz 11/29/2012

Queen Butterfly on a Hooker Evening Primrose (Oenothera elata ssp. hirsutissima).

Reakirt's Blue on (Willow) Smartweed (Persicaria lapathifolia).
Many thanks to Marty for all of his photo contributions to the blog this year!!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rock Star Robin

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh

Text by Mark Hengesbaugh:

If you've noticed an increased number of visitors to Sabino Canyon lately who are toting serious binoculars and field guides, they're coming to see an unusual visitor from Mexico. This Rufous-backed Robin was spotted at the dam on Nov. 27 and as of Dec. 5 is still there. The species' core habitat is in western Mexico and as far as I can tell an individual has never been seen before in Sabino Canyon. Click here for more info on this species.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Photo by Matt Ball 12/03/2012

Monday, December 3, 2012

Retreat, but don't surrender

Photo by Ned Harris 11/4/2012
This is the web of a Desertshrub Spider (aka Desert Bush Spider); the link is to a blog post from Bug Eric (thanks, Angie) with more info (and photos! Don't click, Honey-Matt!). What looks like debris in the middle of this photo is called a retreat; made of  leaves, remains of prey, whatever is around. The retreat is what generally catches your eye (not literally) when you are out and about. Take a closer look!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A gift of Rose's ...

Frank Rose's latest book, that is! (And you thought I misused the apostrophe.) If you are looking for a great gift for yourself and your plant-loving friends, get a dozen copies of Frank Rose's Mountain Trees of Southern Arizona: A Field Guide, available at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and, I'm told, at the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center bookstore. Plant goddess Joan Tedford showed us her copy - and I can't possibly use too many superlatives. Fantastic in every way!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Stink bug nymph

Photo by Debbie Bird. 11/16/2012

I'll let Carl 'Bug Man' Olson put the bug in your ear:

That's a nymph of what is commonly called a stink bug, Family Pentatomidae, Order Hemiptera. Juveniles are really difficult because many change so radically from the adult look. It is an herbivore typically, although there are some that are predators. They all have scent glands, and if you look at yours you'll see two dark areas on abdomen and those are glands that produce some very noxious chemicals as defense. You know it's a nymph because wings are in the bud stage on yours.

Don't eat these!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Cliff Dwellings

Photo by Ned Harris; Title by Carol Tornow 11/14/2012

That's right, we've got cliff dwellings in Sabino Canyon! For Mud Dauber wasps, anyway.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Okay, one more

Photo by Lyn Hart 11/16/2012

Flowers and fruits in various stages of development on this Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) growing by the creek. If you look inside the light brown fruits, you'll see the seeds. Do not eat. Or smoke.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Comic Relief

I could go on for another year or two, but I'll give you a break from my rants about plants, and leave you with a comic from fellow herbivore Dan Piraro.

Anne says: Plants are amazing!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

More plant eaters

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/7/2012
Stopping for a drink from one of the remaining pools in the dam area are two White-tailed deer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Say: ho-HO-ba

Photos by Matt Ball 10/29/2012

Spent flowers from the male plant

Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) is another dioecious plant. Fruit above from - you guessed it - the female plant, spent flowers below from the male plant. The seed (nut) inside (in the middle, above) is high in fat. This fat is saturated (i.e., doesn't bond easily with oxygen, thus not likely to become rancid; fats like this are relatively rare in the plant kingdom) and stable at high temperatures. This fat is used commercially, most notably in place of sperm whale oil. The seeds are more or less indigestible to most mammals.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Desert Broom is in bloom

Photo by Ned Harris 10/31/2012

Photo by Matt Ball 10/29/2012

Desert Broom (Baccharis sarothroides) has been blooming for a few months now; if you find yourself sneezing at this time of year, Desert Broom is the likely reason. Many of us are allergic to the pollen. It's dioecious, too. I think the top photo shows the female flowers, bottom the male, but please correct me if you know for sure. (We'll all know once the female develops seeds.) You can see clear differences if there are multiple plants around.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Two Houses

In plants (as in animals), the male parts contribute pollen (sperm), the female parts contribute the ovule (egg); the female grows the seed - the product of the combination of pollen and ovule. (Details about flower parts here.)
The vast majority of  flowering plants have male and female parts on the same flower.
Some flowering plants have separate male and female flowers on the same plant (monoecious); e.g., Mexican Blue Oak (Quercus oblongifolia).
And some flowering plants have male flowers and female flowers on separate plants (dioecious).
Let's look at some dioecious plants (and their fruits).

