Saturday, October 31, 2015

Close Encounter with the Rattled Kind

On a warm Monday (10/26/2015), my Honey-Matt and I went hiking on the Esperero Trail. Suddenly, we heard what seemed like a very perturbed bird. It turned out to be a very perturbed Black-tailed Rattlesnake. (Seriously, I've never heard such a furious chatter-like rattle.) The photo below was from my view point. 

Photos by Matt Ball 10/26/2015
Anne's view

After moving to a safer distance, Matt photographed the rattler trifecta: Coiled, Rattle, Tongue. Because the snake was between us (and I didn't want to pass), Matt went around her/him off trail. Very exciting and a beautiful snake.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Trippin' on the Nightshades Fantastic

Photo by Fred Heath 9/30/2015

Fred writes:
This is the Berlander Wolfberry (Lycium berlandieri). We have three species of wolfberry in Sabino and this one waits until the summer rains. If you think the fruit looks like little tomatoes, that is because they are related, with both being in the Solanaceae or Nightshade Family.

Anne says: The Nightshade Family is part of the folklore, religious and other cultural practices, as well as the myths and legends of  peoples across the globe. It's an appropriate plant family to feature on Halloween : -) Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) (aka Deadly Nightshade), for example, has long been used to poison enemies, as a way for witches to 'fly,' and in order to dilate the pupil of women's eyes (thought to be more beautiful in some cultures). When tomatoes (a new world plant) were introduced in Europe, no one wanted to try them. (Same family as Belladonna?! Are you crazy?!)

Many nightshades are edible (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, the wolfberries above); others are more or less deadly. One of the more toxic nightshades in Sabino Canyon is Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii). Doctors and nurses who work in emergency departments have seen poisonings from Sacred Datura here in Tucson. 'Kids' try ingesting it (usually by smoking; tobacco is in the same family) in order to have hallucinations. Never, ever a good idea. Yes, some plants in this family have psychoactive properties. And this leads me to this story that Carol graciously shared about (what may have been) her mother's reaction to my favorite nightshade.

As is relatively common for people with memory issues at that age, Carol's 90+-year-old mother is taking prescription memory medication (Aricept). A while ago, her mother reported that many people had joined her in bed, keeping her warm; people were entertaining her in her room, and other such stories, pleasantly relayed. One of the caregivers noted: "She's seeing the shades."
Carol did some digging and found a bag of potatoes (one of her mother's favorite foods) that hadn't been stored properly - growing eyes, going green. Although a healthy adult would have to eat a lot of potatoes-gone-green in order to be affected by the toxin solanine (yes, it's 'natural'), a memory-impaired adult might be more susceptible to eating a green-ish potato, (eating any potato, for that matter,) or even having the green-ish potatoes in the house. After removing the bag, the people disappeared. Kind of sad, actually, since she was enjoying their 'presence'. [All mistakes in the retelling are my own.]

The moral of this story? Never underestimate the power of plants! And watch out for nightshades.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Seeing Red in Sabino: Cactus fruit edition

Photos and Text by Fred "red's in the name" Heath.

Night-blooming Cereus fruits
Photo by Fred Heath 9/21/2015

Fred writes:

Recently with the good rains we have had all year, my walks in Sabino have been become quite fruitful. The bright red colors of some of these fruits really catch the eye.
In the median about a mile up the main tram road there has been a Night-blooming Cereus (Peniocereus greggii) which has been looking unhealthy for a few years now and I was sure it would finally succumb to old age. Image my surprise, this fall, when I found the plant looking great with three fruits. It shouldn't be such a surprise as the Night-blooming Cereus as very large roots which usually have a much greater volume than the part above ground.

Christmas Cholla fruits
Photo by Fred Heath 10/6/2015

Aside from the Night-blooming Cereus, we have a couple of other cactus which can have red fruits at this time of year. The Christmas Cholla (Cylindropuntia leptocaulis) is probably so named because the cactus with its Christmas colored red fruit and green stems usually is around during the holidays. Because it has such skinny stems, it is sometimes mistaken for Pencil Cholla (Cylindropuntia arbuscula) but that cholla, which not common in Sabino, usually has thicker stems and much longer spines.

