Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)

Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)
Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata)

Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata), also known as Coyote Gourd, is a flowering plant common in the desert southwest and known to produce spherical yellow – green melons. The vine like plant is commonly found is loose, sandy or gravely, dry, well drained soil which is common in Southern California, Arizona, Nevada and exclusively in Washington County, Utah. The primary characteristic is the growth of a green melon or gourd which is quite startling when you first see them in the hot desert climates.

Sereno Watson (December 1, 1826 in East Windsor Hill, Connecticut - March 9, 1892 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American botanist
Sereno Watson (December 1, 1826 in East Windsor Hill, Connecticut – March 9, 1892 in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was an American botanist

The gourd was first described in 1876 by Sereno Waston who was a Yale graduate with a degree in Biology, The Coyote Melon features a sprawling stiff vine with rough, stiff-haired stems and leaves. Cucurbita palmata produces a large yellow bell shaped flower, while the melon itself is smooth in appearance. The striped yellow – green colored gourd is known to be quite hard, however, also thin when mature. The melons are very bitter and not edible. This hearty planet can survive the harsh desert landscape through its use of a large and hearty tap root. This root system can extend several feet into the dry soil to supply the plant with nutrients and water required for survival.

The Coyote Melon (Cucurbita palmata) is extremely fibrous and although not edible to humans is known to be on the coyotes diet during the fall, hence its name. It is quite common to find the seeds of this plant in coytoe scat during the fall months.

Despite the fibrous melon being inedible by man, the native american tribes were known to consume the ground seeds of this plant. Additionally, they used the dried gourds as rattles in various dances and other ceremonies. They also utilized the plant was as soap for cleaning.

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Mojave-aster ( Xylorhiza tortifolia )

Mojave-aster ( Xylorhiza tortifolia )
Mojave-aster ( Xylorhiza tortifolia )

A member of the sunflower family, the Mojave-aster ( Xylorhiza tortifolia ) boasts a delicate lavender flower in the harsh desert environment. Also known as the Mojave Woodyaster, the plant commonly reaches about 30 inches in height. The green-grey colored stems hold a solitary flower which is about two inches in diameter. The plant gathers sun with three inch long silver-green leaves and an individual plant may offer dozens to purple hued flowers.

A solitary Mojave Aster next to a wind blown Globe Mallow bush.
A solitary Mojave Aster next to a wind blown Globemallow bush.

The Mojave Aster typically blooms between March and May, and again in October when the monsoon season allows. It in commonly found between 2000 and 3500 feet in elevation, however in California it is know to thrive between 700 and 6500 feet. The flowers of this plant are attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.

The aster is known to grown in the Great Basin and Sonora deserts and thrives in the Mojave. Like many other desert adapted plants, this plant thrives in sandy dry, well drained soil and common on desert slopes and washes.

The Havasupai people used this plant and its flowers as a fragrence to mask body odors and as an incense. Dried leaves where commonly carried in clothes by the tribal members.

Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)

The Globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) is a perennial herb and orange wildflower which is commonly found in Nevada, California, Utah and Arizona. This plant grows well in sandy or alkaline soil and found in creosote bush and desert chaparral habitats and typically grows between 1 – 3 feet tall and typically found at elevations up to 4000 ft.

The orange flowers of this plant grow in clusters at the end of the stem. It boasts broads leaves which are comprised on three lobes. Like other desert plants, the globemallow grows fast and fades faster, however, the flowers produce an abundance of nectar and commonly used by bees and other insects. The globe mallow is known to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. The plant flowers in the spring, however with an adequate supply of rainfall, it is known to bloom almost year round.

Globemallow growing outside of Las Vegas
Globemallow growing outside of Las Vegas

Native Americans are known to have used the plant for a variety of medicinal purposes including the treatment of sore throats, eye disease and diarrhea. The roots of the plant would be used to treat upset stomachs and poultices where made for broken bones and swelling.

Other common names for this flower include apricot mallow, roughleaf apricot mallow, desert mallow, sore-eye poppy, mal de ojo, Parish mallow, desert hollyhock.

Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa)

Silver Cholla (Cylindropuntia echinocarpa) is a common species of cactus which is native to the southwestern United States including Nevada, Arizona and California. The Silver cholla is a larger cactus which is known to grow in excess of 6 feet tall.

Silver Cholla waiting for an incoming storm.
Silver Cholla waiting for an incoming storm.

This species can be found rather easily and quite common in the Mojave Desert, Sonoran Desert and the the Colorado Desert. It is typically found in dry desert washes, Joshua Tree wood lands (as photographed above ) or pinyon-juniper woodland environments.

The body of the cactus is segmented by joints which are typically four to eight inches in length. The joints and body of the cactus are densely covered with spines about 1 inch long with are covered in a papery sheath. The spines are typically yellow in color, which contrast nicely against the green skin of the cactus body. This spiny armor not only protects the cactus, but is also forties the nests of the Cactus Wren and other animals who may seek shelter within this plant.

This cholla typically blooms in spring depending upon conditions. The flowers are green in color however some variants may contain yellow, pink or brown. The lumpy, tan-colored fruit hosts the seeds for germination and is known to have a foul scent.

Fremont’s Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii)

Fremont’s Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii) is a small delicate looking flowering plant commonly commonly found in the southwestern United States including Nevada, Arizona and California. The flower is named for John C. Fremont who was the 5th Governor of the Arizona Territory as well as a soldier, explorer and first Republican Candidate for President of the United States.

Fremont's Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii) photographed in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Fremont’s Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii) photographed in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Phacelia is a small annual plant which only grows to a height of 12 inches. The small flowers are funnel or bell shape and typically blue or lavender with a yellow throat and between 7 and 15 mm in size. The throat is typically crossed with purple veins to offer a wonderful contrast against the yellow throat. The deeply lobbed leaves are oblong in shape.

Fremont's Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii)
Fremont’s Phacelia (Phacelia fremontii)

Fremont’s Phacelia is known to grow in the Mojave Desert, Sierra Nevada and the above photograph was taken in Valley of Fire State Park near the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The little plant commonly grows in gravelly or sandy soils and flowers between March and June each spring and may be found at elevations up to 8000 feet.

Fremonts Phacelia is named for John C. Frémont - 5th Governor of the Arizona Territory
John C. Frémont – 5th Governor of the Arizona Territory