Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Desert Spring

This, we're all told, is a lousy year for wildflowers.  Those of us familliar with the desert know all too well that spectacular wildflower displays are a rarity, reserved for those unique years when the rain comes at the perfect time and in the perfect amount.  Those massive blankets of color are primarily composed of annual flowers, whose seeds may have lain dormant for years, waiting for just the right conditions.  The rarity of this event makes it all the more special.  There'll be no spectacular displays this year, just our normal glorious desert spring. 

Claret Cup Cactus

As the days begin to warm in March, bits of color begin to appear among the monochromatic desert shades.  The claret cup cactus is one of the earliest bloomers in the cactus family and the sight of its shocking red flowers is a delightful surprise. 

Parry's Penstemon

Soon, tall stalks of pink Parry's penstemon are waving, and the long wands of the ocotillo are bearing red buds that will sustain the migrating hummingbirds, and provide an energy source for so many other birds.  Ocotillos look like a collection of dead sticks for much of the year, but add a little water and voila! out jump little green leaves all along the stems.  These leaves will remain for two or three weeks if there is no more rain.  And, regardless of whether there are leaves or not, the flowers will open in March and April.  Their brilliant red clusters of tubular flowers making a stark contrast to the dry stalks.
Ocotillo Blossom
Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus
As I walk my neighborhood in March I am delighted to spot the marvelous pink blooms of the strawberry hedgehog cactus, a small columnar cactus that you might walk past without noticing at any other time of year.  Now, they seem to be everywhere!  Hiding below a little bursage plant, or cuddled up next to a saguaro, they draw me out into the desert with my camera.

Northern Cardinal
Of course it isn't just the flowers that make the desert spring special.  Southern Arizona is a premier birding area, and in the spring many migrators join our residents avian population sporting their bright breeding colors.  Then there are the sunrises and sunsets, punctuating the day's beginning and ending with a splash of color.

Along comes April, and popping into bloom are the prickly pears, palo verdes, desert marigolds, bahia, creosote bush and brittlebush, all adding yummy yellow shades to the widening palette.
Hooded Oriole
Engelmann's Prickly Pear
Black-Spined Prickly pear
Palo Verde Tree
Sunset in Tucson
Now it's time for the majestic saguaro cactus to begin to bloom.  "It seems early" everyone says, including me.  But there they are, showing off a new flower every day, sending their alluring message to bees, bats and doves who come to sip the nectar and perform their pollination duties.

Sunrise from my driveway
Yes, Spring is a glorious time in the desert.  After our bitterly cold spell this winter, no one was sure what to expect of the plantlife so unused to such temperatures.  But resilience and strength are two characteristics  necessary to survive in the Sonoran Desert.
Saguaro Cactus Blooming


  1. Doesn't look like a very lousy spring bloom to me! Thanks for sharing the blooms and birds. :)


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