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Sacred Ground 2 3 Plants in Peril.. The sobering consequences of development


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I've shown the landscapes, now it's time to take a look at some of the plants observed both in Oak Flat, and while hiking to / from the lower end of Devil's Canyon..  As mentioned, pretty good diversity of plants there, and no doubt, walking around looking for stuff twice ( so far ) is just scratching the surface.. I'm sure there are more things to be found. Regardless..

As mentioned in the video and article i'd linked, Mining development of the area will result in a 2.5 mile wide crater, approx. 1,000ft deep, or is what is estimated, based on the mining technique that has been discussed. ( " Block " mining, 7k ft below the surface ..and allowing the land to eventually subside < into the voids created below ground >.. Then extracting more material before abandoning and not being able to repair what damage will be done ) Aside from ..everything  else  that will be lost  -forever-,  so too will the botanical, and animal biodiversity  in this area.. 

While some things can be found elsewhere pretty easily, other things are already facing climate- related challenges and erasing what bits and pieces might be left just sounds completely irrational, imo..

Hopefully the plants < and other, more valuable things > win this battle for survival. There are far less sensitive areas in the state to pursue precious metals.   Waffled back and forth on whether or not to put this chapter in the " other " plants section, but have decided to keep it here..


Emory Oak, Quercus emoryi  Where Oak Flat got it's name..  Has been a significant part of Indigenous culture and diet for as long as humans have occupied the region. Native from AZ. / N.M/ far West TX. to Durango and San Luis Potosi, Mexico..  Acorns are sweet and supposedly don't require as much processing to get to perfectly usable. Western Apache Tribe, and other local people have gathered and tended the trees here for generations. There is even a Tribe - initiated collaborative ( EOTCRI = Emory Oak Tribal Collaborative Restoration Initiative ) that teaches how to restore and maintain these trees.  " Stand " of Emory Oak here is considered the best / healthiest old growth grove in the entire state.  Was hoping there would be a few Acorns to collect to carry on the genetics of these trees, especially if all are clear cut, as planned, when Resolution ( Mining Company ) starts their mining operations - if this is the outcome. 

Lots of diversity in sizes in this Oak here including numerous very old and " dwarfed " specimens  up on the seemingly solid rock table top above the campground.

Typical look of old growth trees in the flat..












Stunted ..and rather stunning looking " Mini - Trees " up on the Table Top...




Single - leaf Pinyon, Pinus monophylla..  Had seen an observation or two of specimens here on iNat. and was hoping to see them w/ my own eyes..  To get to " Pinyon Country " in many parts of the state, one has to travel a bit further out than the distance from Phoenix to the Flat / Canyon.  While not extensive in area occupied, plenty of nice, old specimens, esp growing among the boulders near / in the Hackberry Creek area.  Unfortunately, while there were lots of older cones in many specimens, no fresh / just ripened cones to access seed from. Like many Pines, Cones on Pinyon take their time to develop ..somewhere in the range of 18-22 months..  Seeds are enclosed in " softer " shells, and typically have a shorter shelf life after ripening. That said, Pinyon nuts, are superior to traditional Pine Nuts ( usually harvest from Italian Stone Pine, Pinus pinea )  and  are considered quite a valuable crop.










Like many other Pines, Pinyon, as a whole, face numerous challenges.. While much more extensive in the past, Pinyon - Juniper Woodlands have been inching upward as temperatures across the Southwest have warmed.. Major fires in places like New Mexico, Colorado, and here in Arizona have also wiped former tracts of this habitat from different areas.  Humans have also done their part in eliminating groves by cutting and clearing land of trees.  Several animals, including the Pinyon Jay, which is critical to dispersing seed, depend on Pinyon almost exclusively.

As interesting as Pinyons are, Pinus monophylla adds to the uniqueness of the Genus ( ..and overall Family ) by being the only species of Pine possessing a single needle per Fascicle / bundle.


Walking around, looking for specimens, saw several smaller trees scattered about  suggesting there is at least some level of on- going recruitment occurring out here..  Sad to think all of them may not survive past the next decade, ...a mere " half- second " in their total lifespan..  Hopefully this little guy i almost stepped on won't face that future, Would be neat to see again in 25-35 years... ( if i'm  still alive, lol )



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While Alligator Juniper is the " Suggested " iNat. ID for the few Juniper observations made out here, one look at the bark on bigger / mature specimens in person instantly ax-es those suggestions.. There is no mistaking the two species. All specimens encountered are One Seed Juniper,  Juniperus monosperma.  Regardless, both species are the co- components of Pinyon Juniper woodlands ( alongside Pinyon )  Like Pinyon, these too are slowly trying to creep up slope in response to warming temperatures at lower elevations in their ranges.. and face similar challenges.  That said, J. monosperma is one of the few Juniper which can handle a little more heat / drier conditions compared to other local species.. California Juniper may be the only other Juniperus in the west that can handle more drought.






