Jun 17 2013

Mystery Flora: Arizona in Washington

I know, I know: plants can have a wide range, so it’s silly to be astonished when I see plants from my childhood happily growing in my new home state. But face facts: the portion I live in, the Puget Sound area, is wildly different from Flagstaff. No dry dirt, for one thing. 38 inches of precipitation as compared to 23 inches, for another – and you may not think that’s a huge difference, but Flagstaff gets most of its water from winter snowfall and the short, drenching afternoon monsoon rains in July and August. Seattle gets rained on – All. The. Time. Okay, maybe not all  – we typically get a nice summer break. But we still don’t have much dry dirt. The dry country plants of Flagstaff and its even more parched high-desert surroundings have given the western side of the Cascades a miss as far as places to migrate to. They’d drown.

But cross the Cascades and get into their rainshadow, and it’s a completely different story. I was struck by that the first time I passed through: on the eastern slopes, Ponderosa pines rose in thick groves just like Flagstaff, and when I stood on Ryegrass Summit, it looked and smelled almost precisely like the antelope-filled grasslands near Prescott. Dorothy was wrong about there being no place like home. I can always pop across the pass and go visit a place very much like it.

Some of the plants evidently feel much the same. They’ve traveled up this way and established themselves on Washington’s dry side. When I took B over the pass to make his jaw drop with some hot Channeled Scablands action, I found several old friends, including one I’ve eaten. I forgot to photograph some of them, I was so busy with geology, but I got a few. I know what they are. Let’s see if you can figure them out.

Mystery Flora I

Mystery Flora I

I missed this one’s flowering stage – I’ve actually never seen it in bloom. But I know the berries well. We got to nom on them during a hike with a ranger sort of person up on the San Francisco Peaks when I was a camping kid. He wanted us to know what to munch if we were caught out in the wilderness without food. We were just thrilled to be eating a wild plant, even though the berries had nearly the same text and texture as the wax fruit on a table centerpiece.

Mystery flora II

Mystery Fora II

They loved our local volcano, and they seem to adore the flood basalts of the Scablands. I saw several bushes growing vigorously there. This one’s hanging out by one of the Lake Lenore Caves, greening up the scenery.

Mystery Flora III

Mystery Flora III

They weren’t shy about hanging round on the cliffs, either.

Mystery Flora IV

Mystery Flora IV


And no, I didn’t eat any this time. I didn’t trust my memory 26 years after last learning what I could eat without dying a horrible death. Now I wish I’d had a few, for old time’s sake. But I’ll be back there, eventually. With a bib.

This next delight made me squee for joy. These delicate beauties were amongst my favorites as a child. Finding them beside the road at Steamboat Rock was a wonderful surprise.

Mystery Flora V

Mystery Flora V

I remember them growing in banks up against our house, and going out in the cool of the night to visit them. They virtually glowed in the dark, their blooms were so white, and they were pollinated by large, stocky moths with beautiful brown patterns. I loved watching those moths at work.

Mystery Flora VI

Mystery Flora VI

These were some of the first flowers I explored as a child. Fascinated by their pink and white and yellow shadings, I’d sit down with them and go over them in detail. I’d sacrifice the occasional bud to see inside, studying how the petals folded up inside. And when I began learning parts of the flower in school, I could identify each on these blooms. They nearly launched me on a career as a botanist, I think – but writing and rocks won out.

Mystery Flora VII

Mystery Flora VII

So finding those was amazing, and then later in the day, just when I wasn’t expecting any other blasts from the pasts, we stumbled across these at a quarry at the mouth of Northrup Canyon.

Mystery Flora VIII

Mystery Flora VIII

These were everywhere when I was a kid. Little dabs of orange and silvery-blue-green leaves, painting the landscape. We called them Indian Paintbrush, because someone in the neighborhood had misplaced confidence in their flower-identifying abilities. I used to sometimes pluck a stem and try to figure out how the Native Americans painted with them.

Mystery Flora IX

Mystery Flora IX

They were soft and fuzzy on the leaves and stems, but I never could paint with them. Still. Beautiful. Especially arranged in a vase. Don’t worry. I scattered enough of their seeds to make up for my vandalism.

