Moab Happenings Archive
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Wildflowers II: April Showers Bring May Flowers.
by Damian Fagan

Ah, May in the Canyon Country.

Temperatures continue to climb and warm up this desert landscape, occasionally punctuated by a spring storm. Alongside these rising temperatures, is the appearance of numerous wildflowers and flowering shrubs which add more beauty to this already Crayola®-inspired landscape.

Some of these wildflowers, such as scorpionweed, yellow beeplant, and spectacle-pod are annuals that race through their life cycle in one season. These flowers sometimes bloom in profusion, carpeting the desert in a mosaic of color. During years of insufficient soil moisture, the seeds continue to lie dormant waiting for the right conditions to germinate.
Many of the wildflowers and shrubs that bloom in May are perennials (living longer than one season). These forbs and shrubs, which sport various shapes and flower colors, attract a wide range of pollinators, from bees to beetles to butterflies and more. Nectar or pollen rewards induce these pollinators to visit the flowers; some, such as the yucca moth, have a tight association with a single species of yucca.

Various habitats, from sandy dunes to rocky ledges to hidden seeps, provide different growing locations for these plants. Species diversity is greatest during May and there are several plant families that are well represented during this spring wildflower show.

One such family is the Daisy or Sunflower family (Asteraceae). This group contains sunflowers, daisies, asters, and their allies, plants with flower heads made up of disk and/or ray flowers. Plants such as showy rushpink, Hopi blanketflower, and silvery townsendia span the color wheel from pink to yellow to white, respectively. Even the Utah thistle, a native thistle, attracts pollinators such as butterflies and white-lined sphinx moths in search of nectar.

One spectacular species in this family is the rough mulesears, a shrub-like plant with a bushy nature and large yellow flower heads. The sandpaper-like texture and shape of the leaves inspired the common name for this plant.

The Milkweed family is also represented with several different species, such as showy milkweed, dwarf milkweed, broadleaf milkweed, and pallid milkweed, that bloom in May. The common name “milkweed” refers to the milky latex that oozes from a stem or leaf when it is broken. This sap is toxic and monarch caterpillars ingest this toxic substance as they chew on the plant’s leaves, making the larvae inedible to predators. Later in the season, when the milkweed pods ripen and open, the wind shakes loose the seeds which have fine hairs attached and enable the seed to “float” away on the breeze and colonize new ground.

Several members of the Snapdragon or Figwort family appear in spring, such as the Eaton’s penstemon, Utah penstemon, and bluestem penstemon bloom. These wildflowers, with their long tubular flowers, attract butterflies and hummingbirds as pollinators. A closely related species called the Palmer’s penstemon has whitish flowers that are short and wide in shape which attracts bumblebees which plow into the flowers as pollinators.

The Rose family has several shrubs that bloom in May. Cliffrose, antelope bitterbrush, Utah serviceberry, and blackbrush, a seemingly nondescript low-growing shrub with dark branches until it blooms, grace the desert with their spring flowers. The yellow flowers of the blackbrush may cloak the plant and the perfumed flowers of cliffrose may be smelled long before seeing the shrub. Serviceberry fruits were dried and mixed with game meat to form pemmican.

Wildflowers in May add another splash of color to this already colorful landscape and their flowers, in turn, provide nectar and pollen rewards for a wealth of creatures. Enjoy the interactions of bee and blossom as you venture through Canyon Country and marvel in the diversity of flowers that bloom during this time of year.

Damian FaganA natural history writer.
Former Moabite, now based in the Pacific Northwest, Damian Fagan is a freelance natural history writer and nature photographer who focuses on the flora and fauna of the American Southwest and the Pacific Northwest. Of course, this gives him a good excuse to go hiking.

Meet Annie Dalton, the New Community Artist in the Parks!
by Sharon Sullivan

There will be opportunities to observe and talk with a professional artist at work in any one of the Southeast Utah Group of parks: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Hovenweep National Monument, and Natural Bridges National Monument – various times between April 1 and October 31.

The National Park Service’s (NPS) Community Artist in the Parks program began in 2009 as a way to highlight the connection between local artists and the landscapes contained within these Utah parks, according to the NPS.

Moab native Annie Dalton will serve as the Community Artist in the Parks in 2024. You can check the NPS web site calendar to see when and where she’s scheduled to be set up outside with her sketchpad.

Dalton, 40, is a multimedia artist – she has two Moab-based businesses – Desert Edge Designs, which features her two-dimensional work, and a ceramics business called Moab Varnish. While serving as the Community Artist in the Parks, she’ll be focusing on native flora, plus the geology of the region. She said she plans to explore the medicinal properties of native plants and how they’ve been used by native cultures.

“My goal is to create art with native flowers as they’re blooming in April, and May,” Dalton said. “I will be sketching the blooms of native species during the peak bloom season, and transferring some of those into linoleum block stamps.”

After the blooming season, Dalton said she plans to switch her focus to rock formations, mineral deposits and erosion.
“It’s fascinating to me, the geology of the parks,” she said.

The volunteer position requires Dalton to visit each of the four southeast Utah parks at least once during her tenure, and spend a minimum of 24 hours per month creating art inside a park. Works created during Dalton’s tenure will be for sale at Canyonlands History Association stores at Arches and Canyonlands national parks.

A cumulative showing of Dalton’s work during her tenure will happen on the First Friday Art Walk of November 2024 in an exhibit at the Moab Arts and Recreation Center (MARC).

She says her favorite park is Natural Bridges – “I remember being there overnight, with a perfect black sky, and it was so tranquil, peaceful,” she said. However, she’ll be spending most of her time at Arches, closer to home. A rotating schedule will include stints at Island in the Sky, and the Needles District of Canyonlands, an overnight trip to Natural Bridges, and a day trip to Hovenweep, as well as time at Arches, she said.

Scheduling when and where she’ll be will depend at first on what’s blooming, she said. The park service calendar will be updated regularly so visitors who wish to meet Dalton can plan a trip to the park to do so. Plus, there will be sandwich boards – one at the Visitor Center, and another at the trail head, so people can find her.
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