My CLM position here in the Mojave Desert has continued into the late fall, and I’ll be here at least until mid-December. Maybe even longer. Like everywhere else in the country, the days have become shorter and colder here. Unlike most other places, our daytime high temperatures are still in the 70’s and 80’s. I could say that the nighttime temps in the 40’s feel pretty cold to me, but my friends and family back in Illinois probably won’t let me get away with that. But after the oppressive heat of summer, it is delightful to have weather that makes everyone else jealous.
Ericameria paniculata (Mojave rabbitbrush)
Of course, the ecology of the desert is changing with the seasons, and one of the interesting things that I’m seeing is that the plant life here is staying active even as we move into winter. I’m used to plants that have hunkered down into dormancy by this time of year. That is not the case here in the Mojave. There are a few plants that have dropped their leaves during the dry autumn, but most have remained unchanged in anticipation of winter rains. Some species are still holding seeds, and some are even in full bloom right now! I was in a wash this week that was full of the yellow flowers of two shrubs that I am just now seeing in bloom for the first time. I think that is great.
The continuing reproductive activity of the plants means that I have been able to stay busy making seed collections in November. Here are some highlights:
Ericameria paniculata (Mojave rabbitbrush). These plants absolutely glow in the evening sun. It is quite lovely.
Many of the big washes in my field office have turned into rivers of golden yellow this fall, as they have been filled with blooming Ericameria paniculata (Mojave rabbitbrush). This species is a shrub in the Asteraceae family. It grows as a round bush up to about 2 meters tall, and 3 to 4 meters wide. The blooming rabbitbrush has created some absolutely beautiful landscapes in the last month or so, especially in the late afternoons and evenings. This one was an easy collection to make, as the plants contained tens of thousands of their fluffy, wind-dispersed seeds. The plants are pretty sticky and pungent with a strong but sweet smell, so I ended up smelling like Ericameria for the rest of the day, which was fine with me.
Ericameria paniculata (Mojave rabbitbrush). These seeds were just about to fly off to who knows where before I snatched them up.
Another very easy collection that I made a couple weeks ago was of Chilopsis linearis arcuata (desert willow). This species is not a true willow (willows are the genus Salix), but it is a tree with narrow linear leaves that look similar to Salix. Chilopsis linearis is more closely related to Catalpa trees. Desert willows produce long, thin seed pods that are loaded with 50 or more seeds that have dense, white, tufts of hair. When these trees were blooming earlier in the year their white, pink, or purple flowers were very popular with sphinx moths (also called hawk moths). These moths look very much like hummingbirds in the way they hover around flowers. For a week in August, thousands of sphinx moths congregated around the desert willows, so that you could hear the air buzzing with their wing beats. Those were amazing days.
Chilopsis linearis (desert willow). You can see that the leaves do look pretty similar to true willows.
Chilopsis linearis (desert willow). Here are a couple of seed pods that are just about ready to burst open.
Here’s one more for now. Last week I made a collection of Sphaeralcea angustifolia (copper globemallow). This species is a forb that I’ve seen growing to just shy of 1 meter in height. Last week was the first time I have come across this species, but the population I found was pretty impressive. Thousands and thousands of copper globemallow covered the shallow wash I was exploring. That makes for some easy collecting. A few of the plants were still blooming, and showing off their very pretty orange flowers, but most were full of their unusual fruits. If you look at the picture I’ve included, you can see the seed capsules, which some people will describe as little cheese wheels. When they open up, those capsules will drop 10-20 small seeds to the ground. As I finished this collection with the light fading and temperature dropping in the late afternoon, one of my coworkers made an observation. Many of the remaining orange flowers on the Sphaeralcea now contained a bee. The bees weren’t buzzing around collecting nectar, but instead had curled up inside the flowers and were sitting still. My coworker said that they would sleep that way through the night. I had never seen bees do this before, and I thought it was really cool!
Sphaeralcea angustifolia (copper globemallow).
Sphaeralcea angustifolia (copper globemallow). Notice the “cheese wheel” fruits on this plant. Kind of quirky.
All right, that’s enough for now. All you people in colder climates, stay warm!
Ericameria paniculata (Mojave rabbitbrush)
Until next time,
Needles Field Office, BLM