Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Springtime in the California Desert: Miscellany of Life at Joshua Tree

Wrapping up a week of posts on Joshua Tree National Park, I am offering up a miscellany of life at the unique park in Southern California. A visit in the middle of May is a bit past the height of spring bloom, but there were a few flowers left to enjoy, no doubt assisted by the cool spring. It certainly didn't feel like summer out there.

One of the most dramatic flowers we saw was the ocotillo, a Colorado Desert species that lives in the lower elevations of the park. The ocotillos near Cottonwood Springs were bright with color.
One of the oddest corners of the park is the Cholla Garden at the western end of the Pinto Basin. Chollas are one of the most viciously defended plants one will ever come across. The thorns of the plant are hooked in such a way that if you brush against it, the branch will break off and stick to your skin, by the painful thorns. When you try to brush it off, the thorns stick to your hand. A comb is a vital piece of hiking equipment when hiking in cholla country.

The tendency to break off, besides leading to the "jumping" legend, is also an efficient way of propagating the species. The broken branches can sprout when they get dropped off at a new location.

In most places of the lower desert of Joshua Tree the chollas are widely dispersed, but at Cholla Garden, the chollas are growing in a nearly pure stand, probably due to perfect soil conditions.
Despite the nasty reputation, the Jumping Cholla has a beautiful flower, as can be seen below.
There were a lot of diminutive flowers to be found across the desert, one of which I didn't have any resources to identify. Any help out there?
No problem identifying this one, though. The beavertail cactus is found all over, and the blooms are distinctive...
The rich vegetation was bringing out all manner of insects and birds and reptiles. At the south entrance of the park, I caught one I've never noticed before. It turns out to be a gnatcatcher, perhaps the Blacktailed or California species.
The presence of flowers meant rich time for the hummingbirds, not a species I usually associate with the desert. I saw this one near the Barker Dam trailhead.
There are the usual reptiles. This lizard was well-camouflaged at the base of a fan palm at Cottonwood Springs. I'm assuming a Western Fence Lizard, but will appreciate corrections.
Finally, a mystery beast from the desert. I saw this...something or another...walking across the desert in the Pinto Basin. I thought some kind of wasp from the size, but I haven't a clue what it really is or what on its back. Anyone want to pitch in here?


growingtedium said...

The white flower looks like Lygodesmia juncea to me, but that's not supposed to be in California - I'd bet it's a close relative though.

Neil said...

The insect is a desert spider beetle, Cysteodemus armatus that "thing" is it's back - or abdomen, yellow-tinged with pollen.

I saw these guys for this first time a few months ago in the Mojave. It was so quiet (or they were so noisy) that you could hear them scuttling across the sand.

The lizard is probably a Desert Spiny Lizard, Sceloporus magister close cousin of the Western Fence Lizard.

I'll also take a stab that the hummingbird is a Costa's Calypte costae based on the apparently curved bill.

Gaelyn said...

Tis the magic of spring life in the desert.

Politesse said...

This series on Joshua Tree has been really fantastic, thank you!

Unknown said...

The white flower is Desert Straw or Wire Lettuce. They also come in pink and lavender. Each "petal" is actually a flower. The five fingers at the tips are actually petals of that flower.