HAPPENINGS - April 2001
by Damian Fagan
April is an active month in Canyon Country. Many
species of birds are busy constructing nests, courting and laying
eggs. Amphibians, like the northern leopard frog, start to chorus
on warm days, their snore-like calls emanating from shallow pools.
Hordes of insects either hatch from dormant eggs or metamorphose
from their aquatic childhood into flying adults. But perhaps the
most noticeable heralds of Spring are the splashes of wildflower
color that pop up across the landscape. And early predictions for
this years crop lean toward a banner April.
Abundant winter moisture that slowly soaks into the ground sets
the stage for successful germination of dormant wildflower seeds.
Many seeds of annual plants have chemical inhibitors that block
germination unless there is sufficient moisture in the soil. As
moisture seeps into the ground these inhibitors are broken down
and results in fields of wildflowers gracing the land.
Of course, things can drastically change from month to month. Dry,
hot conditions can quickly remove this soil moisture, and although
there may be adequate moisture for germination there could be limited
water for growth. Strong April winds can also suck moisture from
the soil. But if things progress in the current fashion, this year
should be a pretty good one for wildflowers.
Common Indian paintbrush (Castilleja chromosa) is one of my favorite
early wildflowers. Growing against a backdrop of slickrock, these
flowers are appropriately named. The flower tips resemble dipped
paintbrushes holding onto bright red paint. Interestingly, paintbrush
flowers are green; red bracts or modified leaves surround the flowers
and act as attractants to lure hummingbirds to the plants
Paintbrushes may be partially parasitic on other plants. Their root
systems attach to the roots of nearby plants and draw moisture and
nutrients from their host. The hosts receive nothing for their contributions
except to be in close association with these beautiful wildflowers.
cactus (Echinocereus triglochidiatus) is another Spring bloomer
that may be laden with an abundance of red flowers. Echinocereus
is from a Greek word meaning hedgehog and refers to
the plants resemblance to this spiny creature. The species
name, triglochidiatus, refers to the plants straight spines
that are often arranged in clusters of three. And from this spine
covered, slender barrel shaped cactus, arise bouquets of delicate
red flowers. In good years there are an abundance of flowers blanketing
the plants, otherwise only a few blooms may appear.
Two other red-bloomers are the Utah and Eatons penstemon,
two members of the Snapdragon or Figwort Family that are closely
related. The Utah penstemon (Penstemon utahensis) was first located
near Monticello, Utah; hence, its common and scientific name. Flowering
stalks arise from a basal rosette of leaves and bear short tubular
flowers that flare open at the end like an angels trumpet.
Eatons penstemon, named after an American botanist David Cady
Eaton (1834-1885), also bear flowers along a long flowering stalk.
These flowers are more tubular than the Utah penstemons and
often have winged pollinators such as hummingbirds or butterflies
probing their flowers in search of nectar.
These four plants are just a few of the many desert wildflowers
that grace the transition from Winter to Spring.
And hopefully, with fingers crossed, this year's Spring will be
a banquet of wildflower bouquets for all to feast upon.
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