Prosopis is the scientific name for about 40 species of leguminous trees. Present in North America since the Pliocene era, mesquite wood has been dated to 1300 BC.
I found this flowering mesquite bush in Finger Rock Canyon of the Catalina Mountains outside Tucson, Arizona.
They are thought to have evolved with megafauna in the New World. The loss of North American megafauna at the end of the Pleistocene era gave way to one theory of how the Prosopis spp. were able to survive.
One theory is that the loss of the megafauna allowed Prosopis spp. to use their fruit pods to attract other organisms to spread their seeds; then, with the introduction of livestock, they were able to spread into grasslands.
The plentiful legumes that develop from these flowers are edible when cooked. The shape and color of the seeds can be understood from this empty seed pod that happens to lie near a tarantula burrow.
A large Fremont’s Cottonwood Offers shade and protection along the Pima Canyon Trail.
In the shade, a grapevine, offers a vain promise of grapes.
The cottonwood’s deep roots draw water from a mountain stream.
Native Americans in the Western United States and Mexico used parts of Frémont’s cottonwood variously for a medicine, in basket weaving, for tool making, and for musical instruments. The inner bark of Frémont’s cottonwood contains vitamin C and was chewed as an antiscorbutic – treatment for vitamin C deficiency. The bark and leaves could be used to make poultices to reduce inflammation or to treat wounds.
The Pima people of southern Arizona and northern Mexico lived along Sonoran Desert watercourses and used twigs from the tree in the fine and intricate baskets they wove. The Cahuilla people of southern California used the tree’s wood for tool making, the Pueblo peoples for drums, and the Lower Colorado River Quechan people in ritual cremations. The Hopi of Northeastern Arizona carve the root of the cottonwood to create kachina dolls.
Here are 8 flower bud growing from one cladode (pad). There is a 9th bud on a second cladode. What is interesting about these pads are the needle shadows. Although thin, each provides some protection from the sun.
This delicate bud will develop into a flower and, then, into a cactus fruit (in spanish, tuna). The fruit retains those tiny spines, called glochids, which detach on the smallest contact. The pads are also covered with them.
Prickly pears are known for growing into thickets. The Cuban government created a “cactus curtain” of prickly pears around the Guantanamo naval base in the 1960’s, to prevent Cubans from escaping to refuge in the United States.
Look closely at the anthers of these flowers. Each curls over when touched, depositing its pollen. The habit of prickly pears to grow together in thickets mean there are clusters of blossoms in springtime.
My visit to Finger Rock Canyon of the Santa Catalina Mountains filled two mornings. On the first morning, the subject was the lower canyon as morning light filtered over the eastern ridge.
Early morning to the north / northwest looking over a 20-foot fallen Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantean), toward lower ridges of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The saguaro is among a stand of healthy fellows, some with new growth and flowers on the tips of arms and main columns. This giant must have grown over rock through 60 years. It was brought down when the roots weakened. Specimens that are more reliably rooted can live to 200 years.
A clump of brittlebush shrub (Encelia farinosa) grows from the same rock.
Pima Canyon is the next over, behind that near ridge which provides similar shade. Unlike Finger Rock Canyon, the Pima Canyon trail follows the western cliff and loses the shade much sooner. During our three-week trip, my wife, Pam, and I visited Pima in our first week.
These photos were taken between 6:20 and 7:00 am.
Along the trail I noticed a multitude of buds on the tip of selected saguaro arms. In a previous blog, there’s a photo of this same saguaro in the shade. The following series captures the one blossoming top just as the sun passes over the eastern, shadowing, ridge.
The same saguaro, two minutes later…….
Here is a portion of the saguaro forest, around 7 am with the lower canyon filled with light. There are a few foothill homes with west and southwest Tucson. The Tucson Mountains are in the distance.
Saguaro flowers start as buds on the tip of the cactus body or arm. The specimen in the photograph below, growing in the yard of a foothills home on the border of federal land, is over 30 feet tall and, at the end of April 2011, buds are sprouting from every tip. Look closely for opening buds and full saguaro blossoms.
Flower buds grow only from some tips and around the center, along the sides, not from the point at the very end of the tip, from which the limb grows.
These buds first appeared mid-April and are here shown in the latter stages of maturity, prior to opening. Sometimes, the base of an arm weakens and the arm lowers close to the ground while remaining healthy. While descending the canyon I noticed this had happened to the arm of a particularly large specimen, an arm in full flower. This and the following photographs are from that arm.
I have read that each flower opens in the cool of the night and lasts only until the following afternoon. Here is a fully blossomed flower with a pair of opening buds.
And more, from a different view of the same arm.
A saguaro flower in full bloom, having opened the previous night. This flower will last a single day. It will wilt in the heat of a single afternoon and close. In this brief time, flying animals will pollinate it. You can see numerous honey bees on the flowers, in a previous blog, “Saguaro Flowers in Finger Rock Canyon.”
The perfection of April in Tucson is nowhere better than mornings spent in Finger Rock Canyon of the Catalina Mountains. Oriented on a north/south axis, the eastern cliffs shed a long shadow well past 9:30 am. For early risers such as me, this means no hat and cool hiking to the canyon head: the trail hugs the eastern cliffs.
These three shots were taken 5:30 – 6:00 am mountain time (Arizona does not follow daylight savings time except on the Navajo Reservation).
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