Photos by Matt Ball 10/23/2012
The Four-wing Saltbush (Atriplex canescens) grows separate plants for each sex. The fruits (above) have 4 wings, hence the common name. Ask your kid(s): "These are the fruits, which sex is this plant (above)?"

Male flowers never grow fruits. What do they contribute?

Same species, different sexes. Which one is which? 
There are loads of Four-wing Saltbush plants (of both sexes) at the Rillito River Park, starting at Craycroft,  on the north side and heading west. (I'm sure there are more elsewhere, but this is where I've been.) You can very easily tell the sexes apart now.The female plants are absolutely laden with fruits.
Loads of Desert Broom plants along the Rillito as well...

Friday, November 23, 2012

Star's fruit

Photo by Ned Harris 11/14/2012
Click on photo for a larger view (that option is always available). The fruits of the (Isolated) Blazing Star (Mentzelia isolata) are oblong and fuzzy. Saw these in the riparian area above the dam, growing around the Sacred Datura that held the Keeled Treehopper herd.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sailor's Fruit

Photo by Ned Harris 11/14/2012

Found a few Roving Sailor fruits on the plant Ned photographed here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Pincushion Fruit

Photo by Matt Ball 10/23/2012
Like many fruits of plants in the cactus family, Pincushion (Fishhook Pincushion Mammillaria grahamii) fruit contains lots of tiny seeds. These fruits are edible, but there's not much to them!
Answer to yesterday's question: (Nearly all) adult insects have wings. If you see an insect with wings, you can say with confidence that it's an adult.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Flowers and Flyer, too

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/7/2012
This beauty is a Buckeye butterfly perched on blooming Smartweed (Persicaria lapathifolia).
How do you know that this butterfly (insect) is an adult? Answer tomorrow!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flowers and Flyer

Photo by Marty Horowitz 11/7/2012
Bursting with color, this Flame Skimmer dragonfly has landed on Smartweed  (Persicaria lapathifolia) by the creek. Look later for the fruits.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Keel Appeal

Photos by Ned Harris 11/13/2012

What ARE this things? I'm glad you asked! They are nymph and adult Keeled Treehoppers [link is to a photo by Margarethe Brummermann; who will be at the 4th Avenue Street Fair  - 7-9 December, 10am-dusk - with her wonderful watercolor art - booth #626].
The nymphs are in various stages (like all insects, they have to shed their exoskeleton to grow); you can see them most clearly in the top photo. The adults have keels, which scientists think are actually fused wings (thus not breaking the 'rule' that adult insects have wings : -)
The herds pictured were all over Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii) plants in the riparian area by the dam. (You know that fruit, too.) These are the same type of bugs that eat other plants in the Solanaceae family - like tomato plants.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Who's got the button (bush)?

Photo by Ned Harris 11/14/2012

Yes, these are Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) fruits - some still developing. The 'button' is composed of dozens of individual flowers. Note the long, thin style [one of the female parts of the flower] sticking out of some of them. Each flower can grow a seed, provided the flower is pollinated [with pollen from the male parts]. The plant is a real magnet for insects when in bloom, so there's usually no problem getting the pollen where it needs to go!
Answer to yesterday's fruit question: Common Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fruits and Flyer

Photo by Ned Harris 11/7/2012

Great Spreadwing damselfly - the exception to the 'rule' that damselflies hold their wings over their bodies when perched - on a fruit you know. Which one? Answer tomorrow.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

We interrupt this plant rant...

