Thursday, March 31, 2016

Give Peas a Glance

I was very pleasantly surprised by all the positive feedback I received about my Borage and Mustard Family tutorials. Lots of plant people out there, a number of whom asked that the Pea family tutorial start sooner, rather than later. I'm happy to oblige.

For Pea Family plants in Sabino Canyon, we're going to use Anne Green's approved method of identification, namely:

Two of three, must be a pea. 

Remember the three Fs? Foliage, Flower, Fruit? If (at least) two of them display typical pea characteristics, we can say with confidence that the plant in question is in the Pea Family.

(Does this method always work? Nope. But it works at least 90% of the time on plants in Sabino and in Tucson.)

What are these characteristics, you ask?

Foliage: line down the middle, leaf on either side

Flowers: 5 petals; banner, wings, keel

Fruit: pod

Tomorrow, I'll show examples of the typical pea foliage.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Best Crest

Photo by Ned Harris 3/19/2016

The short nature trail close to the visitor center (Bajada Loop Trail) is well worth a stroll. On this trail is (in my opinion) the most spectacular crested Saguaro in Sabino Canyon. With arms growing out from the crest, this specimen makes for a great photo from any direction and in any season.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Black Hawk Up

Ned was out and about with Lyn in Sabino Canyon recently. Hooray! 
Ned wrote: 

On our morning walk Lyn pointed out a raptor high overhead. Viewing it through my lens I was able to determine that it was a Common Black Hawk. This was a first for me at Sabino.

Photo by Ned Harris 3/19/2016

He included this closer view from the hawkwatch in Tubac on 3/10/2016:

Photo by Ned Harris 3/10/2016

For more hawks (and other flyers) from Ned, spend some time at his flickr site.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Why they're called Silverpuffs

Photos © Marty Horowitz

The flower - yes, it looks like a dandelion! And if it looks like a dandelion, it's (most likely) in the Sunflower family. And Silverpuffs (Uropappus lindleyi) are no exception. Each of the 'petals' above is an individual flower that produces a seed.

The fruits look like a dandelion, too. The seed is the thin black spike at the base of each silvery puff.
How about that?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Wild and pink

Photos © Marty Horowitz

Parry's Penstemons (Penstemon parryi) are always amazing to see "in the wild."

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Yes, it's a pea

Photo © Marty Horowitz

Dalea (Dalea pringlei) is a very pretty Pea family plant. More peas from the past here. And stories from Fred about animal relationships with this specific plant from 2011 and 2014.

Remember, you don't need to save any of these blog posts/emails. Everything I've ever posted is available in the archives (for as long as The Google exists). Go to at any time and search or browse to your heart's content. Over 300 posts every year since 2011! I recommend looking by month (i.e., look at all posts from March 2011, March 2012, etc.) That's a good way to see what happens in the seasons of Sabino.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Bud and Blossom

Photos © Gene Spesard  

Creosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) is a wonderful desert plant. The leaves are small and have an oily coating. Both adaptations prevent water loss. If you rub the leaves, you'll release the scent of the desert after rain. Click the link above to see photos of the fuzzy white fruits.
Remember, fruit is the thing that has the seed(s).

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Peaceful Pair

Photo © Marty Horowitz

Mallard pair drifts downstream. From the link:

Mallard pairs form long before the spring breeding season. Pairing takes place in the fall, but courtship can be seen all winter. Only the female incubates the eggs and takes care of the ducklings.

Hope we see some ducklings in April/May!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

And now for some Skippers

Photos © Marty Horowitz

Remember, in the insect world, if there are wings, you are looking at an adult. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Twin Seed is fine, indeed

Photo © Marty Horowitz

You've probably walked right by this plant a time or two. Twin Seed (Dicliptera resupinata) likes a bit of shade; look under other plants (especially along the road into Sabino Canyon).
Click on the photo for a larger view and note the leaves (thin) versus the sepals (spade shaped).(Sepals basically hold the flower to the stem.) The ovary (where the seed forms) is at the bottom of the tube of the flower. The sepals close around the developing seed (see the reddish spot in the middle of the sepals in the lower left) and dry to a tan color (two to the left of the aforementioned).
Twin Seed can bloom year round. Go out and look for some today.

