Lichens — a case of kidnapping

In 1867, Simon Schwendener startled the scientific world when he announced to the Swiss Naturalists’ Club that lichens were not the distinct organism they had long been thought to be, but rather were formed of two separate organisms:  a fungus and an alga. Leading lichenologists were outraged at the radical idea; not for 50 years would Schwendener’s theory be accepted. But once it was, lichens were seen as a classic example of a mutually-beneficial symbiosis:  The alga, able to photosynthesize, […] Read more »

Creosote Bush — fragrance of the desert

Technorati Tags: plants,plantlife,plant,Creosote bush,desert My family and I moved to Las Cruces in summer, arriving on the heels of a late-evening thunderstorm. Darkness hid the landscape by the time we drove round the bend on I-25 north of town, but our noses told us where we were. The cool night air pouring in the car windows bore a rich and complicated mix of odors: citrus, sweet nectar, vinyl, camphor - emanating from creosote bush, the fragrance of our new home […] Read more »

Yucca — New Mexico’s state flower

The majestic soaptree yucca spears the New Mexico sky . Photo by Michael and Allison Goldstein. Driving Interstate 10 between Deming and Lordsburg, travelers cross mile after mile of high grassy plains punctuated by odd-looking plants the height of a small trees. Growing up to 20 feet tall, the plants look like thick-trunked, short, palm, hence one common name:  palmilla, “little palm.” These grassland “trees” are soaptree yucca, the state flower of New Mexico. Soaptree yucca is an interesting plant […] Read more »

Tumblin’ tumbleweed

Technorati Tags: plant,plants,tumbleweed The spring winds blew the other afternoon, hurling great clouds of soil from newly-plowed fields into the air. Tumbleweeds bounced across roads and open spaces like giant soccer balls. When my step-daughter, Molly, and I rode our bikes across town the next morning, drifts of prickly tumbleweed skeletons turned the sidewalks into a slalom course. A symbol of the West in movies and popular songs, tumbleweed is actually not native here at all. As Russian-thistle, its other […] Read more »

Mistletoe

Technorati Tags: Mistletoe,plants While walking the road along the dry irrigation ditch behind my house one cold afternoon, I looked over at a row of tall, winter-bare Lombardy poplars. Their leafless branches stood out like bleached skeletons against the blue sky - except for a large, ball-shaped olive-green mass growing from one branch: a mistletoe. Mistletoe, the plant made into Christmas “kissing balls,” is one of the few truly parasitic flowering plants. Instead of producing its own food, mistletoe feeds […] Read more »

Cottonwood

Technorati Tags: Cottonwood,cottonwood tree,plants,trees Autumn slips across the desert quietly. Although nights grow chill, summer’s heat lingers in the afternoons, and the greenery brought on by summer rains simply fades to dusty olive, bleached straw, and weathered brown. As the soil dries out, mesquites, desert willows, and ocotillo drop their leaves without any fanfare. But here and there where water flows - a spring, stream, an irrigation ditch, or a river - autumn shows in the rich yellows and golds […] Read more »

Agaves

Technorati Tags: Agaves,plantlife One spring afternoon, I noticed an odd plant in a nearby yard. The plant, a huge clump of leathery, blue-green leaves nearly as tall as I am, sprouted a stout green flower stalk from its center. Each foot-wide, six-foot-long leaf grew upwards and then drooped over, pointing a stilletto-spined end outwards. The flower stalk looked like a giant asparagus stalk and gave away the odd plant’s identity — a common century plant or agave. Agaves, characteristic of […] Read more »