Mystery Flora X

Mystery Flora X

I’m not usually a fan of the color orange, but these I love. They pop, but they don’t get in your face and shriek.

I discovered some of them growing with a tumbleweed as a backdrop.

Mystery Flora XI

Mystery Flora XI

More childhood memories: catching tumbleweeds as they rolled across the central Arizona desert, and using them to build bonfires in barrels after a day flying model airplanes. The adults only had to apply the initial flame- we were more than happy to do the rest of the work. We’d stuff them in and enjoy the showers of sparks, the crisp crackle as they burned. We got very good at avoiding the prickles, and rather expert at chasing them down as they tumbled by.

Mystery Flora XII

Mystery Flora XII

Where was I? Oh, right. Flowers. I found a baby plant, whole and complete, growing in the canyon bottom at Dry Falls. Adorable.

So there they are, flora of my childhood, ready for you to identify. Enjoy!


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  1. 1

    It only rains twice a week in the Puget Sound area. 3 days the first time and 4 days the second.

  2. 2

    I thought the first one was the longer one.

    Plant 1:
    Something related to Ribes rubrum.

    Plant 2:
    Aspecies of tufted evening primrose.

    Plant 3:
    Still out, being interrupted by daily life.

    (Found this for Trebuchet, though, accidentally!)

  3. 3
    One Day Soon I Shall Invent A Funny Login

    III is, I’m pretty sure, desert globe mallow. Here’s a pic of a field of them near Moab.

  4. 4

    The first one: Some plant with red berries.
    The second one: Some plant with lavender flowers, except not lavender.
    The third one: Some plant with red/orange flowers that look a little like poppies.

    Did I mention I’m terrible at botany?

    @rq: Thank you! I can’t quite figure it out. Is that Finnish?

  5. 5

    OK, appears to be Latvian. I should have known that, since rq lives there!

  6. 6

    One Day Soon
    I’d gotten as far as Superstition Mallow but was stumped. I think the desert globe mallow is correct. And that’s a very dramatic photo, by the way. I love the colour and how unusual it looks against the mountains.

    Now I’m wondering what that link is saying to you, since it appears to be English to me… ? :/

  7. 7

    Now I’m wondering what that link is saying to you, since it appears to be English to me… ? :/

    Some of it’s English, some of it isn’t, such as this:

    Attēlu var aizsargāt autortiesības

    The site is overall peculiar from this side of the pond.

    1. 7.1

      Ah, I see… Interesting! It just means that the image may be protected by copyright. In case you were thinking of posting it all over the place. ;)
      (I think I’d assumed that phrases like that would be automatically transferred to the language of your location, because… google? Anyway, totally off-topic and mildly interesting. :))

  8. 8

    I’ll go with the following:

    1: Ribes aureum
    2: Oenothera pallida
    3: Sphaeralcea munroana

  9. 9
    Stephanie Zvan

    First one should be wax currant. Last one should be gooseberryleaf/currantleaf globemallow. I agree on the primrose for the middle.

  10. 10


    Yeah, you’re probably right about it being Ribes cereum (wax currant) rather than Ribes aureum. It just doesn’t look quite like the Ribes cereum I’m used to…

  11. 11
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    Afraid, I still have an awful lot to learn about Aussie plants let alone North Amerrican ones – but I do love these posts.

  12. 12

    You can take the woman out of Arizona, but you’ll never take the Arizona out of the woman. is that about right, Dana?

    What I know about plants can be expressed in one bare sentence: They’re green, and birds and insects sometimes perch in them. Have I ever mentioned that I’m the zoological type? Recognized the globe mallows, though. LOL

  13. 13
    Ashley Etue

    Oh I so want to go back to Eastern WA. I did a week long geo trip there last summer! Lake Lenore Caves, Steamboat Rock (which we got an awesome picture on around sunset on our way to Grand Coulee Dam), Dry Falls,Soap Lake…..I love it all! I actually grew up moving back and forth between the East and West sides of the state, and never knew the massive amounts of geology that I was living and driving among! Did you hike up to the Blue Rhino?

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