Archive for the ‘Plant of the Month’ Category

  • Plant of the Month: Birdbill Dayflower

    Jul 25, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Mara Trushell The Birdbill Dayflower (Commelina dianthifolia) remains underground living as tuberous roots for much of the year. The beauty of this dayflower may only be enjoyed after the monsoon thunderstorms saturate grassy openings and meadows within woodlands and conifer forests from 4,000-9,000 feet. By late July, relatively long, linear leaves grow alternately up thin stems that are topped with a large spathe (folded sheathing bract); this is the “bird bill.” Beginning in August, during the cool morning hours, a single flower at a time emerges from the spathe. These flowers are comprised of three unique petals: two equal petals sit above a slightly smaller petal. Each is thin at its base, but then fans into delicate but wide vibrant blue petals; these just barely touch. In the center of the trio the stigma extends just beyond the vibrant yellow stamens which are set on filaments that are a deeper blue than the petals themselves. The display is complete when light catches the purple edges or stripes of the vibrant green spathe from which the flower emerged. By the hot afternoon, this single flower often wilts, hopefully only after successful pollination, and the next day a new flower opens. This display continues through September. Then, once again, the Birdbill Dayflower reduces to its underground tubers until the next summer. [Author’s Note: Birdbill Dayflower is one of two common representatives

  • Plant of the Month: Scarlet Beeblossom

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

    By David Moll I have a personal connection with Scarlet Beeblossom. Long ago, I received instruction in botany. Afterward, I was on my own. One day, I noticed a wildly unfamiliar-looking flowering plant around the driveway. From a distance, the flowers of this plant were so unrecognizable that I had no idea where my investigation would take me. I took a closer look and was surprised, not by novel discovery, but by familiar recognition. We may recognize a willow tree just by looking at its general appearance — though there are look-a- likes. When it come to the more numerous herbs (and sometimes shrubs), the presence of a flower is going to get us further down the road of identification than using the vegetational clues. Flowers, the number and arrangement of their parts, are the pivotal characteristic for identifying flowering plants in the field. Scarlet Beebossom is a nice example of variation within a plant family (and now even within a genus). One of the categories of flower part arrangement is symmetry. The most common types of flower symmetry are radial and bilateral. If a flower can be bisected through its center by two or more planes and show symmetry, it’s called radially symmetrical; imagine a thistle flower. If a flower shows symmetry with one and only one bisection, it’s called bilaterally symmetrical; think Penstemon. The mystery flower along the

  • Plant of the Month: Cacti

    Jun 2, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Nichole Trushell Ah, June. As a child of the Southwest, I love the warm, sunny weather, and yet each year I also brace for this month of extremes. In June, the warmest temperatures and the least precipitation meet, leaving life around us struggling to persevere until the humidity and precipitation of our summer monsoons arrive. However, one family of plants do not share my concerns — the Cactaceae, or cactus family. Some of their survival stories are well known, some of their stories are misrepresented. In any case, cacti are fascinating. The stems of cacti do indeed store water. However, there is no cactus which you can cut open and find a drink. Water is held within plant tissues, and cacti are packed with bitter alkaloids. These have a value to the plant, the bitterness helps protect them from herbivores. However, in times of great need, cacti are a survival food for many animals including deer, peccary, packrats and even cattle. The fruits are delicious, but cultures who have used them as food know temperance is a good idea with these as well. Look closely at the stems (the pads or joints) of any cactus. Notice the spots where spines originate. These “areoles” are remarkable. The tiny ephemeral leaves and the flowers are also produced here. Areoles can be thought of as a collapsed stem; minute buds that create

  • Plant of the Month: Juneberry

    Apr 28, 17 • ndemarino • 5enses, Plant of the MonthNo CommentsRead More »

    By Mara Trushell Spring migrant calls and local breeding birds’ song fill the air this time of year. Birds are only one of many organisms who are responding to spring in a way that can overwhelm our senses, and many are just as enjoyable as their songs. When hiking along scrubby slopes or ridges, woodland stream banks, or canyons, keep out a close eye for Amelanchier utahensis (Utah Serviceberry, Juneberry, Shadbush, or Utah Shadberry). This is when it’s at its formal best. This relatively large but sparsely branching bush is often found hiding under the dappled shade of oaks or ashes or concealed among vibrant yellow New Mexico olive flowers, a beautiful and fragrant hop tree, or delicate clusters of the black cherry flowers. Amelanchier utahensis produces clusters of three to six flowers which transform this bush into a dappled array of fresh vibrant green leaves among white flowers during April and May. The five narrow, widely spread petals don’t overlap and the anthers appear within a crown-like formation. The fragrance it emits has been described as unpleasant, so you can stick to enjoying these flowers visually. Amelanchier utahensis is a common shrub found between 2,000-7,000 feet across the country. The bush is an important resource for wildlife because it provides supple leaves for deer and other browsing ungulates to enjoy throughout the year. In addition, as spring transitions into

  • 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

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