Sunday, November 2, 2014

Anne learns a new plant!

As many of you know, I'm a plant person. I made myself a booklet of Joan Tedford's list of the plants of Sabino Canyon. I carry it with me whenever I'm in the canyon, and I make notes and highlight the plants I can identify. It's always very exciting (yes, really) when I learn a new plant. (I imagine it's like seeing a new bird, for the birders among you. Or another mountain lion, for Walt.)
I was helping out with the elementary program on 10/23, and had the great fortune of spending some quality plant time with Debbie Bird, who made the positive i.d. of the new-to-me plant, taught me about several other plants, and pointed out a Sonoran Whipsnake, a Wilson's warbler, and a host of other attractions, including Marty Horowitz. I dragged Marty over to the new plant, and he took the photos you see here.

All Photos by Marty Horowitz 10/23/2014
This plant is (drum roll, please) Echinopepon wrightii or Balsam Apple and is in the Gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). Echinopepon is from the Greek echinos = spiny and pepon = large melon. This refers to the fruits, which you'll see more clearly if you click on this photo. The fruits are those elongated (not round), spiny-looking things. The leaves are rather large; the flowers are tiny and white.

The plant is a vine (note the tendrils) and is growing in among the Wild Cotton in the riparian area above the dam. In this photo, you can contrast the Balsam Apple leaf in the foreground (bright green), with the Wild Cotton (Gossypium thurberi) leaves in the background. There are also developing wild cotton fruits (the round, non-spiny balls) in this photo on the far right.

Here's the dried and opened fruit of Balsam Apple. Note the two chambers. And note how strange and scary it looks!

You may be saying: "Anne, this plant looks a lot like Big Root (Marah gilensis)." (page 71 in A Naturalist's Guide to Sabino Canyon, 2nd edition) And, yes, that's what I thought it was, initially. They are in the same family, but Big Root blooms in the spring, and Balsam Apple in the fall. Now you know! Isn't that exciting!

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