Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Desert Comes Alive

While I was down in the Rainbow Basin last weekend, I had a wonderful time looking for desert wildflowers. Up in the Great Basin Desert at over 5,000 feet I've only seen two flowers so far, but the Mojave Desert is bursting with colors. It is so beautiful! I got up early each morning to see what I could find. I'm not very cognizant of Mojave wildflowers, so I'll do my best to identify them, but if I've missed the mark, please leave a comment!

One of the most frequent flowers was the one above, a bright yellow flower in the Evening Primrose family. It has a delightful name, Suncup (Camissonia brevipes). It can grow up to two feet tall and has lots of yellow flowers on each stem.

Desert holly (Atriplex hymenelytra) is an easily recognizable shrub with its holly-like leaves. These leaves are grey in color, one adaptation for surviving in the hot desert. The grey color helps them reflect more sunlight. I found one patch of desert holly that had tiny red flowers on it. I was so surprised, because it was the first time I had seen the flowers blooming. When they get older they often still stay on the plant, but turn brown and inconspicuous.

The hills of Rainbow Basin made a nice backdrop for some Mojave Yucca (Yucca schidigera). When these flower, they have large bell-shaped cream-colored blossom. This is the most common yucca of the North American deserts. California Indians gathered and roasted the fruits or ate them raw. They extracted fiber from the leaves for weaving blankets, baskets, and ropes.


Right up in the campground were large patches of fiddleneck (Amsinckia sp.), an annual herb in the Borage family that grows in disturbed areas. They have pretty yellow flowers bending along the raceme.

There were a few other people wandering around in the morning. Up on the ridge are the wonderful Joshua trees (Yucca brevifolia).

Tucked down in the wash a flash of red caught my attention--Indian paintbrush (Castilleja sp.). The red is absolutely brilliant. One of the cool things about paintbrush is that it is a root parasite. It doesn't have many other desert adaptations, but it can tap into the roots of the shrubs it is growing near in order to get more water for itself.

Some of the washes were really eroded. It would be interesting to be up on the bank watching a flash flood. Some of the boulders in the wash are really large, testifying to the power of the water.

The bright colors of the flowers attract the pollinators, like this bee on this Phacelia (Phacelia sp.). To humans, flowers are beautiful things because they brighten up the landscapes, our gardens, and our homes. To pollinators, the flowers mean food. The sexier the flower, the more likely it is to attract pollinators and survive.

This delicate yellow flower emerged from the rough-looking dirt. I think it may be a desert poppy (Eschscholzia glyyptosperma).

 Here is a desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata), and in places huge numbers of them turned the desert floor yellow. Unlike common dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), desert dandelions are native. 

Okay, for those of you saying, "Enough flowers!", here's a bird, a horned lark. It kept flitting from bush to bush along the wash. I'm used to seeing them along the sides of the road in big groups where I live, so I was a little surprised to see one all by itself and up higher in the vegetation.


I also found some ants actively moving things out of their burrow. I guess they are spring cleaning.

Another flower in the Sunflower Family is the desert chicory (Rafnesquia neomexicana). My wonderful guidebook (Desert Wildflowers of North America by Ronald J. Taylor) says that it has milky juice, but I didn't want to break the stem to find out.

And finally, one more pretty flower, not quite opened up. I'm not sure what it is, but I figured that just because I didn't have the exact name for it, I shouldn't discriminate and delete the photo. After all, sometimes just enjoying the beauty of the flower for being a flower is enough!

3 comments:

The Incredible Woody said...

Absolutely beautiful! I think that is what I love about the desert. Such beauty if you look close enough!!

jendoop said...

The stark contrasts make the flowers more wonderful. I did not know Indian Paintbrush was a parasite. Thank you for taking the time to post the flowers from the desert.

Silver Fox said...

Beautiful spring desert blooms!

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