Friday, January 13, 2012

They Sting, Stick, or Stink

The title above is what our "Ranger Judge" (see post dated January 6, 2012) told us about plants and creatures of the desert.  As for the plants:  Below are photos and info about the new-to-us flora Jim and I are seeing in and near Tucson.

We first saw the ocotillo, which at this time of the year just looks like a bunch of stick, in New Mexico.  It's supposed to leaf out in the spring with red flowers at the tips of the branches.  When settlers used ocotillo branches for fences, the fence would sprout.
Saguaro cactus, the iconic symbol of the desert, blooms at night and each blossom lasts less than 24 hours.  In most cases -- and the saguaro is included in this --  it’s a myth that you can cut into a cactus and find drinkable water.  In fact, eating the pulpy insides of some cactuses can make you ill or even kill you.  Besides, the skin is tough --- how would you cut into one without a machete?
Prickly pear cactus.  It’s everywhere; people make jams, jellies and wine from it’s fruit.  And as hard as Bev tries, she can't touch the flesh between the needles without getting stuck.
Purple prickly pear.  Used a lot in landscaping.
Barrel cactus.  They they look a little like young saguaros, but don’t get beyond 6 feet tall; a saguaro can get to 50 feet.
The Paolo verde tree.  Palo verde means “green stick” in Spanish, and these trees have green bark and very small leaves.  During droughts they shed their leave and even smaller branches to conserve water. 
Teddy Bear Cholla.  From a distance they look soft.  Again, Bev keeps trying to touch them unscathed but has not been successful.  They are not soft.
Chain fruit cholla.  Also called the “jumping cholla” because the joints break off so easily they almost seem to leap out at you.  Our hiker guide told us a story of a young girl who touched one.  When it stuck to her hand, Grandma tried to pull it off.  They ended up with their hands painfully stuck together.  Rangers pulled granddaughter and Grandma apart and used duct tape to get out the needles.
Creosote tree.  Our Ranger Judge told us to cup the Creosote leaves, blow on them and inhale -- and then we'd experience the smell of the desert after a rain.  To me it smelled like burning sugar.  Think almost burnt marshmallows over a campfire or sweet potato drippings in the oven. 
Brittlebush.  It’s everywhere.  in early spring it's supposed to have a big display of yellow flowers.
The rosette shaped succulents are Agave, and are used a lot in urban landscaping in Tucson.

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