Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)

Commonly found in the southern half of the United Stats, the Southern Cattail ( Typha domingensis ) is a a wetland plant which may be found in California, Nevada and Arizona. The Southern Cattail will flower in late spring and summer and produces a densely packed seed spike which may grow up to 13 inches long. The Pistillate spike is the identifying feature on this wetland plant.

Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)
Southern Cattail (Typha domingensis)

This rhizomatous plant is centered around a simple, erect stem which may grow between 5 and 13 feet tall. Each stem may grow between 6 and 9 long and linear leaves. As with many marsh plants, the cattail has an internal tissue adaptation which allows the direct transfer of air between the leaves and roots, which is similar to a vegetative snorkel. The hot dog shaped brown flower is indicative of a female plant, while the male is characterized by a yellowish tapered cone arrangement.

The cattail is typically found between sea level and 6000 feet in elevation. Native American tries were known to use the plant as thatch, and the young shoots could be utilized as a food source. The seed fluff could also be mixed with tallow and chewed as a gum.

Southern Cattail along a water crossing on the old Mojave road.
Southern Cattail along a water crossing on the old Mojave road.

Recent studies suggest that the Typha is very effective at cleaning the water of bacterial contamination. This includes up to 90% reduction of enterobacteria which is common flora inside of mammalia intestines.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)

The Giant Red Indian Paintbrush or Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) is a wildflower and perennial which is quite common in the western United States, including California, Nevada and Utah. The genus Castilleja contains about 200 species of hemiparasitic wildlowers.

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)
Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja miniata)

The plant is known to grow between 1.5 and 3 feet tall and their stems may be unbranded of semi-branched. The flower cluster of the plant is said to resemble a paintbrush which gives the plant its common name. The bracts beneath the flower are known to be brightly colored and may be a bright orange, pink or a crimson red. Typically the paint brush will bloom May through Sepetember, however this event is subject to environmental conditions such as altitude and water availability.

The paint brush generally prefers sunlight and moist well drained soils. The root system will connect with and grow into the root system of other planets to harvest nutrients from the host plant. For this reason, they are no able to be transplanted easily.

Native American tribes are known to consume the edible flowers of the paintbrush. The selenium rich flowers were also used as a hair wash by the Ojibwe people. The Owls Clover is a member of the same genus as the Indian Paintbrush.

Wikipedia article of Castilleja.

Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus)

The Barrel Cactus (Ferocactus cylindraceus) is a commonly seen resident of the desert southwest and its range includes California, Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. The Barrel cactus gets its name from its short stocky appearance which is said to resemble a barrel. Despite its name, this succulent can grow over 6 feet tall and thrives in gravelly, rocky and / or sandy soils and are typically seen below 5000 feet in elevation.

A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.
A Barrel Cactus on a rock out-cropping in the Mojave National Preserve.

The Barrel Cactus is covered in spines which when new, are straight and red in appearance, and will turn gray in color and curve as they age. This species blooms yellow or red flowers on the top of the plant, which typically happens in the spring. Like its name sake, this desert nomad will swell with fluid during the monsoons to survive the long dry periods of the desert heat.

Some Native Americans utilized this plant as a cooking vessel. It is said that they would remove the top of the plant and remove the pulp from the interior. Hot stones were place inside along with the food. Additionally, the long heavy spins were utilized as needles.

There are fifteen different species of this cactus.

California Poppy ( Eschscholzia californica )

The California Poppy the state flower of California.
The California Poppy the state flower of California.

As the name implies, the California Poppy is that state flower of California. However, this little flower is extremely wide spread and flourishes throughout most of the United States. The flower was first described by a Germain naturalist and poet, Adelbert von Chamisso. Chamisso was travelling on the Russian exploring ship “Rurick”. The “Rurick” was travelling around in the world in 1815, when the ship sailed in the San Francisco Bar Area.

This species of flowering plant with an international pedigree is a perennial and can range in height from 5 – 60 inches. The four petals of the flower are about two inches in size and range in colors from a vibrant orange to yellow, red and in some cases pink. They typically flower between February and September depending upon location.

A Field of Poppies photographed at their maximum display in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
A Field of Poppies photographed at their maximum display in Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

When in full display, the California Poppy can carpet the landscape in a sea of color as happens in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Such an event is spectacular to witness and will make the local news outlets in Southern California.

The flowers have four petals, which will close each night or when windy and or cloudy. The delicate little flowers will open again each morning to once again showcase this little plant.

Beavertail Prickly Pear (opuntia basilaris)

The Beavertail Prickly Pear cactus (opuntia basilaris) is very common in the desert south west, and would go most of the year most of the year without a second glance.  However this species of cactus exemplifies the best of what the desert has to offer in one symbol.

Beavertail Prickly Pear. Photograph by James L Rathbun
Beavertail Prickly Pear. Photograph by James L Rathbun

The Beavertail Prickly Pear grows in clumps, low to the ground and grows horizontally rather than vertically like the iconic saguaro.  The dull greenish grey leaves grows feature a complete lack of spines and a shaped which gives the plant it’s name.  The pads of this cactus lake the spines traditionally associated with cactus, but rather the pads are covered with minuscule, gray-blue bristles which feature barbed tips which easily puncture human skin.

Each spring the cactus puts on a display of wild flowers which is amazing to behold in the arid desert environments.  Typically starting the March, each cactus pad my put out several shoots which Colosseum in a burst of colors, most commonly a vibrant pink but also known to be yellow, white or rose colored.

Beavertail Cactus found off the Mormon Wells Road, Las Vegas, Nevada
Beavertail Cactus found off the Mormon Well Road, Las Vegas, Nevada

The cactus typically grows in  rocky , sandy plains, valleys, washes & canyons  all over Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah and Northern Mexico.