Friday, May 13, 2011

Flowers of Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Honey Bee arrives for. . . dinner?  It doesn't realize but will certainly enter as a 2nd or 3rd party into an orgy of cactus fertilization.  Usually there are several that take part.
Open petals are sexy for bees and insects.  Bees have an easy time...among humans sex is selective, between flowers and bees, sex is indiscriminate.  .
Showered by fallen Paloverde blossoms this Hedgehog Cactus stands out.  It says, "Hey, look at me!!"  The Paloverde blossoms have had their chance.
Either a beaver tail cactus or what Boyce Thompson Arboretum calls a "red prickly pear cactus flower" it stands out like a stop light in the desert traffic.
One of the common yellow blossoms of the prickly pear.
The yellow/red is a common variation within the prickly pear family.  The prickly pear is notoriously "promiscuous", allowing pollen from a variety of related and unrelated species.
One of the Boyce Thompson "variants" from its "Cactus Garden."

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Invisibly Green

We must have hit it at just the right time.  
The Jeep bounced along a dirt road into the Superstition Wilderness which, these days, is merely a playground for Phoenix area residents. . . with wilderness rules. 
We were looking for cactus flowers but never guessed we'd come across green ones.  I've wandered this part of the desert for years but have never had the opportunity to see the Teddy Bear Cholla in bloom.
Maybe I just wasn't looking . . .or had unconsciously restricted my visual thinking to the more common yellows, orange, magenta, or other colors that decorate these plants.  I knew they were out there, but just never "saw" them.  
Cylindropuntia bigelovii is a cactus native to California, Arizona, New Mexico  and northwestern Mexico.  Enlarged stems carry out photosynthesis and store water.  Unlike other succulents, the stem is the only part where this process takes place.
Flowers of some cacti form long tubes (up to 30 cm) so only certain species of moths can pollinate the blossoms. There are also specializations of this cholla for specific species of bats, hummingbirds and bees. To confuse us, the duration of flowering is highly variable...and probably the reason I've missed the event in past years.   
Summer was a month away but the intensity of the southern Arizona sun got to us after several days.  Your instinct is to cover up with a broad-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants.  We did exactly that but beat a quick retreat to a local motel when it became uncomfortable.
Seed formation of these cacti is prolific and the fruits are conspicuous.  A menagerie of goats, moths, birds, ants, mice and bats eat the fruit contributing to seed dispersal and cactus reproduction.

Some cacti have a waxy coating on their stems to prevent water loss. Because of the plants' water-retention ability, detached sections of the plant can survive for long periods and grow new roots when rain comes.
These Teddy Bears are resourceful, leaving no aspect of their reproduction to chance.
Bees, spiders and other bugs take care of pollination.  Moths, birds, mice and bats eat the fruit and disperse seeds.  Their last method of "reproduction" is more insidious...stem sections detach when brushed by passing humans, dogs, foxes, javelina or other desert inhabitants. 

Perhaps the next time you pass too closely and say, "OUCH!" and use a comb or tweezer to remove a stem section, smile and remember you're part of a group effort to help cylindropuntia bigelovii give birth.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wondering and Wandering in the Superstitions

If you're going to the Superstition Wilderness Area and not planning to camp, the only place to bed down at night is the nearby town of Apache Junction.  Thirty years ago this town was simply a crossroad of Arizona Rt. 88 and a road whose name I've forgotten.  Today, the town has a population of 37,000 and is a bedroom community of Phoenix.

Weaver's Needle is a landmark in the Superstition Wilderness.  Named
 for Pauline Weaver, a cavalry officer, it gained notoriety as being integral
to the supposed location of the Lost Dutchman's Gold.

The Apache Junction Motel was delightful because of its low rates and the nearby Mickey D's Cafe was delightful because of its oatmeal.  Low rates at the motel were balanced by outrageous prices at the gas pump.
The unique Teddy Bear Cholla blossoms belie the unique message the
spines convey: stay away unless you want a nightmare involving boots,
pants, socks, and even minutes later, car seats. 
Mickey D's Cafe had a sign proclaiming, "Because of the Current Drought, Water Will be Served Only on Request."   The nearby cacti would think that a good idea.

A bright Buckhorn Cholla can range in color  from red to orange to a
 brownish yellow...the spines have a serious purpose, also, but not quite
 as insidious.   
Our friend, the Western Diamondback, was never seen again.  I was happy it didn't want to be friends and I'm sure it was happy not to be in the company of Jeeps.

As most cacti and critters in the desert, a Western Diamondback rattlesnake
has "spines" of it's own.  It disagreed with our presence and struck at
the tire of our Jeep.  Except for  a missing fang or two all was OK.  The
fangs are replaced quickly. 
Despite the fangs and spines that are ubiquitous in the does have great sunsets.

All's well that ends well!

Labels: , , , , , ,