Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Brilliant Blue

Photo by Ned Harris 9/11/2015

Both Bearded Morning Glory (Ipomoea barbatisepala) and Ivyleaf Morning Glory (Ipomoea hederacea) bloom in blue post-monsoon. I'm pretty sure this is the former (aka Canyon Morning Glory), but need to see the leaves to be sure. Please send me a correction, if needed.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Photos by Matt Ball 9/11/2015

You'll need to look carefully for these tiny white flowers (pinkish with age). One of a number in the genus Euphorbia, I'm reasonably certain these are Euphorbia florida, sometimes called Chiricahua Mountain Sandmat. A real challenge to photograph, too. Thanks, Honey-Matt!

Monday, September 28, 2015

More pink, I think

Photo by Ned Harris  9/11/2015

There are two varieties of Chainfruit (aka Jumping) Cholla in the canyon (Cylindropuntia flugida var. fulgida and var. mammillata), but both generally reproduce vegetatively, i.e., a piece falls off and a new plant grows. The new plant has the same DNA, of course; therefore most Chainfruit Chollas in the same area are clones.
You'll note that the flowers are blooming right out of last season's fruits. That's typical for this cactus. The fruits generally contain sterile seeds, but it's likely that this plant has retained the ability to reproduce via seed - just look at those flowers!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Sphinx on the loose

Photo by Ned Harris 9/11/2015

'tis the season for White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillars! They are about the width of an adult finger and can easily startle you!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Now for some pink

Not all the bloomin' flowers are yellow; some are shades of pink! 

Photos by Matt Ball 9/6/2015

Spiderling (Boerhavia wrightii)

Range Ratany (Krameria erecta

Bird's-foot Morning Glory (Ipomoea ternifolia var. leptotoma)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Sneezin' for a reason

Photo by Matt Ball 9/11/2015

If you find yourself sneezing, Slimleaf Bursage (Ambrosia confertiflora) may well be the reason. The tiny male flowers produce (of course) loads of pollen. And it seems to me that there are more of these plants blooming than ever before (at least in my experience in the canyon over the past 8 years). Say: Gesundheit!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Coulter Hibiscus

Photo by Matt Ball 9/6/2015

You can see why Coulter Hibiscus (Hibiscus coulteri) is also commonly known as Desert Rose Mallow. Yes, it's in the Mallow family.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Invasion of the Bordered Patches

Photo by Ned Harris 9/11/2015

Thanks to Fred Heath for identifying these caterpillars as Bordered Patch larvae. (Click the link to see what they look like as adults.) Here, they are feeding on Canyon Ragweed (Ambrosia ambrosioides).

Photo by Matt Ball 9/11/2015

Matt and I saw them feeding on the equally yummy (to them) Common Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium). The black dots you see are caterpillar poop, called frass by the experts.

Under the rubric 'more-than-you-ever-wanted-to-know', I'll tell you that frass comes from the German verb fressen  - to eat, for non-human animals; if you use fressen to describe how a human is eating, you mean that the person is eating quickly, sloppily, 'like a pig.' (The verb essen is to eat.) Principle parts: fressen - frass - gefressen. (essen - ass - gegessen; The counterpart in English [a Germanic language, too] is also a strong verb:  eat - ate - eaten.) One of the few times a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures comes in handy in the canyon, so I'll take it!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Menodora for ya

Photos by Matt Ball 9/11/2015

Yes, another yellow flower! Rough Menodora (Menodora scabra) is in the Olive family (Oleaceae), [along with Velvet Ash (Fraxinus velutina)]. The developing fruits are the green balls you see in both photos.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Caterpillar-y action

Ned and Lyn noticed these caterpillars in action on Desert Hackberry plants (Celtis pallida) and turned to Fred for details.

Photo by Ned Harris 9/11/2015

Fred Heath writes:

Those are Snouts. Mary and I have been noticing them in the Desert Hackberries in Sabino over the last week. The caterpillars hanging down in “J” shape are about to pupate. They will shed their skin and the pupa will be underneath. I see that there are at least three pupas visible in this shot (two green and one gray green, the most obvious is the one in back, left of center, framed by two brown dead leaves).
Unlike Empress Leilia, which use only Desert Hackberry as a host plant, Snouts will use any Hackberry. I found a Snout caterpillars on the Net-Leaf Hackberry (Celtis reticulata) just above the dam the other day. Also, Snouts will sometimes decimate the leaves on the trees in an area and then have mass migrations to areas with more hackberry trees. The Empress Leilia on the other hand never seem to have these huge population surges.
Also of note, when I was photographing the Snout caterpillars and got too close or knocked a branch, they would drop on a silk thread, hang from the branch, and then slowly climb back up when the danger had passed. This is protective measure when approached by hungry birds and lizards. I’ve never known a butterfly caterpillar to do this.