Fishhook Pincushion fruits
Photo by Fred Heath 10/6/2015

Another cactus that might have red fruit around this time of year is the Fishhook Pincushion (Mammillaria grahamii) which has fruit which looks like little chili peppers. They taste a little like lemon [Anne says: I think they taste more like strawberries.] and are a favorite with our ground squirrels. [Anne says: I've seen roadrunners pluck them out and eat them, too.] This is probably the most abundant cactus in Sabino, but their small size and habit of hiding under other plants makes them inconspicuous except when their pink flowers or red fruit makes them stand out. They can bloom and produce fruit several times a year depending on warm temperatures and good rains.

Anne Green says: Thanks, fRED!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Seeing Red in Sabino

Text and photos by Fred Heath. 

Fred writes: 

The Tumamoc Globeberry (Ibervillea macdougalii) was thought to be a quite a rare plant and the few plants in Sabino have been carefully monitored over the years. Lately, botanists have been actively searching for it in SE Arizona at the right time of year (with monsoon rains) and found that it is more widely (although sparingly) distributed than originally thought.

Photo by Fred Heath 10/5/2015

When the fruit is ripe and red, it is a little easier to spot even though its vines are usually hidden on Velvet Mesquite trees.

Photo by Fred Heath 9/5/2015

The elegant flower and distinctive leaf shape help identify it.

Photo by Fred Heath 9/26/2015

It is a member of the Gourd Family (Cucurbitaceae) which is a little more obvious when you spot an unripe fruit which resembles a tiny watermelon (also a member of that family).

Thanks, Fred, for this great post!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

New Pea (for me)

Photo by Ned Harris 10/14/2015

I've learned (and re-learned) a lot of plants this year. This little pea-family plant is one of them. Sensitive Pea (Chamaecrista nictitans var. mensalis) is blooming in the sand around the dam.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Opportunity to Comment on Sabino Canyon Shuttle

You might have missed this in the AZ Daily Star; the Coronado National Forest, Santa Catalina Ranger District invites "timely and specific written comments" about the proposed plan for the Sabino Canyon Shuttle. The full proposal is here, and you'll want to read it before submitting any comments. (Please don't submit comments to me. Follow the directions on the proposal.)

The crux of the matter is contained in the following paragraphs (emphasis mine):

Proposed Action

The Santa Catalina Ranger District of the Coronado National Forest proposes to issue a 20-year term Special Use Authorization for operation and maintenance of a commercially-operated shuttle system in July 2017, permitting operations and frequency of service consistent with current levels as described above (see Existing Conditions). Passenger shuttle operations would be limited to the six (6) miles of paved road (FSRs 100 and 100A) within Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. The Authorization would also permit the operation of and access to (along FSRs 804 and 804A) a vehicle storage and maintenance yard, approximately one (1) acre in size and a space to provide information and sell tickets. A change in the location of these facilities are not proposed under this NEPA analysis, and no ground disturbing activities would occur.

The issuance of the new Special Use Authorization will be consistent with the Forest Plan (1986); goals and objectives in the 2015 SCRA Sustainable Recreation Concept Plan; and existing laws, regulations, and policies. The shuttle service fleet will be modernized to include new vehicles with improved emission control technologies, improved energy consumption, a shorter wheelbase for improved turning radius, and improved safety features. The shuttle service operation will provide an audio distribution system that delivers and promotes the appreciation of natural and cultural resources of Sabino Canyon, while reducing or eliminating auditory impacts to non-shuttle users and protecting ecosystem integrity.

No timeline for modernization is given, however.

