Saturday, April 13, 2013

Mojave Desert Spring Wildflowers

I had the chance to check out some Mojave Desert wildflowers this week, not far outside of Las Vegas. It's the best wildflower display I've seen so far this spring. Apparently some spring thunderstorms dumped at just the right time. 

Here's a sampling of what I found while wandering around for about ten minutes. I wouldn't have minded spending a lot more time wandering--all those colors in the desert are such a wonderful show!
 Many of these beautiful yellow Desert Marigolds (Baileya multiradiata) dotted the roadsides.

We may appreciate their beauty, but many insects rely on these plants to survive. 

The globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua or coccinea) is a favorite of mine, with its orange blossoms. You don't see too many orange flowers!

 The creosote bushes (Larrea tridentata) are blooming, with tiny yellow flowers contrasting with their dark green leaves. Creosote bushes grow in some of the driest and hottest regions in North America. They are an evergreen, coping with drought by having highly varnished leaf surfaces that reflect sunlight, along with resins in the epidermis that can help seal the leaves against water loss. In order to avoid being eaten, the plant produces chemicals that make it undesirable. It's one of the few members of the Caltrop Family (Zygophyllaceae).

Another favorite is the Desert Trumpet (Eriogonum inflatum), so named because the stem bulges. If you look really closely this time of year, you can find tiny yellow flowers.

The lines on my fingers give you a sense of scale of just how tiny the desert trumpet flowers are.

Another plant with tiny yellow flowers is Mojave Ephedra (Ephedra fasciculata), closely related to Mormon Tea. The plant pictured above is a male bush--the female ones have different shaped flowers. I should mention that these technically aren't even flowers, they are small cones. Maybe I shouldn't mention that, because we should just enjoy their beauty!
(By the way, I didn't realize I had a smudge on my lens until I downloaded these photos. Sigh.)

Even from the road driving along at 70 mph (which was the speed limit), I could see the bright pink of prickly-pear cactus (Opuntia sp.). I adore flowering cacti--it is such a strange juxtaposition to see the delicate flowers on the spiny pads.

I think my heart quickened every time I found another cactus blooming. I don't think I could ever get tired of them.

As I wandered over the gravelly and sandy soil, I found little glimpses of color here and there from flowers that weren't nearly as large.
One was scarlet guara (Guara coccinea) in the Evening Primrose Family (Onagraceae). This perennial herb can grow up to 3 feet tall and has a mix of white and red flowers on a narrow raceme.

Mojave Yucca (aka Spanish Dagger; Yucca shidigera) played a center stage out on the desert floor, with two-foot tall inflorescences extending from a rosette of dagger-sharp leaves.

The flowers can be 1 to 2 inches across. Mojave yucca is the most common yucca found in the North American deserts. California Indians gathered and roasted the fruits and used the fibers extracted from the leaves for making blankets, baskets, and ropes.

I had to also stop for another member of the Lily Family:
The Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia). These are also blooming right now. I love these trees and their strange shapes;  seeing the flower clusters, plus some late afternoon sun on them with storm clouds brewing in the background made we wish I could hang out for hours. I'm afraid my photos didn't do them justice--oh well, I now have a good excuse to return!

Joshua trees are pretty much limited to the Mojave Desert (see little map in the sidebar and click on it to learn more about the four deserts in North America). Birds, rodents, lizards, and other animals all use these trees for a variety of purposes, including shade, food, and shelter.

Kudos to Ronald J. Taylor and his book Desert Wildflowers of North America, which helped greatly with this post.

Now go out and enjoy some spring wildflowers, where ever you are (and if you're south of the equator reading this, consider it an invitation to come visit!)


Mel Burke said...

What are the pink prickly pear . . . I can't find them in any book?

Tara said...

Nice! We won't make it to the Mojave this year so I appreciate your pictures.

Desert Survivor said...

Mel--my best guess for the pink prickly pear are Beavertail Cactus--Opuntia basilaris.

Thanks for checking out the post!

Tara--I rarely make it at just the right time to see so many flowers blooming, I definitely felt lucky. Glad you enjoyed the pictures!

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