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Sonoran Desert Notecard



Sonoran Desert

The glory of color in the springtime Sonoran Desert is a tribute to the tenacity and tricky adaptations of some 2000 species of plants that survive there. One of four desert ecosystems in the USA, the Sonoran Desert is an arid region covering southwestern Arizona and southeastern California, as well as Baja, and the western half of the state of Sonora, Mexico. This rich desert ecosystem thrives because biseasonal rains bring gentle winter storms from the North Pacific Ocean, and summer monsoons bring surges of wet tropical air and violent thunderstorms. Fall and winter rarely bring frost, and the sun shines hot through most of the year.

Mexican Gold Poppies start the spring bloom and carpet the clumpy soil in hues of yellow from March through May. This burst of color and sweet scent attracts bees and other insects, which in turn feed a variety of lizards and birds.

Ocotillo, a waxy leafed shrub, blooms in April. Its branches splay like a fan and brilliant red flowers attract mites, spiders and birds. Mating finches and cardinals feed each other the delicate flowers before mating, and hummingbirds rely heavily on the nectar to sustain them during their annual migration to the mountains of the western U.S.

Prickly Pear Cactus spread their flat fleshy pads, which bear round edible fruits. Cylindrical Barrel Cactus sprout flowers that Native Americans boiled to eat like cabbage. They hollowed the large barrels to use as cooking pots.

The tall columnar Organ Pipe Cactus grows clusters of slender branches that curve gracefully inward providing a wide base of shade for coyote, rattlesnake and jackrabbit.

But by far the most majestic and defining plant of the Sonoran desert is the giant Saguaro Cactus, which grows to heights of 50 feet and can live to 200 years old. This desert sentinel spreads its arms and provides food and homes to a multitude of animals. Little elf owls peek from nesting holes made by gilded woodpeckers. In the glow of sunset, the Saguaro’s white flowers open to feed bats as the desert cools off and another cycle begins.

artwork by Carol A. Wallace © 2005

text by Kara Jean Hagedorn