Weekend before last I took a trip out to the Tierra Blanca Mountains on the southwestern edge of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park on a trip organized by the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society.
This was a trip that offered lots of up-close flower viewing. After several months with good rainfall many of us were hoping for carpets of blooming desert flowers spreading out in every direction. But the rains didn’t begin until the end of fall. The floral display was good, with flowers easy to find in all directions, but it wasn’t the gonzo hundred-year bloom that we’d hoped for. Botanist Larry Hendrickson, who led the outing, started out thinking this was close to an average year. But we found the little yellow twining desert snapdragon in several locations, and its sighting made him revise his evaluation of the year to better-than average.
The splashiest flower was wild heliotrope, Phacelia distans. If you saw a carpet of purple, it was most likely this plant.
Last post I mentioned my discomfort with certain plant names, including those that begin with the epithet “Indian.” Dunno. Maybe I’m being too sensitive.
Well, one of the canyons we explored was named “Indian Canyon.” Changing plant names and geological formations seems to take about as much time. This canyon is one of the more northern extensions of the elephant tree or torote (Bursera microphylla).
A fern in the desert, always a surprise. I think this is Cheilanthes parryi.
The flowers were mainly small species. Looking up the hillside the impression is mainly of white rock relieved by tall wands of ocotillos.
What’s the best way to bring relief to a day in the desert? Maybe water?
We ended up in a stream that supported a chain of little palm oases of the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera). These trees had been burned in the past. This was maybe an accident, but in the past the Native Americans were known to burn the fronds to get easier access to the dates. Apparently it doesn’t seriously damage the plant.
Nearby these palms escaped the fire and flaunted long skirts of dried fronds. Living in suburbia people prune the dead fronds off whatever palm species they grow, and you almost never see this gorgeous effect of decades of fronds sheathing the trunk. Maybe they’re afraid that it’ll be habitat for creatures they’d rather not have. Still, it’s a great effect, don’t you think?