Monday, March 21, 2016


Photos © Marty Horowitz

On one of our recent Ned-less Nature Walks, we saw an adult pair of Roadrunners doing a mating dance around some Burro Brush. Their dance involved some fancy footwork. They would each run/hop in opposite directions around the plant, then turn - seemingly on cue - to prance in the other direction. They'd stop, spread their tail feathers, crouch low. It was really amazing to watch. They didn't seem to be bothered by us gawkers. We wanted to applaud their performance.

From the link above:
Roadrunner pairs form lifelong bonds that they renew each spring with a series of elaborate courtship steps and calls.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Chicory for you and me

Photo © Gene Spesard

Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana) is in the Sunflower (aka Aster, fka Composite) family. Picture the 'classic' sunflower with the giant seed head. Each of the seeds was grown from an individual flower.

Photo © Marty Horowitz

Desert Chicory is composed of many ray (petal) flowers. If you look closely at these photos, you'll note that each petal is actually 5 fused petals. (Count the 'teeth' at the end.) If you were to pull a petal, you'd see that it's connected to reproductive parts of its own. How about that?

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spring Singers

All photos by Mark Hengesbaugh 3/11/2016

Pyrrhuloxia (more-or-less: peer-roo-LOX-ee-uh), male. From the link at

Dapper in looks and cheerful in song, the Pyrrhuloxia is a tough-as-nails songbird of baking hot deserts in the American Southwest and northern Mexico. They’re closely related to Northern Cardinals, but they are a crisp gray and red, with a longer, elegant crest and a stubby, parrotlike yellow bill. During breeding season Pyrrhuloxias are fiercely and vocally territorial, but in the winter they forget their disputes and join together in large foraging flocks.

Mark reports that a pair of Northern Beardless-Tyrannulets have returned to Sabino Dam.

Mark writes of the American Kestrel:

[The photo is of a] male (the female is brown and larger than the male). Ever notice the blue-gray of this falcon matches the blue of the sky and breaks up its outline?

Friday, March 18, 2016

Pretty Peas

Photo by Matt Ball 2/29/2016

Lots of gorgeous Pea family plants blooming in Sabino, including Indigo Bush (Dalea pulchra)...

Photo by Marty Horowitz 2/29/2016

and Coursetia (aka Baby Bonnets) (Coursetia glandulosa).

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Heed the weed

Canyon Ragweed, that is! This plant is not often on the top ten list of canyon favorites, but it's really quite interesting in terms of its reproductive strategy.

All photos by Matt Ball 2/29/2016

Most flowering plants have both male and female reproductive parts in the same flower (so called "perfect" flowers); others have male flowers and female flowers on entirely separate plants (e.g., Four-winged Salt Bush). Still others, like Canyon Ragweed (Ambrosia ambrosioides) have separate male and female flowers on the same plant.

Click photo for larger view

The male flowers produce all that lovely yellow pollen, of course; that's what you're allergic to. The male flowers in bloom look like mini-sunflowers. (And, wouldn't you know, this plant is in the sunflower family : -) The female flowers are those lime-greenish things located below the male flowers. With a bit of a wind assist, the pollen just falls right into the waiting female flower. The fruit (only the female can produce fruit) looks like a little cocklebur.
When you get a chance, take a closer look at these fancy plants!

Retroactively, currently, and henceforth: All photos on this blog are the property and copyright of the photographer. (Thanks, Gene, for the reminder to make this clear.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Can you see me now?

Photo by Marty Horowitz 3/12/3016

Click photo for a larger view - and to find the Ornate Tree Lizard!

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Blooming Saguaro!

Photo © Marty Horowitz

We saw some buds last week, but this is the first photo (I've received) of a Saguaro in bloom, from March 12, 2016. Just in time for our snowbird and visiting friends to see! (And a signal of the beginning of our dry summer months; April, May, June - give or take a week or two.)

