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Don't Just Look at the Flowers — LEARN Them

I’ve lived in Wickenburg since December 1996. I clearly remember the last El Niño winter we had in Wickenburg. We’d been living in our house for less than a month when the rain started coming and didn’t really let up much. (Sound familiar?) We discovered all kinds of leaks in our house that year — it was new and that season “rain tested” it for us — and had them all patched up.

Plants of ArizonaThen spring came and the desert started sprouting flowers. I had my first real introduction to desert wildflowers that year and, in an effort to identify them, I bought an excellent book: A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona by Anne Orth Epple with photographs by Lewis E. Epple. With it in hand, I went on short hikes in the desert out behind my house — we didn’t have horses yet — and stopped at every new flower I found. Flipping through the color plates in the book, I was able to identify every single flowering plant I found: globe mallow, lupine, brittlebush, Mexican gold poppy, desert mariposa, penstemon, and desert marigold.

Lupine and Desert Marigold

This year, the book is back in my hands. I’m giving myself an advanced course on desert wildflower identification. You see, this year, I believe there are more varieties of wildflowers blooming than any other year I’ve been in the area. The desert certainly is more beautiful than I can ever recall before.

Mike and Jake
Mike and Jake in a field of Mexican Gold Poppies

I realized that I needed the book in hand when I went for a ride on BC Jeep Tours‘ Route 1 on the east side of Vulture Peak with Glenn Cummings, one of the BC Jeep owners. I was driving my Jeep while Glenn directed me through the maze of Jeep roads out there. Finally, we stopped at a five-way intersection at the top of a hill. We were out there to look for a helicopter landing zone (for the Jeep/helicopter tours I’m doing with BC Jeep Tours) but we got an added bonus: wildflowers. One hillside was completely covered with them. Glenn knew a lot of the flower names, but there were a few that stumped him, too. Time to brush up.

Vulture Peak
Vulture Peak with flowers in foreground

So I started my advanced course and, so far, have identified these other plants: owl clover, fiddleneck, London Rocket, nightshade, and chia. A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona makes this extremely easy, with full-color plates that are cross-referenced to more information about plant habitat and blooming seasons. So if you think you’ve identified a plant, you can help confirm the right identification by looking up the plant information. Desert Marigold, for example, grows at elevations up to 5,000 feet and blooms from March to October. That helps confirm that the plant I’ve identified is indeed the Desert Marigold. If the description said it grew at 5000 to 9000 feet elevation or bloomed in June through September, it wouldn’t be likely that I’d seen that in Wickenburg (2000-3000 feet) in March.

Mexican Hat (?) in the Grand Canyon

I’m so taken with this book that I’ve been introducing it to people I know all over town. Everyone who has seen it wants a copy. Unfortunately, there are no general interest bookstores in Wickenburg. That gives people two options: order it from Barnes and Noble.com (or another online bookseller) or take a long drive down to Surprise or Deer Valley for the nearest bookstore.

Interested in wildflowers? You owe it to yourself to check out this book. And, if you do wind up with a copy of your own, take it on your next hike in the desert and see what plants you can identify.

Last 5 posts by Maria Langer

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