Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Beauty Beyond the Stickers

Today I thought about what I wanted to share with you and I decided it was time to share some of my world with you. As y'all know I live in Tucson, AZ and it is really beautiful even with all the stickers. Yes I live in the desert and it gets down right HOT here. But there is still beauty every were you look.

Here you will see a cholla cacti. This can be a really mean plant. As you can see all the stickers this plant has. The cholla (pronounced choy-a) is one of the most feared and hated cacti in the southwest desert. If you have ever brushed up against one, you will know why. The cholla has pads that separate easily from the main stem. The spines will easily attach to your clothing, your skin, your shoes and more. Since the plant is covered with spines as you can see above, it's difficult to grab and dislodge or remove the pad that has found a new home with you. Do you ask "Why are they so difficult to remove?" Unlike other varieties of cacti with solid spines, cholla's actually have hollow spines. Yep that is right hollow spines. Because they are hollow they can easily attach to whatever they touch with their needle like sharpness and take it from me they are really sharp. If there is moisture, such as with skin, the tips actually curve once they have made contact, locking their spines in place just underneath the skins top layer or even deeper. OUCH! Yes the end of the spines curl and form a hook on the end.  There are several types of Jumping Cholla cacti in the desert southwest, but all of them were called the "jumping" cacti in past days because they seemed to jump when a boot or shoe would walk on or near them. I bet you are asking yourself this very question:  How could a plant so nasty be so beautiful? Good question, and one more mystery of the desert. The plant (especially the Teddy Bear Cholla with its golden spines) is quite beautiful at sunrise and sunset. As the sun catches the tips of the spines, the plants radiate a cast of yellow, and look quite soft sometimes with an appearance of velvet. Add to this the pink flower it produces and the plant is delightful to look at only just do not touch. Because some of the Jumping Cholla cacti can grow to heights of 8 feet tall, they look like strange, distorted trees, each with its own personality. Believe it or not, the cactus wren builds nests on the Jumping Cholla. The nests are quite secure among all the spines and the bird knows how to avoid the spines of the Jumping Cholla. This plant propagates and spreads throughout the desert by its own defense mechanisms: Its spines attach to anything that can carry it around, animals, people, the wind. When a Jumping Cholla finds a new home, with a little time, and contact with the soil, it begins to root and grow. 

We have some amazing trees that are in full bloom right now. As you can see this tree is alive with little yellow flowers. A truly amazing site to behold. I love trees. Yes even the trees out here have stickers. I know crazy right?

Prickly pears also called paddle cactus typically grow with flat, rounded cladodes (also called platyclades) that are armed with two kinds of spines; large, smooth, fixed spines and small, hairlike prickles called glochids, that easily penetrate skin and detach from the plant. Many types of prickly pears grow into dense, tangled structures. The second photo above is a prickly pear that has been treated by a landscaper and the stickers have been removed. The fruit of prickly pears, commonly called cactus fruit, cactus fig, Indian fig or tuna in Spanish, is edible, although it has to be peeled carefully to remove the small spines on the outer skin before consumption. If the outer layer is not properly removed, glochids can be ingested, causing discomfort of the throat, lips, and tongue, as the small spines are easily lodged in the skin. Native Americans, like the Tequesta, would roll the fruit around in a suitable medium (grit) to "sand" off the glochids. Alternatively, rotating the fruit in the flame of a campfire or torch has been used to remove the glochids. Cactus figs are often used to make candies, jelly, or drinks such as vodka or lemonade. The prickly pear fruit is also used as the main ingredient of a popular Christmas beverage in the British Virgin Islands, called "Miss Blyden".

This is one of the mountains just outside and across from my house. There is a spot in the mountain that has been carved out and there is an alter in the side of the mountain. People walk the trail up the side of the mountain to pay thanks to God and to pray for their needs. They light candles and everything.

The Barrel cactus can be easily distinguished from other cacti because of it cylinder-shaped body. The cactus usually reaches from around five to eleven feet tall, and at that height it is one of the largest cacti in the North American deserts. This cactus is really a man-sized (or bigger) cylinder with numerous parallel ridges that run down the sides. These ridges are topped with dangerously sharp 3-4 inch spines. The barrel cactus is also a flowering cactus. It has rings of yellow-green or red blossoms at its top. As you can see in the picture above the yellow buds. Those yellow buds are were the flowers form.  Like many plants of the world, this cactus has numerous uses. Native Americans who lived in the desert found the barrel cactus very useful. In the vast untamed desert land and scorching heat, you couldn't just hop in your air-conditioned car and cruise down to the local supermarket. There was no such thing as a supermarket. The Native Americans had to look hard to find food. The barrel cactus provided some very important provisions for them. They stewed the Barrel Cactus to make a cabbage-like food. They got water to drink from the pulp and they made fish hooks from the spines, which are pointed at the end. The pulp is also made into "cactus candy". The Barrel cactus is found in the Mojave, Sonora, and the Chihuahua deserts.

There is tons of open area and trails to walk. The picture shown above is one such trail just across the street from my house. This trail leads up to the mountain in the picture above as well.

As you can see in the photo above the land is very rough and makes for quite a hike. Even tho the land is rocky and the hike is a good workout it is a beautiful walk.

 Thank you Catherine I could not for the life of me think of the name of this flowering plant. You are 100% correct the name is desert bird of paradise and in the picture above it is the Red Bird of Paradise. A short, arid-climate shrub with amazing flowers! Akin to some of its paradise flower relatives, this tough plant is a profuse bloomer and something to behold. Mainly used as an ornamental, particularly in dry regions. The plant was once used medicinally in parts of South America. The seeds and seed pods are toxic. You do not want your kids or animals snacking on this plant. I know you are asking does this plant have stickers too. The answer to that question is yes it does. LOL I always tease and tell people that everything that grows here has stickers.

The saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) is one of the defining plants of the Sonoran Desert. These plants are large, tree-like columnar cacti that develop branches (or arms) as they age, although some never grow arms. These arms generally bend upward and can number over 25. Saguaros are covered with protective spines, white flowers in the late spring, and red fruit in summer. Saguaros are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert. The most important factors for growth are water and temperature. If the elevation is too high, the cold weather and frost can kill the saguaro. Although the the Sonoran Desert experiences both winter and summer rains, it is thought that the Saguaro obtains most of its moisture during the summer rainy season. The saguaro is not currently listed as threatened or endangered. Arizona has strict regulations about the harvesting, collection or destruction of this species. If there is one plant in Arizona that you can get in trouble over it is the Saguaro. They are protected by law. The Saguaro is home to our State bird the Cactus Wren. A bird of arid regions, the cactus wren is often found around yucca, mesquite or saguaro. Cactus wrens nest in cactus plants; sometimes in a hole in a saguaro, or a spot where prickly cactus spines provide protection for the nest. Male and female cactus wrens mate for life and are similar in appearance. They protect their established territory (where they live throughout the year) and aggressively defend their nests from predators. Cactus wrens also destroy the nests of other bird species, pecking or removing their eggs.

Any time you go hiking, fishing, hunting, camping and any outdoor activities you need to be prepared for anything that may come your way. That is why I am now offering survival bracelets on my web site. I want to share some of them with you today.  :)

Thank you for taking the time to read my post. I know it was a long one, but I had a lot to catch up on after taking a week off for family. If you really want to make my day leave me a comment and tell me what you think of this post. Thank you again for stopping by.

AZ Desert Creations


ShadowDogDesigns said...

Fascinating post, Jennifer. A lot of people do not understand the understated, intense beauty in the desert. Like you, I enjoy it every day - but make sure to stay away from the hurtful weapons that most plants have. Your desert in Tucson looks much like the desert here, except we don't have saguaro since we're part of the Chihuahuan desert. Around here, people call the orange flowered plant "desert bird of paradise". There's a yellow variety and an orange one. The orange one blooms all summer long, even through the most intense heat. I love it! Thanks again for sharing!

Cathy Morgan said...

Beautiful pictures, I feel like I have taken a walk in the desert. Have you eaten the catus candy? Just curious about the flavor.
I love the bracelets.

Laura said...

Your piece of the world is beautiful and so are the cacti. It always amazes me how gorgeous nature is and I always remind myself that I need to stop and really enjoy it in all it's glory more. Although it'd be my luck to stop and admire it real close to those "stickers"!!

Wyvern Designs said...

What an amazing landscape. So stark, yet beautiful!

Wyvern Designs said...

What an amazing landscape, so stark, yet beautiful!

Anonymous said...

Jennifer, I enjoyed the read and the photos. What a gorgeous area where you live. I think I'll pass on the walks with the stickers. LOL. Welcome back.

Jennifer Tuminello said...

Cathy, I have it is hard to explain the taste. It is a sweet flower taste really yummy. :)

CraftsofthePast said...

Really interesting story on cacti of all things. I can understand why desert plants have to be pretty rough on the exterior. Any grazing animal would have eaten anything that did not punish their mouths as they tried to bite into it, I think. Especially since those cactus plants store water that is often scarce in the desert.

Ewenique said...

Oh, the beauty of the Sonoran Desert! I grew up in Tucson, seeing these same extraordinary desert plants and enjoying the clear blue skies, the cactus blossoms, and mountains. And yes, I have experienced cholla stickers. My mother used to make prickly pear jam, burning the tiny needles off the fruit before starting the jam making process. I remember that the taste reminded me of tart cherry jam. Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing this informative post. I may have to visit Tucson again in the future!

PutmanLakeDesigns said...

Reading your post and looking at the photos brought me back to a couple trips I took to Arizona. The first one was moving trip... we hit Tuscon, Sedona, the Canyon, but the second one was all in Tuscon as we really enjoyed our time there. Seeing all the cactus reminded me of our journeys in that area. Thanks for the information and the trip down memory lane

Julie and Blu said...

Fascinating post, Jennifer. I have not been down your area, only arriving and departing from Phoenix does not count as a visit to the desert of Arizona. I enjoyed the walk through the cacti and all the information you provided. The birds are great and so are all the photos.

Julie and Blu

Lisa B. said...

Gosh what an extensive and thoroughly fascinating look into the world of cacti. Thanks Jennifer for such a great post.

JewelryArtByDawn said...

I think a lot of us tend to believe the desert is a barren and hostile place, yet as you've shown here, it's very full of life. It's amazing that those prickly plants produce such beautiful flowers and just goes to show that beauty is all around us no matter where we are. We just have to open our minds.

Pebbles at my Feet said...

Every place I've been has its unique appeal. Cacti are very interesting plants they are so well adapted to their desert environment. Our problem is... (people) we don't always adapt, rather we cope, and so these fabulous plants become disliked. Your post is a celebration of where you live. Thanks for sharing.

Adorebynat said...

I enjoy reading your posts. Cactus are intriguing. I like looking at them but certainly do not want to get near the stickers. My parents used to have a lot of different cactus (no, we did not live in a desert. We were in tropical country and collecting these were part of their gardening hobby).