No Rain, Green Anyway

April 2, 2011 at 8:48 pm (Big Bend National Park, Big Bend National Park TX, National Parks, Nature, Photography, TX) (, , , , )

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Cottonwoods along wash near Sam Nail Ranch

Three weeks ago the only spring green to be seen at Big Bend was on the cottonwood trees, which had only lost the last of their tangerine leaves two months earlier.  (In Maine the trees are leafless for seven months!)  These cottonwoods were sprawled in snaky washes like green apple lollipops.  The effect on the landscape after so much brown and beige was startling.  

Honey Mesquite

Two weeks later the honey mesquite popped out its softly feathered leaves in vivid kelly green waves all over the desert, and then sprouted pale catkins that vibrated with bees.  Walk in a mesquite grove in the heat of the afternoon and the perfume of scented catkins just makes you smile big.

Mexican Buckeye blossoms and new leaves
Buckeye seed pod with tiny little pearl inside

The guayacan has set out its small lavender flowers, and in the Red Rocks Canyon (off the Blue Creek Trail) the Mexican buckeye bloom has already passed by.  Succulent green seed pods have swollen quickly, lest the stored moisture of the tree (or the underground water source) dry before they can mature.  The buckeye leaves are still nascent, which is not how they emerged last spring.  I remember several good sized trees covered with young leaves and fresh blossoms.  The drought has perhaps rushed the reproduction phase this year.  Get-the-flowers-pollinated-and-the-seeds-set-before-the-leaves-unfurl seems to be the game plan this year.  The Mexican (or Texas) persimmons are also leafing out, and a few have flowers.  

Ocotillo blooms and one of the Mule Ears

Even cactus are flowering here and there – claret cup in the Chisos, horse crippler and strawberry pitaya here at Persimmon Gap.  The ocotillo along the road to Maverick are flowering, but have no leaves on the spiny stems, which they would have if it would only rain.  

The greening of the desert at Red Rocks Canyon

I know desert plants store water, and many such as mesquite can send roots deep into the earth to dip into whatever underground springs are there.  Indeed, the taproot of these small shrubs is often larger than the trunk itself, and roots can reach up to 175 feet underground.  Ranchers hate them because they are invasive and easily move into an overgrazed field.  But I love them dearly here in the desert.

Torrey Yucca on Mule Ears Spring Trail

The Torrey yucca are also sending up spires of creamy blossoms here and there, but they aren’t doing so in profusion.  These are so lusted-after by the mule deer that three of them decimated the one and only yucca bloom at our entrance station last week.  In normal times yucca blossoms are like cotton candy to deer and the desert bighorn, but perhaps the drought has made the deer even bolder in the quest.  My co-worker Doug tried to scare them off, and cars were pulling up next to them, but come hell or high water they wouldn’t budge.  

On the Mule Ears Spring trail the leatherstem flowers attracted a female black swallowtail (species unknown).  
I looked for the brown-flowered rainbow cactus that had been blooming in profusion last February near the spring, but I couldn’t even find the cactus let alone the blooms.  I don’t know if the deep freeze this February had anything to do with that, but I did find one solitary blossom that afternoon.

Bluebonnet at spring on Feb 2

A few brave wildflowers have made an appearance as well, and I hear even in bluebonnet country to the east there is concern that the fields may not be so lush this year.  The only bluebonnets I’ve seen here at Big Bend were one in the creek near Hot Springs in November, and a lone stem near Buttrell Spring the day before the Big Freeze. 

Sunrise tinted by a grassland fire from Mexico

Temperatures have consistently been in the 90s, and even over 100 down by the river, the last few weeks.  I saw some billowy white clouds last Sunday, but they turned out to be smoke from a grass fire in Mexico.  It was still burning, and still visible, yesterday.  Little fires have popped out near Alpine and Marfa the last month as well.  It is unnerving, and some mornings there is the smell of smoke.  Brown smudges were in the sky this morning. Cumulus clouds foamed to the east this evening, igniting hope, and fear.

And still there is no rain.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous said,

    >What lovely pictures of our park.Thank you, Cindy.

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