Monday, March 14, 2016


If you are ever trying to identify flowers like these from a book or online source, be sure to look at the blue, purple, even pink sections.

Photo by Marty Horowitz 2/25/2016

Texas Toadflax (Linaria texana) is in the Plantain family (as are penstemons). 

Photo by Marty Horowitz 2/25/2016

Blue Dicks (Dichelostemma capitatum ssp pauciflorum) are in the Asparagus Family. Yes, really. 
According to the Botanary, dichelostemma = from the Greek dicha, (bifid) and stemma, (garland, crown); referring to the forked appendages on the stamens.

Photo by Marty Horowitz 3/12/2016

This beauty is also in the Plantain family. Water Speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica) likes water (as the name suggests). Look for this around the creek, especially by the bridges.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Answer the call

Sabino Stewards: Results of Sunday’s Event 2/21/2016
Text and photo by Mark Hengesbaugh
18 Volunteers Remove 35 Bags Full of Sabino's Invasive Grasses

It was warm and sunny Sunday morning as a large crew of cheerful volunteers walked out to the west side of Sabino Creek below the dam and began removing invasive grasses along the rock wall behind the picnic tables and new ramadas. Eighteen volunteers filled 35 65-gallon bags with buffelgrass, fountain grass, Lehmann lovegrass and soft-feather pappus grass and returned to the parking lot by noon. Total hours donated: 75.

Photo by Mark Hengesbaugh 2/21/2016

Next invasive species hand-removal event is Sun., March 20, 2016, 9-12 noon. (We hope to be able to use the Southern Arizona Rescue Association parking lot to avoid the weekend parking jam in the public lot—we’ll keep you posted.) Please invite your friends and neighbors—spread the word. RSVP to Jean: jeanheng10 at comcast dot net (you know what to do). 

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Photos by Gene Spesard 2/17/2016

This low-growing plant is one of the first to bloom in spring (i.e., Feb/March). Yellow Desert Primrose (Oenothera primiveris) is in the Evening Primrose Family. Gene's photo captures the delicate beauty of the heart-shaped petals.

Click on the photo for a closer view. Each petal is actually 5 fused petals and its own separate flower. Silverpuffs (Uropappus lindleyi) are in the Sunflower (Aster) Family - also known as the Composite Family - because flowers in this family are really composed of multiple flowers. Think of a sunflower with a huge seed head. Each seed comes from an individual flower (that looks like a petal).

Friday, March 11, 2016

Bird Break, too

Some updates from the bird world. First up, Lenor's dove love-nest.

Photo by Lenor Lavelle 2/17/2016

Lenor writes:

A dove has been sitting in last year's nest in the center of our grapefruit tree. She was there all day yesterday (2/16) and again today (2/17). So exciting!

Why all the excitement about a Mourning Dove, you may ask? Last year's dove successfully fledged (at least) four chicks (possibly as many as six). Two are pictured here. To be continued...

Now for two wrens from Ned Harris, who took a short walk in Sabino Canyon on 2/26. Hooray! 

Photos by Ned Harris 2/26/2016

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Answers today, break tomorrow!

Photo credits: Gene Spesard, © 2016 T. Beth Kinsey

Bloodweed is a nifty little borage. If you pluck a leaf, you'll note reddish 'veins' of sap that will stain your hand. Really. (Push the vein part around to write your name on your hand. Or forehead, if you like. Or someone else's forehead. Do the latter at your peril.)

Photo by Matt Ball

Peppergrass is a nifty little mustard. The foliage and fruits turn reddish-purple late in the season. Really colorful. As the common name suggests, this plant (especially the fruits, to me) have a pepper flavor. Yum.
How did you do?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

One more time

Borage or Mustard? Answers tomorrow. Remember to click the slide for larger views.

two photos of the same species

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Two for Two

Remember, you're identifying the FAMILY only, not the specific plant in that family. We're taking the first step, here. You can learn more later, if you like. 