Again, from the proposal:

Comments should be received by November 13, 2015. Please make your comments as specific as possible. If you provide recommendations for changes to the Proposed Action, please include the reasons for your recommendations. This information will help us identify the need for alternatives. After the Preferred Alternative and any other alternatives have been fully developed, an analysis of environmental effects related to the alternatives will be completed in a preliminary Environmental Analysis (EA) anticipated to be completed in Spring 2016. Specific written comments must be submitted via email, mail, fax, or in person (Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding holidays): Send comments via e-mail to:
There are options for postal mail and fax as well. See the proposal here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Fall-colored Spiny

Photo by Marty Horowitz 9/16/2015

Desert Spiny lizard

Saturday, October 24, 2015

New Blue

Photo by Debbie Bird 9/25/2015

Debbie recently alerted some plant people about this new flower in Sabino Canyon. Whitemouth Dayflower is one of the common names for Commelina erecta. (This beauty is not yet on Joan's plant list for Sabino Canyon - but a sample has been collected and next year's list will have the update.) In the Spiderwort (Commelinaceae) family.

Photo by Marty Horowitz 9/28/2015

There's loads of it in the area above the dam. Look under trees and shrubs, east of the hummingbird feeders.

Photo by Ned Harris 10/14/2015

It's possible that no one noticed it before now, of course. It's also possible that conditions were right during this past monsoon season for this beauty to grow. Another possibility is that, as the natives continue to return in the areas where Arundo donax has been eradicated, this particular native is now able to thrive. Whatever the reason(s), go out and take a look!

Friday, October 23, 2015

You're so veined!

You probably think this blog is about Veined Ctenucha (teh-NEW-kah) moths. And it is!
Beth writes at the link above:

Despite its bright, bold coloration, diurnal (daytime) habits, and strange, beetle-like or wasp-like appearance, the Veined Ctenucha (Ctenucha venosa) is actually a moth.

Indeed, we saw loads of them in Sabino Canyon on 10/14/2015. They didn't sit still very long, though!

Photo by Ned Harris 10/14/2015

This one is on a Sensitive Pea plant (Chaemacrista nictitans var. mensalis). 

Photos by Ned Harris 10/13/2015

Ned photographed some in his backyard the day before. Click on these photos to see the feather-like antennae. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Beetle mania

Photo by Marty Horowitz 10/7/2015

According to our beetle expert (and she knows beetles!), this is a Shining Leaf Chafer (Scarab) Strigoderma pimalis. Click the photo for a larger view. Thanks, Margarethe!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Up there

Photo by Marty "Audubon" Horowitz 10/7/2015

Portrait of a Greater Roadrunner by a greater photographer.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Bean there

Photo by Marty Horowitz 9/16/2015

Flowers of wild Tepary Bean (Phaeseolus acutifolius var. tenuifolius) are small; generally smaller than a dime, and spaced relatively far apart on the thin vine. The plant is easily overlooked, even when blooming. The fruits are (you guessed it) pods.

You can get cultivated seed varieties from Native Seeds if you want to grow these in the desert. They also sell bags of these (and other) beans to cook and eat. Yum.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Berries abound

Photos by Ned Harris 9/11/2015

Wolfberries look like mini-mini-tomatoes - and, yes, the plant (Lycium exsertum) is in the same family as tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, even - and just as edible. That's the same family as Sacred Datura (Datura wrightii), though; definitely not edible.

Bottom line is this: don't eat the plants, fungi, or animals in the canyon. And you don't want to drink the creek water, either. As Michael likes to say: Live to play another day!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Portrait of a Curve-billed Thrasher

Photo by Marty Horowitz 9/21/2015

Audubon would have loved this photo! Click for a larger view.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Blast from the Past: Fungus edition

Gene brings us various 'srooms of summer from the last Mt Lemmon walk with Ned and friends of Ned on 8/26/2015.

All photos by Gene Spesard 8/26/2015

As you know, fungi are (most definitely) not plants; but they are interesting and important in their own right. You'll need to ask someone else, though, for i.d. Any fungus fans out there?

This shelf fungus looks like an old hat left out in the rain.

This one looks (sort of) like a glazed doughnut. Probably doesn't taste like one, though. You read it here first!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Blast from the past

Fortunately, Gene Spesard was able to attend Ned's final Mt Lemmon walk on 8/26/2015. Some of the many yellow flowers blooming at that time. 

