Tuesday, April 23, 2019

The Desert in Living Color!!

23 April 2019

We're finishing our first week of a whirlwind trip through the NE USA.  We spent this week in southern New Jersey with Richard's brother and his wife, celebrating Passover with an abbreviated seder one night and then driving out to Lancaster, PA for a full seder with all the nieces, nephews, some cousins, the next generation of great-nieces and great-nephews, and random other family members.  It's been great, and we're having our usual good time.  And tomorrow we head off for new adventures in New York City, with more family and other friends.

But I thought I should finish my post about the cactus flowers in Tucson.  So pretend we're still back in the warm desert, and not here in the rather chilly concrete jungle. 

I've found several walking routes in Tucson, and one takes me through the parking lot of a desert botanical garden.  It really is almost like a preserve or sanctuary for native flora and fauna.  I haven't gone into the botanical garden, because this is my short walk after we have a bagel brunch or lunch - but the parking lot is lined with cacti and flowers, and I've also met several animals there.

The first sign that spring was coming to the desert was back in early March, when the prickly pear cacti were full of flower buds.  At the time, I wasn't sure if they were flower buds or possibly new segments of each cactus branch.  But they were definitely buds.

By late March, one or two tentative flowers opened.  How thrilling, to finally see flowing cactus in the desert!!!  The first to blossom were the deep red flowers of the prickly pear, full of bright yellow stamens and tons of pollen.  The bees would get deep down into the flowers and wallow in the pollen, kicking their little bee legs and looking like a puppy rolling around in mud.  They really got themselves covered in pollen, and whatever it is they use to make honey.  

Each day, there'd be more flowers.  The previous day's flowers usually were beginning to wilt; I guess cactus flowers have a very short lifespan in the hot dry desert.

I'm not sure if the red prickly pear has hit its peak or not, but one morning it seemed covered in red flowers.  Just amazing!  Cactus exuberance!  It's so wonderful to see the bright flower colors next to the dusty grey-green of the cactus body, which somehow fades into the grey-brown of the desert soil.  Such a special experience to see the desert blooming this way!

But over the next several days, there seemed to be fewer flowers each day.

I started to see more cacti with flowers along the roads, and at various shopping malls where I walk.  Cactus and gravel seem to make up much of the landscaping.  I've always found this to be rather amusing - but now that the cacti are flowering, I can see why they are featured in local gardens and public places.

Some of the prickly pear have bright yellow flowers with red centers, and they are gorgeous!  Others are almost a fuchsia color, sort of magenta, a really bright glowing color next to the subdued dusty green of the cactus body.  Then I found some prickly pear with soft yellow flowers, some of which fade to a peach or coral color.

I have no idea what the huge yellow flower is - I think the cactus looks like a giant prickly cucumber, but I doubt that is the true name.  The flowers almost look like multiple-petaled lilies, they have that same sort of trumpet shape.  Yeah, I drive or walk around and visit my friends the cactus to see how they look every few days.  And of course I give them pep talks so they'll keep flowering.  Because everyone knows that plants do better when they are spoken to and encouraged.  Even desert flowers.

I've been keeping my eye on a couple of saguaro that are sending out little flower buds.  The saguaros usually bloom some time in mid May or early June, so we should be back in time to see plenty of saguaro flowers.

Then I found one saguaro that is nearly open!  So thrilling!!!  

Of course, some saguaro have absolutely no buds, no flowers, nothing.  I don't know if some flower and some do not (like papaya trees).  Or if maybe they need to reach a certain age to flower.  I haven't been able to answer this question, so if someone knows, I'm interested!

There's another cactus called the cholla (pronounced CHOY-yah) that has long twisting branches covered in pointy needles, with red or peach flowers on the ends of the branches.  I've found two of these, although later in the day so the flowers never look as bright and shining as the morning flowers.

In my wanderings and exploration of cactus flowers, I've also encountered a few animals.  

My favorite animals are always the rabbits.  There seems to be a huge rabbit living under a dead cactus near the flowering prickly pear, and we've startled each other a few times.  I walk over to look at the flowers, which scares him so he jumps out.  I wasn't expecting him, and he scares me for a moment.  We look at each other, I say hello, he hops off into the desert.  

I found a young rabbit, more still a bunny, who was less startled and more willing to pose under a cactus before hopping onward.

One morning, I happened on a small flock of quail.  No idea what kind of quail they are, but they were okay with being photographed as they scratched around looking for food.  

And then there was the ground squirrel, who froze when I walked by, but kept his eyes on me to be sure I wasn't a predator.  He's dug up much of the ground in one section of the parking area, and one morning I saw him tossing out pawfuls of sandy dirt.  He of course darted back into his burrow the minute he spotted me - but at least I knew who was digging all the holes I saw.  (I have no idea if snakes also live in burrows, so I try to stay away from random holes in the ground.)

I've found other random flowers in the desert - some lavender colored flowers the butterflies like, and clumps of blue bells shining in the sun.

But the cactus flowers really are the best.  So unexpected, so different, and such a contrast to the rest of the plant!

As ever, I have way too many photos to share.  Lots of enlarged photos to enjoy, or to skip - you get to choose, LOL!  (Photos are in chronological order, so you can see more and more cactus flowers.)