Photo credit: © 2016 T. Beth Kinsey

Even without a clear look at the foliage (click the link above for a photo thereof), you know this is a mustard. Four-petaled flowers (borages have 5); plenty of visible and weird fruits (borages are very tiny). Shepherd's Purse is a lovely plant. And yes, you can find it in Sabino. All the plants in this presentation are found in Sabino. Without exception.

Photo credits: ©2008 Lynn Watson, Alan Kearney

Yes, this beauty is in the Borage family. Note the hairy foliage (curved stem, too) and five-part flowers.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Boraginaceae or Brassicaceae, that is the question!

We've looked at two plant families in my spring tutorial, borages and mustards. Let's review the very basics of their respective family characteristics.


  • Foliage - hairy 
  • Flower - five
  • Fruit - tiny


  • Foliage - at base
  • Flower - four
  • Fruit - spiral staircase
As I tell all my students, regardless of subject matter: Don't guess, THINK! 
If I've done my job as teacher, you have what you need to think it through. 

Look at the photos below and figure out which family (Borage or Mustard) the plant belongs to. That's all you need to do. Answers (plus species and photo credits) in tomorrow's post. 

two photos of the same plant

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Need to cut this mustard

Our final mustard (before the quiz, that is :- ) has, unfortunately, taken over in a number of areas in Sabino Canyon. Fortunately, though, the Sabino Stewards have this one on their list to remove. It's going to be another long-term project. Just look at those fruits!!

Photo credits: Gene Spesard, Ned Harris

London Rocket is a perfectly good mustard - and a great salad green (with a bit of zip). All mustards are edible, by the way; some tastier than others. London Rocket is so called because it grew like proverbial wildfire after the Great Fire of London in 1666. It's used medicinally in the Middle East, especially for liver ailments. It's a cruciferous vegetable, after all. And we could all stand to eat more of those.
Note the long, slender fruits in Ned's photo. Each fruit, of course, contains dozens of seeds. And the plant is still blooming...
We're pulling it in Sabino (please pull it in Sabino ONLY as part of Sabino Stewards' efforts; contact me if you are interested) because it grows: 1) very quickly, 2) basically anywhere, and 3) for a long time. It's so well adapted that it outcompetes our native mustards. If it weren't doing that, we'd leave it be, of course. Not all non-native plants are invasive, and not all London Rocket is a problem.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Bladder Pods

The two species here are also in the same genus (Physaria). That means they are even more closely related to each other than to the others in their mustard family (Brassicacea).

Photo credits: ASDM27496 © 2012 Ted Myers; © 2016 T. Beth Kinsey

Photo credits: © 2016 T. Beth Kinsey, Matt Ball

Gordon's Bladderpod and White Bladderpod - like all our mustards - have foliage at the base (click the links to see photos that show the foliage); four-petaled flowers; and 'weird' fruits. You can see why they are called bladderpods!

Friday, March 4, 2016

Jewel and Lace

Photo credits, l to r:  Matt Ball; ASDM27650 © 2010 Ted Myers; Ned Harris

Jewel Flowers are also commonly known as Silver Bells. Click on the slide. Note the four curled-back petals in the photo on the left. The flowers are actually visible with the naked eye; somewhat uncommon, for mustards. Note the fruits in the center photo - yes, they look a lot like bean pods sticking straight up. The fruit is much much larger than its flower, as is expected in the mustard family. Dozens of seeds in each fruit.

Photo credits, l to r: Matt Ball; Gene Spesard; Ned Harris

Lace Pods are my favorite mustards. The tiny, white flowers are easy to overlook and nothing to write home about, but the fruits. Wow! Again, click on the slide for larger views of the photos. The center close-up of a fruit reveals its magnificence. As we expect with mustard-family plants, the fruits are 'weird'; i.e., large and intricate, relative to the flowers that make them, and in a spiral-staircase pattern around the thin stem.
You'll want to take a closer look at these beauties.