Archive for the ‘Plant of the Month’ Category

  • Plant of the Month: The four o’clocks

    Mar 31, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By David Moll Nowadays, classification of organisms is definitively established through genetic analysis. Before this technology, there were many morphological and biochemical traits used to sort organisms into related groups. Within the flowering plants, it was the flowers themselves that were used as a pivotal characteristic. The number and arrangement of floral parts were like a beacon leading botanists through an overwhelming forest of malleable growth forms and secondary attributes. The four o’clocks provide a brief but interesting floral stumbling block. That large, often colorful, structure that seems to be a corolla, is actually a calyx formed of united sepals. Commonly aiding in this illusion is a united group of bracts below the flowers that resembles a more typical calyx. Contrary to outer appearances, these attractive plants have no flower petals. Flower parts come and go throughout evolutionary time, but botanists can tell the difference between these various structures by examining vascular traces in the flower. Once this was sorted out, the four o’clock family (Nyctaginaceae, which includes Bougainvillea), unlike many others, has so far remained intact through all the technological scrutiny. We don’t need to be so technical. Once learned, mostly in the field, unifying characteristics of plant families can lead us to identifications, understandings, and greater appreciation. The four o’clock name may also be misleading. It comes from the habit of flowers opening in the late afternoon and

  • Plant of the Month: March multitudes

    Feb 27, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Mara Trushell Spring brings many wonderful things. Warm weather, longer days, budding leaves, baby animals, and of course, flowers. In Prescott, an abundance of our spring flowers come from native shrubs, some that even go unnoticed until they blossom in a wide array of fragrance and shapes. Displayed are only a few species that will begin to speckle color across the landscape this March. **** Visit the Highlands Center for Natural History at 1375 Walker Road, 928-776-9550, or HighlandsCenter.Org. Mara Trushell, education director at the Highlands Center for Natural History, grew up in Prescott surrounded by its natural wonder and now teaches through science and nature to inspire new wonder in current and future generations

  • Plant of the Month: Fremont Cottonwoods

    Jan 30, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Mara Trushell With a height that can reach 130 feet and a trunk that can span over four feet in diameter, Fremont Cottonwoods (Populous fremontii) are giants within riparian ecosystems. These glorious trees are common along lake shores, rivers, and streams in Arizona from 150 – 6,000 feet elevation. The grayish bark is thick and furrowed at maturity and massive trunks support extensive branches that spread into broad, open crowns. Cottonwoods not only have a noteworthy visual presence; they also have a significant ecological role. Whether an individual tree or an expansive forest, it’s the entire tree, from root tip, to canopy structure, to seed capsule, that supports a rich habitat, complete with food and shelter. The life of a cottonwood begins within moist soils. With substantial amounts of consistent water, these fast growing trees soon reach their full potential. Intricate root networks stabilize the soil along stream beds, and saplings offer leaves that are a food source for many mammals. As cottonwoods reach maturity a multitude of flowers are produced in long-stranded catkins, just before the leaves fully emerge from their buds each spring. Both male and female flowers are obscure but develop into long catkins. Female flowers develop seeds with attachments of soft cotton-like puffs that catch the wind and carry them off to spread the next generation further afield. Summer brings dense foliage that attracts a

  • Plant of the Month: Conifers

    Dec 30, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Nichole Trushell Like animals, plants prepare for winter. Shortening day-length triggers hormone and cellular changes. Signs of this, such as fall color and leaf drop in our deciduous cottonwood, gambel oak, and three-leaf sumacs, are obvious and lovely. But how do evergreens survive? Our Highlands conifers (cone bearers) like juniper and pine have needles or tiny scale leaves. We see them as evergreen, but they actually lose and replace leaves slowly throughout the year. Remarkably, these plants can photosynthesize during all seasons. Photosynthesis in winter is a risk — it requires water. Conifers face freezing damage to cells and must resolve water movement through their vascular systems when temperatures fall below freezing. The strategies are elegant. With their tiny but numerous evergreen leaves, conifers have an enormous surface area which collectively can bring in a lot of sunlight, even in winter. Leaves have a waxy coating of cutin which acts as insulation to both water loss and cold, and they have the ability to close their stomates (leaf pores) tightly to reduce water loss during inclement weather. Unlike animals, plants also have sturdy cell walls that prevent splitting when ice crystals form inside the cells, and the sap does not freeze easily. The antifreeze-like sap and the waxy coating on the needles help, but in extremes, the water in the ground and plant may freeze. Water movement in plants

