June Wildflowers, Plus Some Roots!
At the end of May (it almost counts as June), I caught a nice angle on the Arizona State Flower growing in the neighbor’s yard:
This is a flower of the Giant Saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea) cactus — the signature tree of the Sonoran Desert. I think it’s the only cactus that qualifies as a “tree”, in that the main trunk can achieve a diameter of 14″ at shoulder height (about 4.5 feet) above ground. I used to have this pair (==>) growing in my yard. One evening after work, I came home to find that during an afternoon monsoon storm, the one on the right had been struck by lightning and exploded, knocking the other one down too, and they both died. I was devastated, since that size represents at least 40 years’ growth, and because they’re such wonderful cacti, and so rare in the world.
These flowers open at night and last through just the next day, leaving only a few hours for the pollinators to work. Fortunately, almost anything will do the job, and these flowers are visited by bees, birds and bats, plus the occasional wasp, one of which you can see approaching the flower at the lower left of this picture.
Had mine lived, I still wouldn’t have gotten as good a picture as these. In fact, the saguaro in the pictures here is growing at the bottom of an arroyo on the neighbor’s property, while I’m standing on the edge about 20 feet up and almost level with the cactus’ arms.
The fruit ripens quickly, and the annual harvest is on the first of July. Harvesting is limited to Native Americans and holders of special permits. I’ve heard that it’s even illegal to pick the fruits of a saguaro on your own property (but how would they know?), and I have never picked or eaten any. I can’t really reach the neighbor’s cactus without risking a fall off that short cliff, so I just observe them. And what I observed is that the fruits last an even shorter time than the flowers do, before birds eat them all. They must be really delicious too! I thought maybe I could sneak one last month, but by the time I got back there, all the fruits were just husks on the ground. The birds are looking very happy, though!
In June, I found only a single flower to show you. It’s a good one though, and it’s growing on this cactus:
This is a Staghorn Cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor), say “CHO-yuh”, and try not let it drift too far towards “CHOY-uh”. These flowers can be yellow, orange or red, and I’m happy to have the orange ones.
Here’s a picture of a more typical version of this cactus.
You can see some spent flowers on this one. This cholla has edible fruits too, but word around the gardening group is that the flowers themselves make a nice addition to stir-fry. Some people also batter them (those flowers) and fry them like a fritter. Seems like you’d need an awful lot of them to make that worthwhile.
June wasn’t a total dud month, though. It started out with this cute little potato flower:
And then it was just a short while before the plant died back almost to the ground. I let that go on as long as I could, thinking that it was an energy transfer from the leaves to the roots. Finally, I could wait no longer. At the end of June I pulled apart the hardware cloth around the bed and groped around under the dirt to see what had been going on down there, and this is what I found!