Friday, June 18, 2021

Now It's Pod Season

The saguaros are sprouting side-blooms, a rare phenomenon caused by no one knows exactly.  There's a phenology lab at the UovA (phenology being the interaction between plants and the seasons).  Everyone sees them, everyone is mildly disturbed by them, and I personally am blaming them for the paltry display of flowers atop the saguaros I pass every day.  Almost everyone blames the drought and the poor monsoon last year for stressing the plants to distraction, but the phenologists caution that these plants live very long lives, and are adapted to our severe weather.

But I know they are stressed, because my paddle cactus (Opuntia englemanii) tells me so.  From a distance, she's gorgeous, white snowflakes on pink or mauve or pea green paddles.

Up close and personal, though, she tells a different story.  The white spots are the protective coating created by the cochineal scale, an insect who's found the perfect roadside diner..... and decided to stick around for a while. 
.  I'm not too worried about the health of the plant; the underlying paddles are fine . Rain  (if we get any), will wash off some of the remaining gunk. There's enough deliciousness to share.  As G'ma would say, it's a small bug, it can't eat that much (which was fine unless it was sitting in my food)

 This picture is after the insects have left, their coatings drying out and waiting for a strong monsoon rain and wind combo to clean things up.

The stress is not only manifested in the fact that the saguaro bloom was disappointing.  The birds are feasting on the unprotected seed pods, dropping red garbage onto my carefully manicured yard.  

It's possible that a baby cactus will appear from all this seed dispersal, but they are very particular about sprouting and the chances are unlikely.  

And then there are the palo verde and the acacia and the Texas Mountain Laurel, all of which are bent over with hard seed pods.  

The older they get, the browner and thinner and drier they become.  
The new ones are green.

The bunnies and lizards and ground squirrels are having a grand time at my restaurant.  

So was the baby bobcat I surprised one recent morning when I opened the front door.  Lying in the cool underpinnings of the Mediterranean vinca (the training variety) on the ground that was still wet from the morning's irrigation... I felt bad for disturbing her. (Yes, I decided she was a she.) 

By the time we realized what was happening, I'd taken a step back through the doorway and she was looking at me from the pony wall across the courtyard.  We had a moment or two, then she leapt off to other things and so did I.

It's pod season in the desert. 



  1. I have friends near Phoenix, and you in Tucson so I keep an eye on the temps in your part of the country. Yikes! Like us, I'm sure you are thankful for air conditioning.

    1. I went out to look at an irrigation leak at 7:45 this morning and came in dripping sweat. Thankful for the pool and the a/c!

  2. Interesting to hear/see about your desert plants.

    1. I'm glad you enjoy it. Documenting the changes helps me recognize that time is, in fact, passing!


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