  • Plant of the Month: Mistletoe

    Dec 2, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By David Moll At one point in history, mistletoe was highly valued, even revered. Nowadays, in modern-day America, mistletoe seems to have a reputation as a pest, a freeloader, and a parasite. (The accurate term is hemiparasite, since Arizona mistletoes are capable of some photosynthesis.) We may enjoy mistletoe as a holiday custom, but if you pay attention, you can see why mistletoe is still highly valued and plays a crucial role in Southwest ecology. So what is “mistletoe”? In Arizona, there are 15 species in two groups: one group simply known as mistletoe (Phoradendron) with seven species, and dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium) with eight species. These obligate hemiparasites won’t grow just anywhere; they need a host, sometimes species-specific, sometimes somewhat broader in scope. It’s dwarf mistletoes that require more specific hosts. In all our species, the leaves (reduced to scales in some) are paired opposite one another, there is no corolla, and the boys (stamens) and girls (pistils) are on separate plants. When pollinated, those girls produce berries. The aerial hemiparasitic lifestyle, however, has a unique problem to solve. Unlike most plants, if your seeds end up on anything other than a requisite host, they’re doomed. Our mistletoes have evolved to have the flesh of their berries be very sticky. As such, it can adhere the seed to a live branch of a host. Dispersal of those sticky seeds is

  • Plant of the Month: Wood’s Rose

    Nov 4, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Jennifer Temkin As you hike in the ponderosa forests of the Central Arizona Highlands during fall, you may notice bright red little fruits in the understory along the trails. You just might be looking at the hips of Wood’s Rose. Roses are one of the most recognizable flowers worldwide, but many people are unaware that we have native roses growing wild nearby in our forests and along creeks in our riparian areas. They may not be as showy and extravagant as the cultivated roses you find commercially in a myriad of colorful varieties, but they’re spectacular in their own right. Our native rose has something to offer for all seasons. In early spring, the new shoot growth provides forage material for wildlife such as mule deer and antelope. As the thickets of wild rose leaf out, they provide dense habitat and coverage for small mammals and nesting birds. In late spring and early summer, the ends of their reddish prickle laden branches are covered in 2-inch pink, fragrant flowers that attract native bees with their protein rich pollen. As summer progresses, the pink petals fall from the flowers, and their fruits, rose hips, begin to grow and ripen. Rose hips are enjoyed by a variety of mammals, large and small, and many species of birds. There is a long history of Native American use of wild rose hips for

  • Plant of the Month: Ferns

    Sep 30, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Mara Trushell The Arizona landscape is ornamented with a wide spectrum of charismatic plants. The bold blossoms of the Saguaro; the magnificent flowers, fruit, and form of prickly pear; and vast Ponderosa Pine forest are all symbolic of Arizona flora. Included within this diverse landscape are the less symbolic, equally magnificent, and possibly unexpected species of ferns. The extant fern families are traceable through the fossil record back around 362 million years, during the late Carboniferous period. For perspective, this would be 117 million years prior to the first dinosaurs. During this Era of Ferns, the landscape was dominated by ferns of all sizes. Impressively, some species even grew up to 26 feet tall with fronds (leaves of a fern) up to 16 feet. Keep in mind that the distribution of flora was significantly different and the atmospheric O2 and water concentration during this time period was much higher in comparison to today. The fossil record shows that ferns continued to dominate the landscape for about 72 million years before Gymnosperms (conifers) began to appear. The landscape was shared between the two for the next 145 million years. As continents continued to shift and climates became more arid, angiosperms (flowering plants) finally began to appear (217 million years after the first ferns). Records also show that it was only after the spread of angiosperms across the landscapes that ferns