All photos by Gene Spesard 8/26/2015

Common Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) (pg. 167 in Rose)

Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius) (pg. 55 in Rose)

Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) (pg. 153 in Rose)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tiny Toads

Photo by Ned Harris 9/11/2015

Photo by Ned Harris 9/16/2015

From Reptiles of AZ (the link above): 

Couch’s spadefoots remain buried in the soil for 8-10 months and then emerge at the onset of the summer monsoons. This species is frequently encountered on roads during warm, humid summer nights. Adults are nocturnal, but metamorphs [Anne notes: like this little one] are often active by day.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

SARA rescue in Sabino Canyon

Photos by Marty Horowitz 10/7/2015

The volunteers of SARA bring an injured hiker down from Blackett's Ridge. Learn more about this group by clicking on the link above.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Best for Last, too!

Photo by Ned Harris 9/12/2015

Ned got a shot of the Arizona Tortoise Beetle larvae on Canyon Ragweed.

Photo by Fred Heath 9/13/2015

Fred writes:

While leading a butterfly trip for SEABA in the Catalinas, we stopped along the Catalina Highway at a spot I know just below the 4000 foot sign. There was a lot of chewed Canyon Ragweed and I found some more AZ Tortoise Beetle larvae as well as a few adults (see photo above). 

Photo by Bill Kaufman 9/24/2015

 Larvae of AZ Tortoise Beetle in Canyon Ragweed in Sabino Canyon

Photo by Bill Kaufman 9/24/2015

Adult AZ Tortoise Beetle, about 1/4 inch long, also on Canyon Ragweed in Sabino Canyon.

Thanks to Fred, Eric, and Margarethe for helping us all learn a new beetle!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Best for Last?

I was planning on saving these ghoulish critters for a halloween post, but I couldn't hold out any longer! Hold on to your breakfast and read on!

Fred Heath wrote to Eric Eaton (main author of the Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America):

[A]t a meeting of the Native Plant Society, one of the folks came up to me and described some bugs (non-scientific definition) that got all over his clothing after bushwhacking in Ironwood NM. He said they almost looked like tiny scorpions with their tails held up in the air. I asked if he had a photo and the answer was no. Since I had no idea what he was talking about, I figured to just let it go.
On Thursday morning [9/10/2015], I was walking around Sabino checking out Canyon Ragweed (Ambrosia ambrosioides) which I just recently found out was a host plant for Bordered Patch, when I found a well-eaten plant and checked it for the patches. To my surprise, what did I find, but little scorpion-like insects (at least they seem to have 6 legs), the like of which I’ve never seen. I’m thinking they might be some sort of beetle larvae, but I really don’t have the foggiest idea.
I did, however, take a few photos. They are clearly eating the ragweed. Can you help clear up this mystery and tell me what the heck they are?

Photos by Fred Heath 9/10/2015

Eric responded: 

The insects in the images are larvae of the Arizona Tortoise Beetle (Physonota arizonae), or a very close relative. They wave their poop around on the end of the abdomen, presumably to deter predators. 

Fred says:

Mystery solved!! See Margarethe Brummermann’s excellent larva photo, too!

Anne says: This story continues...

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Wasps on Wild Cotton

All Photos by Ned Harris 10/3/2015

Polistes flavus

Polistes comanchus

Polistes major castaneicolor

All are paper wasps, all are on Wild Cotton (Gossypium thurberi); specifically, on the developing fruits. According to our favorite bug lady, Margarethe Brummermann, the wasps are chewing through the stem at the base and/or the skin of the developing fruit and licking the sap. Yum.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Giant Water Bug

Photo by Marty Horowitz 9/28/2015

Bigger than a quarter : -) 

Friday, October 9, 2015


Photo by Ned Harris 9/17/2015

Photo by Ned Harris 9/16/2015

Photo by Marty Horowitz 9/28/2015

Thursday, October 8, 2015


Photo by Ned Harris 9/16/2015

Tiny Checkerspot

Photo by Ned Harris 9/11/2015

American Snout on Bush Spiderling (Commicarpus scandens

Photo by Ned Harris 9/16/2015