Photo by Ned Harris 11/14/2012
... to bring you a frog blog. I nearly stepped on this little guy on the main path at about 10.30am on Wednesday. Fortunately, Ned was there to document this cold and lonely Red-spotted Toad, and I moved him/her to a safe place.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Find this fruit!

Photo by Ned Harris 10/31/2012
Snapdragon Vine (Maurandya antirrhiniflora) aka Roving Sailor (my favorite common name) was blooming several weeks ago along the north side of the Bear Canyon bridge. The vine is winding through the Button Bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis), so look carefully. If you get a photo of a fruit, I'll publish it here!

For the advanced learner: Like most flowers, this one has male and female parts on the same flower; hummingbirds like it, insects like it, too. Ask your kid(s): How do you think the pollen gets from one flower to another?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fuzzy Fruits

Photo by Matt Ball 10/23/2012

Some plants make fruits that look like fuzz balls. I've don't remember what this plant is exactly, but I'm pretty sure it's Telegraph Weed aka Camphor Weed (Heterotheca subaxillaris). I'm certain it's in the Sunflower family. Burroweed (Isocoma tenuisecta) has fruits like this, as do many other plants in this family. Go outside and find some!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Don't touch these fruits!

Photo by Matt Ball 10/23/2012

These spiky balls are the fruits of  Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii). They are about the size of a golf ball. Look carefully for them - but don't touch. And don't eat the seeds. If you do, you might not eat anything ever again.

As I've mentioned before, don't eat, drink, smoke, or lick anything (or anyone) you find in the desert. Especially not as a dare. That's just stupid.

For the advanced learner: Sacred Datura is in the Nightshade Family (Solanaceae). Other plants in this family also make toxins that can cause mild or major problems to animals who ingest the plant. Desert examples include: Desert Tobacco (Nicotiana obtusifolia), Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca), and Nightshades (Solanum douglasii and S. elaeagnifolium); but others have edible parts. Edible fruits include those of the various desert Lycium species (Wolfberry). Tomatoes (fruits) and potatoes (underground stems) are also in this family!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Capsules are fruits

Photo by Matt Ball 10/23/2012

Plants in the Mallow family (Malvaceae) have interesting-looking fruits. The various Abutilon species (commonly known as Indian Mallow), Anoda species (Anoda), and the Sphaeralcea species (Globe Mallows) have fruits like the photo above. Each 'chamber' holds a seed. The plant above is Abutilon abutiloides.

Photo by Ned Harris 10/17/2010

Wild Cotton aka Desert Cotton (Gossypium thurberi) is also in the Mallow family. In the photo, you'll see a green (unripe) fruit in the background, and a split fruit in focus. The seeds are inside, along with a few sparse cotton fibers.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How about that?! More Fruits!

Photos by Matt Ball 10/23/2012

4 seeds in this photo, 3 greenish on the left, one dried in the center; 
outer 'shell' of the pod in pieces on the right

I found these on the Esperero Trail, after crossing the road and just out of sight of the Cactus Picnic Area. The plants look like one of the bladderpods. (Gordon's Bladderpod Physaria gordonii is my guess, as I saw the flowers in the same place in the spring. If that's case, though, these fruits have either stayed on the plant quite a while - or the plant bloomed 'late'! If you know what this really is, please send me an email.) The fruits look a bit like rounded popcorn kernels.

Returning to the question from yesterday: What does a plant's DNA tell it to do? DNA is like software (or, for those of us who weren't born yesterday, an instruction manual). Plant DNA (in very general terms) tells it to make roots, shoots, and leaves (not arms, legs, and lungs). All plants have evolved from the first (successful) plant over time periods the human animal cannot begin to fathom. Our desert plants have adapted to the (over) abundance of sun and (almost total) lack of water only by means of tweaks to this original software. I'll come back to this topic later : -)