 Thanks for another great post, Fred and Ned!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

White Needle-Flower

It's a banner season for this delicate beauty, too. White Needle-Flower (Justicia longii) is one of four plants in the canyon in the Acanthus family.

Photo by Matt Ball 9/11/2015

Close up by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Yellow, too

Another yellow flower carpeting the canyon is Desert Vine (Cottsia gracilis). Seems to be a banner season for it!

Photos by Matt Ball 9/6/2015

Prickly pear pad gives you a sense of the flower size

Close up of fruit by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

Friday, September 18, 2015

Cloudy with a chance of frog

I took my Honey-Matt out for a walk on a cloudy morning, and we saw quite a few tiny Red-spotted Toads. They were very recently tadpoles! They are so tiny (now) and fast that they are nearly impossible to photograph.

Photo by Matt Ball 9/11/2015
Frog is about the size of your smallest fingernail!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

More yellow

Many, many yellow flowers blooming in the canyon these days (most days, actually. Yellow is attractive to insects of all sorts.) I'll show you some in the coming weeks. 

Photos by Matt Ball 9/6/2015

White-thorn Acacia (Vachellia constricta) is actually no longer in the Acacia genus. We're going to stick with calling it White-thorn Acacia, though. As you can see from the leaves (line down the middle, leaf on either side), it's still in the Pea family!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A face that only loves a prickly pear fruit

Wayne has had multiple tortoise sightings this year, especially during prickly pear fruit season. Click on the photos for a closer look at this Sonoran Desert Tortoise. And remember: Don't pick them up!!

Photos by Wayne Klement 8/31/2015

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

New Mallow!

It's always exciting for me to learn a new plant! This one is in the Mallow family and only blooms if monsoon rains are good. I found these examples on the Esperero trail, but there are many plants along the road into Sabino Canyon as well. The flowers are VERY tiny, but really interesting. Close-up photos of Ayenia (Ayenia filiformis) are available at the link.

Photos by Matt Ball 9/6/2015

Say: ay-YEN-ee-uh

Monday, September 14, 2015

One to know: Ocotillo

Photo by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) has a distinctive look! It's lush when in leaf; looks like dead sticks when it's not. It's not a cactus (cacti don't have leaves), but it is a well-adapted desert plant. The flowers generally bloom in the spring and are favorites of hummingbirds. The flowers are edible by humans, but unless you have an ocotillo in your yard, leave them for the birds. (Difficult to harvest, too.)

My friend Heather sent me Shannon Hayes's review of How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson. (Thanks, Heather!) Hayes writes:

As chief curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and host of the PBS KIDS television series Dinosaur Train, Sampson argues that the current disconnect between kids and the natural world is a threat to their physical, mental, and emotional health. One study he cites found that the average American child spends less than seven minutes a day outdoors, but racks up more than seven hours per day staring at screens. Sampson says that children can recognize more than 10,000 corporate logos, but fewer than 10 plants native to their region.

Even taking these numbers with the proverbial grain of salt and keeping in mind that every generation says: "Kids these days ...",  I still think we can reasonably say that it might be good to get kids of all ages outside more often - completely free of all gadgets. Let's all look - really look - at plants, at dirt, at clouds. See what we can see.

Sunday, September 13, 2015


Jojoba (hoe-HOE-buh) (Simmondsia chinensis) is another great desert plant. It's dioecious (separate male plants and female plants, therefore separate male and female flowers). 

Photos by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

If you see a fruit [the thing that holds/contains the seed(s)], you know you are looking at a female plant. The females bear the fruit, of course, and the fruit holds the seed. A seed is a baby plant with a packed lunch.

Hand by Anne

I broke open a fruit to reveal the seed. Jojoba seeds are very dense and hard. Their 'lunch' is high in fat (50% of the seed is fat). For the baby jojoba plant, this means it has a lot of energy (compared to, say, a poppy seed) to use for growth before it must send up a shoot to start photosynthesis.

