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 : -)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Yes, they're fruits!

Photo by Matt Ball, 10/23/2012
These are fruits of the Common Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium). If the barbs don't keep you away in the first place, please note that the seeds inside are highly toxic. Seriously.

But do think about this: What does a plant's DNA tell it to do? More tomorrow : -)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pods are fruits

Photos by Matt Ball 10/23/2012

One of the seeds from this pod.
There are lots of plants in the pea family (Fabaceae) in Sabino Canyon. Many of these plants have fruits like the two acacias above, namely, pods. Pods are fruits. [Top photo is the fruit of the White-thorn Acacia (Acacia constricta); bottom is the fruit of Cat-claw Acacia (Acacia greggii).] Challenge your kids to think of other desert plants in the pea family that have pods as fruit. (Some hints: AZ state tree(s), mesquites, fairy dusters) How might these seeds get around and into the ground?

For the advanced learner: All plants make carbohydrates, fats, and proteins using energy from the sun. (Yet another thing that's 'magic' in the universe!) Plants in the Fabaceae family generally make more proteins than other plants. What we call 'beans' (soy beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans and even peanuts; in other words: legumes) (but not green beans/string beans - those are fruits) are really seeds, usually in a pod (fruit) like the photos above. The seeds (and often the pods) are generally much higher in proteins (and fats) than the seeds of other plants.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Flowers and Fruits

Photos by Matt Ball  10/23/2012
You may find Twin Seed aka Arizona Fold Wing (Dicliptera resupinata) with some flowers, as I did here. Note that the flowers are actually tubular; the seed develops deep inside, and the twin sepals (sepals basically hold the flower to the stem) close around the seed, forming the fruit.

The black dot is the seed from this fruit.
If you're out in the canyon with kids (of all ages), it's good to give them a task involving plants, as plants always have something to show. One fun task in fall and winter is to find fruits. [Remember: a fruit is the thing that holds the seed(s).] You don't need to know the name of the plant to identify a fruit; that's not the point. The task is simply to have your kid(s) say: 'That's a fruit.' If you are with older kids, you can then ask things like: How do you think the seed gets around and in the ground?

Furthermore, photos from kids (of all ages) can be published on this blog (with a world-wide audience)! Take photos of fruits, (no need to touch anything) and send them to me via email (less than 1MB please). I'll happily help with i.d., but again, the point of this task is to marvel at fruits in all their wonderful desert varieties, not to get bogged down in Latin.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Rants about Plants

For the next two weeks, I'm focusing on plants. "Why? Oh, why?" you ask. Two reasons: 1) Plants are vastly under appreciated; (despite the fact that plants are always visible) and 2) I like plants.
There are lots of visitors in the canyon this time of year, and you can more easily impress them with plants than you can cue animals for them to see (Walt Tornow's abilities notwithstanding).

Let's start with something we all know, namely, fruit and expand our knowledge. What is a fruit? A fruit holds the seed(s). That's it in a nutshell (which is itself a fruit. The nut is the seed). Some fruits are berries, some are capsules, some are pods, some fluffy stuff, and so on. Let's look at some fruits in Sabino Canyon.

Photo by Matt Ball 10/23/2012
The fruits of the Desert Hackberry (Celtis pallida) and Netleaf Hackberry (Celtis reticulata) are what we usually think of as fruit - fleshy, sweet, with seed(s) inside. A whole fruit is at the bottom of the photo; a squashed one is in three parts - with seed in the middle. Yes, these are edible; the seed is a bit bitter, IMO, but the flesh is lightly sweet. (And you can wow the kids of a certain age by revealing that these plants are in the Hemp family. Yes, that hemp. Cannabaceae.)

AS WITH ANY PLANT, be sure to positively identify it before eating. And instruct kids (of all ages) not to even touch anything without your permission or guidance. 

When you are out in the canyon with kids (of all ages), it's good to give them a task - especially one involving plants. More on this tomorrow.

For the eager learner, here's a general intro to plant biology. Click on the links on the left to move through the explanation.

Monday, November 5, 2012

a horse with no name...

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/22/2012
One of the members of the mounted patrol. And here's the song.
Horse are herbivores. Consider that a preview of coming attractions...

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Healthy Herbivore

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/24/2012
Why did the white-tailed deer cross the road? To get to the tasty plants on the other side, of course.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

What's that yellow flower?

Photos by Matt Ball 10/23/2012

Not actual size : - )
There are always plenty of yellow flowers; one you'll see along the creek for the next few weeks, though, is Bur Marigold (Bidens aurea). Page 17 in Rose.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Roadrunner, roadrunner

Photos by Marty Horowitz 10/23/12

Could you recognize the Greater Roadrunner in silhouette? Yesterday's birds were Gila Woodpecker (left) and Phainopepla (top).

Thursday, November 1, 2012


Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/22/2012
Can you name these birds? Hint: neither is a cardinal. Answer in tomorrow's post.