Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pollenating the Desert

Easter Sunday spent on the was sunny but cool. We wanted to go on a hike but it was just a bit too cool since our hike would have taken us to a bit higher elevation. Warmer weather is on the horizon. Enjoy a couple a photos of one of my favorite cactus that is just beginning to flower.

Ocotillo. (ō'kə-tē'yō) During most of the year, the long stems of the ocotillo are bare except for the rigid gray spines. However this plant's appearance changes overnight after a good rainstorm. Under the dead looking waxy gray surface, ocotillo stems are capable of enough photosynthesis to enable leafing out quickly after rains. Tiny new leaf buds spring up along the stems and within five days, the leaves expand to their full growth. In five weeks, the leaves turn yellow and drop to the ground. Such is the quick life-cycle for this part of the Ocotillo, but during that short time the leaves utilize the soil moisture to produce the plant-sugars needed for growth. Depending on the amount and number of rains, ocotillo may gain and lose their leaves three, four, or more times a year.

Ocotillo flowers, blood-red and densely clustered, appear at the stem tips in March and April. They are a major food source for hummingbirds during their northward migration. Lots of other birds and insects also visit the flowers. Ocotillo produce flat, featherlight seeds in abundance during May and June. Many of those seeds germinate during the summer monsoon season, July and August, but few if any survive until the following summer. Those that do live to their second year have a good chance of living up to two centuries. Ocotillo grows to a height of twenty or thirty feet. These unusual desert plants are found abundantly from southern California to western Texans and south into Mexico.


Moon said...

Lovely. I've seen people make fences from the dead and dried stalks. They are like iron, so tough.

Bee said...

Pretty. I'm afraid I always think of cacti as being those broad leafed, spikey plants. Thanks for showing me another one.

Chris said...

Great photos! Love the shadow pattern on the ground in the first one.

We spent an Easter week in Death Valley when I was a kid. I was amazed at the color the desert shows in the spring!

Lynne said...

How interesting. I hope you show more photos of them as the season progresses.