July was not a big month for flowers this year, but I suspect that’s normal since July starts with intense light and heat and then proceeds directly to lightning, rain and high winds alternating with intense light and heat. Baby plants that pop up at the first sign of moisture are regularly beaten down and/or washed away every three days or so.
Vines do a little better, because they have some other plant to hold on to. In the shelter of the mesquites grows this little gem: Slender Janusia.
There seems to be some current reclassification activity going on with this plant. The USDA plant database lists this as Janusia gracilis, a member of a South American plant family, but Wikipedia says that the North American (Mexico, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico) species have been moved to Cottsia, so this is now (or soon will be) Cottsia gracilis. All I can say is that there are an awful lot of websites that will need to be changed. At the moment, it appears that the common name — slender janusia — will be kept.
There isn’t much information on the Internet about this plant other than a general description, so I’ll tell you about what I have seen in the yard. It’s a vine that is most commonly found around the bottom of mesquites. It blooms all summer, and has narrow, silver-green leaves. It grows to ten feet, when stretched out (which I would never do); it likes full sun and lives on rocky hillsides with good drainage. I almost skipped saying that part, since my whole yard is defined by “full sun, rocky hillside, good drainage”, so everything here lives in that environment.
The stems of this janusia are very tough, like twine. It reminds me of kudzu a little. It will definitely strangle the plant it climbs on, and I have found small piles of it covering up some cholla or baby palo verde that it has knocked down. In winter, it loses its leaves and flowers, and looks even more like a big tangle of brownish twine around its host. The flowers are pretty, though, so I rarely pull it down unless the supporting plant looks to be near death. Oh, and it is not permitted to grow in the front yard!
The next plant is another drought-deciduous bush — meaning that it’s almost naked most of the time, until it rains:
Huh, that actually looks pretty leafy for this bush. Anyway, you can tell what the name of this plant is just by looking at it: Allthorn, because it’s all thorns. The binary name is Koeberlinia spinosa, and even that says “spiny”. Another local name for this is ‘crown of thorns’, but it’s obviously not the ‘crown of thorns’ everybody else in the country would recognize, so I’ve stopped calling it that. Anyway, once it starts raining, it gets a lot more leaves, similar to the way the ocotillos hide their spines behind soft-looking leaflets.
And then, after the first rains in July, it blooms! Tiny, tiny little yellow flowers that, if all goes well, become tiny, tiny little blue berries that the quail just love.
And a mystery solved —
Last year I was talking about a mystery bush in the yard that I couldn’t identify. It’s a loose bush about 2.5′ tall with red stems, and leaves that looked like small grape leaves. Here’s its summer view:
I’ve been stalking this bush all year, hoping to catch it doing something that I could identify, such as flowers or fruits or something. Stubbornly, it refused to do anything at all, and looked like this all year:
It looked like this last fall after its leaves dropped. It looked like this after the winter rains. February came and the temperature started warming up, and it still looked like this. Spring came: the skies cleared and the weather got hot, the potato plant completely filled its corner of the garden, and still nothing from this plant. Summer came; potatoes and lettuce were harvested, beans planted and sprouted and still nothing from this crazy bush.
Finally it started raining, and I got the clue I needed:
There they are: flowers!
OK, they don’t look like much, do they? But it was enough to send me to the ‘inconspicuous flowers’ section of my reference, and there I found them: it’s Sangre de Cristo (Jatropha cardiophylla), also called Heartleaf Limberbush. The reference says it has clear sap that dries as a red stain on your clothes that won’t come out. (That’s the ‘bloody’ part of its name.) So I’ve been lucky to have avoided ruining my clothes.
And here it is the first of September, and the leaves on this bush are already turning yellow. Apparently those tiny flowers take such an effort to produce that the bush needs to rest 10 months of the year!