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.

Speckled Rattlesnake ( Crotalus mitchellii )

The Speckled Rattlesnake is fairly common pit viper found in southern California, southern Nevada, western Arizona and south-western Utah and down the Pacific coast into Baja California.  A moderate size snake, this animal typically does not exceed 39 inches in length.  As with most animals, the Speckled Rattlesnake is a master of disguise and commonly are colored to compliment the surrounding rock.  This viper can range from pink, cream, tan or pale blues and grays.  This feature I can personally attest to as I witnessed and entire Cub Scout Pack literally step over the specimen photographed below while hiking on a camping trip in the Valley of Fire State Park just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Juvenile Speckled Rattle Snake found in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
A Juvenile Speckled Rattlesnake found in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada
Continue Reading →

Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia)

The Joshua Tree was named for the biblical character by the Mormon Setters as they crossed the Mojave Desert in the mid 19th century.  It is told that the tree reminded the early Mormon’s of Joshua who, much like the tree, held his hands up in prayer.  From these humble beginnings, this tree and its undulating shadows have become of an icon of the desert southwest.

Joshua Tree located in the Mojave National Preserve.

Joshua Tree located in the Mojave National Preserve.

Continue Reading →

Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva)

Blown by wind, and ravaged by time, the Bristlecone pine tree is a silent sentinel of the White Mountains in eastern central California.  Only growing high in subapline mountains, Bristlecone pine trees are among the oldest living organisms, reaching ages of 5000 years old, with on specimen being documented at 5,067 years old by Tom Harlan who aged the tree by ring count.  That calculation confirms this one individual tree to be the oldest living non-clonal organism on the planet.

A Bristlecone Pine (not the oldest) located in the White Mountains, CA
A Bristlecone Pine (not the oldest) located in the White Mountains, CA

The Bristlecone pine groves are found between 5,600 and 11,200 ft of elevation on mountain slopes with dolomitic coils and can be reached using the White Mountain Road.  This harsh alkaline soil gives the Bristlecone a competitive advantage because over plants and tree are unable to grow.  The trees grow very slowly due cold temperatures, arid soil, wind and short growing seasons.

Continue Reading →

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.