Like my January “Littles” page of the bird species that visit our feeders in winter, here’s another “Littles” to commemorate the not-quite-winter-or-spring month of February ….. Seeds and Seed Pods. As a way to pass the time while waiting for Roy to finish up with a doctor visit, Luna and I conducted a focused scavenger hunt along a 2 mile circuit surrounding a large Albuquerque shopping mall. In no time at all, my collection bag was full. But knowing my pages would need some local flavor and color too, I scavenged a bit longer and turned up a few more curiosities.
Like with January’s page of birds, sketches of the species of seed pod and seeds (if collected) took less than 5 minutes each; my watercolor pencil paintings took about 10 minutes each. The restaurant logo and the frog design took a bit longer, and were done using my photos as reference.
I’m not sure why it took nearly the entire month to decide what to do for my February “Littles.” In hindsight, the decision should have been obvious, because I love seeds and the seemingly unlimited variety of pods. Now I have a record of a few city seeds that will soon germinate, helping change the landscape from brown to spring green!
Let me know what you think! I’m looking forward to March, when wildflower seedlings will be popping up which may appear in a few “Littles” boxes as well!
Thanks to “Made by Fay” for the “Littles” inspiration!
We totally get it! Why Mt. Lemmon is nicknamed “Tucson’s Great Escape.” Why the scenic highway is ”Cool!” From the Lower Sonoran Desert and the Tucson Valley (2,200 feet) to the upper reaches of a Spruce-Fir Forest (topping out at about 9,200 feet), the popular Scenic Highway up Mt. Lemmon offers breathtaking views, plants to discover, geology to learn, recreation opportunities, and temperatures often 30 degrees F lower than the desert below. That means a lot, especially when Tucson’s summer temps are in the triple digits!
But on the day of our driving adventure we found snow ….. on the highway, at scenic overlooks, and on walking trails. The storm hit 4 days earlier forcing closure of much of the highway. But on this day, most of the roads were clear and so was the sky.
So come along and learn what there’s to see along the Mt. Lemmon Scenic Highway.
The Desert (Eastern) Mountain Mahogany is a very branchy shrub commonly found in the mid-elevation foothills of the Sandia, Manzanita, and Manzano Mountains east of the Rio Grande River in central New Mexico. This species’ formal and very appropriate name, Cercocarpusbreviflorus variety breviflorus, comes from both Greek (kerkos: tail; karpos: fruit) and Latin (brevi: short; florus: flowered). As a matter of fact, the 9 species of the genus Cercocarpus all have long feathery tails that twist and turn from the tip of a single fruit, called an achene (like a sunflower seed).
So why is this species odd?
Well, the fruit, for one reason. Most of the thousands of rose family members have fruits called a hip (rose), pome (apple), drupe (prune), or aggregate (strawberry). And even though the strawberry is composed of numerous miniature achenes, it’s the single achene found in the mountain mahoganies that’s unusual to the family.
To further emphasize the oddness of the Cercocarpus genera, all of its 9 species has a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria called Frankia. And that’s an unusual characteristic of the rose family, which moved Cercocarpus and 4 other genera into the subfamily Dryadoideae. That’s all a bit technical when it comes to plant classification, and kind of skips the real reason why the Frankia bacteria is important to the survival of Desert Mountain Mahogany. Nitrogen Fixation!
It’s always a grand idea to save leaves raked up in the Fall into big piles scattered about your yard. These cast leaves provide important habitat for overwintering birds, small mammals and insects. In the Spring they break down forming compost which helps recharge the soil with nutrients and microbes that fertilize new seedlings and build soil structure.
But what about that lone leaf, now brown and crunchy, alone on the ground? That leaf, once part of a network of thousands that once beautifully graced a massive shade tree growing bravely alongside a busy city street? That leaf, now fallen to a surface covered in concrete or pavement, is skittering about in the late morning breeze searching fruitlessly for an organic resting place.
After leaving our favorite Albuquerque Mexican restaurant the other day, I stepped into the parking lot and noticed a giant sycamore leaf scratching and skidding across the pavement. Seconds later, an incoming car full of hungry customers about to park, was on a collision course with this abandoned leaf! Yikes! Quickly playing out the scene out in my mind, I dashed across the pavement and scooped up this big brown leaf, rescuing it from being smashed into bits and pieces.
Whew! That was a close call. Naturally this leaf deserved better treatment and a chance to contribute to Earth’s complex web of resources. And that’s what would happen ……. after a few sketches in my journal, of course.
This big, brown, crunchy sycamore leaf is now a part of one of the various compost piles we keep scattered about our yard. If leaves could feel, I’d like to think she’s so much happier being rescued than the alternative. Would you agree?
Our Smoke Tree is always one of the last to drop its leaves. While this tree tenaciously clings to its thousands of food makers, the leaves go through many stages of decay. Some remain purple-green but are polka-dotted with rusty red spots. Some more quickly change to brilliant yellow-orange with rusty splatters. Some display hints of green-brown and it’s these leaves that show the most insect spotting and damage.
One day, probably soon, the tree will get tired of the display, and just before a heavy frost or wet snow, it will stand bare with piles of multi-colored leaves lying on the ground, having dropped in one big fall.
Here’s a page from my perpetual journal that I created yesterday from a few leaves plucked from this pretty Smoke Tree.
Enjoy your seasonal changes wherever you may live!