  • Plant of the Month: Camphorweed

    Aug 26, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Lisa Zander Our plant of the month first caught my eye in early spring as it sprouted in profusion along the Prescott-area roads I bike and run. Curious about this plant that I’d never noticed before, I plucked off a small piece of a sticky, egg-shaped leaf that pointed skyward. When I crushed the leaf, a strong aroma was released. I became intrigued with this mystery forb and kept a watchful eye as it grew taller. As the spring and summer months went by, my frequent sightings of these same sticky basal leaves left me slightly concerned about the invasive nature of this common road-side weed. When it finally bloomed in late August, the big reveal were rowdy clusters of bright yellow disc and ray flowers — this plant was a member of the Asteraceae, the Aster Family. More specifically, through the Yavapai County Native and Naturalized Plants website, I identified the plant as Camphorweed (Heterotheca subaxillaris), and was surprised to learn that it is native to our area. And that aroma? As often is the case, the strong smell belayed the plant’s medicinal chemical compounds. The late herbalist, Michael Moore (not to be confused with the documentary filmmaker of the same name) wrote that Camphorweed can be used as an antiseptic and antifungal and that an ointment made from the plant may help to ease pain and inflammation

  • Plant of the Month: Pineywoods Geranium

    Aug 5, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Mara Kack The simple leaves of the Pineywoods Geranium (Geranium caespitosum) begin to add small splashes of green to our Ponderosa Forest floor during late spring. The five finger-like extensions of each deeply lobed leaf also adds soft texture as each emerges from the duff of pine needles and oak leaves. Through the dry summer months, this perennial forb continues to mature, sending up delicate stems with scattered leaves that can reach up past your knees. As moisture settles on the landscape, the pineywoods geranium responds by putting forth small but intricate pinkish-purple flowers. Each half-inch flower is composed of a central stand of stamens  that enclose the base of the pistol and then protrude off the top like a miniature fireworks display. This display is accentuated by streaks of dark purple veins that extend from the base to the tip of each petal. When you stop to smell these flowers you may be slightly disappointed, but if you take the time to reach out and investigate the leaves your senses will be stimulated. Similar to other members of the geranium family leaves are scented with a robust, earthy fragrance with a hit of lemon and spice when crushed. The delicacy of the Pineywoods Geranium can also be enjoyed along Riparian systems and up through Montaine Conifer Forests. As monsoons soak the landscape, white flowers of Western Yarrow, White

  • Plant of the Month: Pinyon Pines

    Jul 1, 16 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Bill Perry One of the pricier ingredients in the foodie universe, but essential to a good pesto, is a handful of pine nuts (pignolias). They usually arrive in little plastic bags from China or the Mediterranean. But if you grew up around here, you may know that, with work, you can also get them from our two local Pinyon pines (Pinus edulis and P. monophylla). And we aren’t the only species that eats pine nuts. Many animals rely on them for actual survival. Even more interesting, the pine trees themselves, to thrive in this environment, rely not only on the hunger of the Western Scrub-jay, but its forgetfulness as well. To prevent competition between parents and offspring, nature creates the imperative to spread new progeny as widely as possible. This is a relatively easy task for animals, which have legs, fins and wings to take them away from their origins. For plants, which are mainly rooted and sedentary, though, scattering is a more challenging problem. Still, it’s been solved in a wide variety of ways called “dispersal mechanisms.” Wind is an efficient dispersal mechanism, wafting specialized seeds like cottonwoods and dandelions often miles from home. Other species rely on furry mammals to encounter clinging seeds which, like Velcro, stick to the animal and ride to some new distant turf. Still other seeds get the less scenic route of passing

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