Filled with Surprises

Cave Creek area desert wash

I enjoy finding things about Arizona that are new to me after living here for a lifetime. I grew up hiking with my father and scouring the ground ahead and around me for rocks that he would help me identify. I find myself doing the same thing now with plants. Sometimes the new ones are minuscule, as this morning’s find.

I took a quick hike in the Cave Creek area, and deep in a wash were these amazingly tiny specimens. Can you spot them?

Cave Creek Eriastrum diffusum, Phlox Family ( Polemoniaceae ), Miniature Wool Star

Sometimes to really see what’s out there in nature, you have to get in really close.

Cave Creek in April Eriastrum diffusum, Phlox Family ( Polemoniaceae ), Miniature Wool Star

Cave Creek Eriastrum diffusum, Phlox Family ( Polemoniaceae ), Miniature Wool Star

Yes, crawling about on hands and knees can be dirty and awkward, and I do have to watch out for spines and biting things, but the interesting things are there to be found. These tiny flowers bloom in the desert in April and are called Miniature Wool Star, Eriastrum diffusum, Phlox Family (Polemoniaceae) I don’t recall seeing them before, but they actually are very common. Often they might be larger than these, up to 8 inches in height. These were barely 2 inches off the ground.

The Desert Botanical Garden Butterfly Pavilion

Naturally, once all the desert plants begin producing bright flowers, the first to be aware of them are the various types of pollinators. This is a small sample of the many beautiful butterflies housed in the spacious Butterfly Pavilion within the Desert Botanical Garden.

 Agraulis vanillae,  Gulf Fritillary

Agraulis vanillae, Gulf Fritillary

Anartia jatrophae, White Peacock

Anartia jatrophae, White Peacock

 Battus philenor, Pipevine Swallowtail

Battus philenor, Pipevine Swallowtail

Buckeye, Vanessa cardui_

Buckeye, Vanessa cardui_

Zebra Longwing

Zebra Longwing

Male Papillio troilus, Spicebush Swallowtail

Male Papillio troilus, Spicebush Swallowtail

Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius

Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius

A Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius

A Zebra Longwing, Heliconius charitonius

The Life of an Arizona Hedgehog

Hedgehog cacti grow from seeds found within their fruit and spread by the birds and desert animals that eat them. A clump of columnar stems four to twelve inches tall makes up a single cactus. A cactus might have sixty stems in a clump. There are many varieties of Hedgehog cacti.

At low altitudes in the Sonoran desert, the most common Hedgehog is the Saint’s Cactus, or Strawberry Cactus, Engelmann’s Hedgehog, a member of the Cactaceae, Echinocereus engelmannii.

Hedgehog closeup New Hedgehog buds Very long Hedgehog spinesMarch is a good month to look for Hedgehogs in the desert, as they begin blooming at this time of year. The Engelmann’s Hedgehog produces purple to magenta blooms that are two to three and a half inches wide. This cactus blooms during the daytime and closes at night. The red fruit will mature in late Spring or early Summer.

Hedgehog with early buds 1Hedgehog with tall stems Strawberry Hedgehog flower Engelmann's Hedgehog bud opening

They are said to taste like strawberries and are a favorite of small animals and birds like the curve-bill Thrasher, which can easily   reach the fruit with its long bill.

Curved bill thrasher

At higher altitudes, the Claret Cup or Crimson Hedgehog, Echinocereus triglochidiatus grows.

Claret cup hedgehog Desert Botanical Garden Claret Cup Hedgehog Cactus Claret Cup  Claret Cup

Claret Cup or Crimson Hedgehog is shorter and more densely arranged than the Engelmann’s Hedgehog. They also differ in that the Claret Cup typically blooms at night and closes during the day. They are the only Hedgehog cacti with red flowers.

Slidefire in Oak Creek Canyon

Smoke filling the Flagstaff sky today from the Slide fire. Photo by Amy Dryden

Smoke filling the Flagstaff sky today from the Slide fire. Photo by Amy Dryden

Two weeks ago we camped with our tent trailer at beautiful Cave Springs Campground in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona.  We have lived for decades in the area, but never actually camped in the canyon previously.

Yesterday, Tuesday, May 20, a devastating wildfire started in the canyon south of the Cave Springs Campground, and has been whipped along by high winds. Twenty-four hours later it is estimated at 4500 acres and has topped out of the canyon and approaches Flagstaff, Arizona. ABC News 15, reports at this time the fire is zero percent contained. (Air15 fire photos at the link)

San Xavier del Bac

San Xavier 1

San Xavier del Bac, Tucson

Interior photos and information here.

Construction on the current San Xavier del Bac began in 1783.  More than 200 hundred years of harsh desert climate, use, abandonment and attempts at restorations have taken a toll on the interior and exterior of this incredible structure. Finding funding for proper conservation has been an ongoing challenge.This year, 2014, conservation and preservation efforts are underway. Photos here.

San Xavier del Bac: The  White Dove of the Desert

 

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