This fat can be harvested and used as an industrial oil and in cosmetics. In the 1970s, importing whale oil to the US was banned; jojoba oil was found to be better than whale oil in industrial (and cosmetic) uses.

These seeds aren't digestible by humans, though. You won't get any energy benefits and you'll likely have some digestive issues, so keep these out of your trail mix.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Prickly Pear Art

Photo by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

Internal structure of prickly pear cactus

Friday, September 11, 2015

Flower (and book) power!

Photo by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

Copper (or Shrubby) Purslane (Portulaca suffrutescens) is blooming in some of the sandy areas in the canyon. (See page 150 in Rose, too)

And a bonus book recommendation: Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution by Nick Lane. I particularly like the chapters on DNA and on photosynthesis, of course. Very well written.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Four O'clock Trails

Photos by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

Trailing Four O'clock (Allionia incarnata) is blooming - and trailing - in the canyon now.

Also blooming - and in the same family - is Scarlet Spiderling (Boerhavia coccinea).

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Blue Eyes

Photos by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

Arizona Blue Eyes (Evolvulus arizonicus) are tiny (as you can see compared to the average-sized prickly pear pad in the photo above). First - and smallest - of the blue morning glories to bloom in the canyon.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Water world

It's always exciting when the creek has rapids! These photos from Wayne Klement in the late morning on 9/1/2015.

Bear Canyon bridge shows the high water mark

White water over the Bear Canyon bridge

Waterfall at the dam

Monday, September 7, 2015

Blooming now

All Photos by Matt Ball 8/30/2014

These big blossoms are ubiquitous along the road into Sabino Canyon. Jacquemontia (Jack-uh-mon-tea-uh, more or less) (Jacquemontia pringlei) is in the Morning Glory family. Really : -)

Bush Spiderling (Commicarpus scandens) flowers, on the other hand, are quite small. The whole cluster is smaller than one of the Jacquemontia flowers. You'll need to look carefully for these, as they are often growing vine-like among other plants. In the Four O'Clock family.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Mystery plant is revealing

Photo by Matt Ball 8/30/2015 

Sue L. sent me photos of a mystery plant on the Phoneline trail. I set out with my camera-carrying husband to see what I could see that he could photograph. After convincing myself that this plant was in the Mint family (square stem, check; opposite leaves, check; 5-fused petals, check; aromatic, check; looks like a mint to me, check), I spent way too much time looking at all manner of mints. After much ado, I (finally) realized it's not a mint at all. Doh! In fact, it's a plant I should have remembered from last time I did this, namely: Wright's Beebush aka Wright Lippia (Aloysia wrightii) in the Verbena family. (As my family likes to say about me: Every day is a new day!)
The moral of this little story is this: As people who think scientifically (and that's what we all should strive to do), we mustn't allow ourselves to fit the data to our favorite theory. (I admit that I'd like to see some DNA on this one, though!)
Thanks, Sue, for putting me on this trail.
If you find a plant you can't identify (in Sabino Canyon ONLY, please), feel free to send me a photo or two and a general location. I won't get to it immediately. (I continue to work full time - for pay - and will do so for the foreseeable future.) But I do enjoy these mysteries. Again and again.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Pleasant evening perch

Photo by The Serpent Princess of
Dancing Snake Nature Photography
August 2015

I've noticed that my plant posts aren't nearly as popular as any animal post. I am grateful that Rene allows me to bring the people what they want today!
Young Greater Roadrunner takes a break in a mesquite at sunset. Be sure to click on the photo for a closer look.
And tune in tomorrow for more plants!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Two new yellows (for me, anyway!)

Photos by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

I'm pretty sure this is Creeping Wood-Sorrel (Oxalis corniculata). Growing low in shady areas on the Phoneline trail.

I like learning new plants, of course, but particularly new peas! Nissolia (Nissolia schottii) is really thick in some places along the Phoneline trail, vines over vines.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Yellow Bells

Photo by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

These beauties are often used in landscaping, but they are natives and grow in Sabino Canyon as well. You can find Yellow Bells (Tecoma stans) blooming on the Phoneline trail now. Hummingbirds like them, as do Carpenter bees.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Another bloomin' yellow

Photo by Matt Ball 8/30/2015

Many, many yellow flowers in Sabino Canyon! If you look closely at this one, you'll see that each petal overlaps the previous one, like a pinwheel. The flowers are generally about the size of a quarter. Cockroach Plant (Haplophyton cimcidium var. crooksii) abounds along the road and on the Phoneline trail.