While there weren't many younger specimens around, did find some that somehow were spared from being cooked while all vegetation nearby was charred this past June.

Both the standard, rough - barked form, and the smooth barked, " sheddy " form of Arizona Cypress, Hesperocyparis / Cupressus arizonica, and Hesperocyparis / Cupressus glabra.  Smooth - barked form may be directly related to the nearly identical, and critically endangered Cuyamaca Cypress ( Cupressus / Hesperocyparis stephansonii )  which grows in a few select spots in both San Diego County.  Story may be similar to how  both Mex. Blue Oak and Englemann Oak are related,  but were separated at some point in the past.





Whether here in AZ or pretty much anywhere in California, Manzanita is perhaps the most obvious indicator you have entered " Chaparral Country "  Here, Pointleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos pungens is the dominant species, while numerous, similar looking species can be growing in a given area out in CA.  Looking at the pictures of those torched, Pointleaf Manzanita may not be one of those species that re-sprouts from it's roots after fire damage.  Many native to California typically do.  Can't beat the red colored wood / tortured growth form of these plants.







Various other " Chaparral habitat " shrubs / small trees:

Scrub Oak,  Quercus turbinilla.  Can easily hybridize with other local Oaks / Oaks from different areas.  Aggressive stump - sprouter after fire damage.





Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus sp. Possibly Birch leaf.. ( there's a couple sp .that look similar out here )

Rhamnus ( Buckthorn ) sp.  possibly R. crocea

Local Ceanothus ( Wild Lilac ) sp.

Honeysuckle.. possibly two species.. Cream- colored flowered sp. is Chaparral Honeysuckle, Lonicera inturrupta   ..Other, w/ the wider/ soft - looking eaves may be one of the red /orange- flowered species here, L. arizonica.




Red Barberry, Berberis haematocarpa.  Another stump - sprouter after fires. Resembles Berberis trifoliolata from Texas. Fruit may be edible, though not as sweet as Agarita as well.


Rhus aromatica,  Could be mistaken for Poison Oak / Ivy if not already familiar w/ it.. ( Neither seen out here ) but will not result in a rash if handled ( unless extremely sensitive to the sap of any Rhus sp. ). Some sources suggest the Berries are edible ( Can be steeped to make a refreshing, Lemonade - like drink ) Berries of some other Sumac sp. ( esp. in California ) share the same name / use ( of the Fruit ) Many sp. add a nice touch of fall color to both wild and cultivated landscapes.  Resembles Rhus trilobata, Skunkbush, which is also native to the area.



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Agave, Yucca ..etc   Figure this will be right up @Tom in Tucson @RyManUtah @teddytn @Merlyn & @Palmensammler Alley..  ~Among others who really admire these plants..

Goldenflower Agave, Agave chrysantha  ..pretty sure these are A. chrysantha.. Oak Flat sits pretty much in the middle of the species' range.  A. palmeri range does include this area though.   Regardless, some of the nicest specimens i have seen anywhere i have visited.. Notice one is lacking much of any spines on the leaves.  Looks like most that suffered damage in the fire are growing out of it nicely..




















Same w/ the Yucca baccata observed..  Nicest specimens seen yet..  Guarantee many of the bigger ones are OLD.. Some did have trunks.







Little bit of everything here.. Rhus aromatica, Scrub Oak, Nolina microcarpa, Manzanita, and Yucca baccata..

Some Dasylirion wheeleri and Nolina microcarpa..








..And a couple Cacti which might  have survived being torched..

Ferocactus  ..wislizeni ?


Member of the Echinocereus englemanii complex.. Interesting manner this one is branching. Only specimen seen anywhere out here.

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Remaining odds 'n ends..

One of ..several.. similar looking, blue/ purple flowered, summer / fall flowering Daisies.  Species within the Genus Dieteria, Tansyasters, and Machaeranthera, ..Often referred to as " Tahoka " Daisies would be the most common. Adding to the challenge of properly id'ing them is they can hybridize readily. 






 Gooding's / Southwestern Verbena, Glandularia gooddingii.  Fairly popular in the Nursery / Landscape trade. Tougher under heat / drought conditions compared to traditional Verbena. Appears this is one of several things that starts the post- fire  re-establishment cycle in the Chaparral belt here.  Many areas completely charred were carpeted w/ these.



NOID Mint Family member.. Might be an Agastache species.. maybe not. Flower arrangement is a little to dense for most local Salvia sp.


Desert / Thurber's Cotton, Gossypium thurberi. One of those " desert " plants with clear tropical connections. While most plants in habitat, at least this far north, tend to stay in the 4-8ft range, plants in cultivation can exceed 10-12ft. and can be trained into nice, patio - type trees. Maple-like foliage provides some of the only Red / Maroon / Orange fall colors in the desert, especially further south in Sonora where larger specimens combine w/ other trees which shed their leaves at the end of Monsoon Season.  Seedpods lack the " fuzz " that surrounds the seed of many other species in the Genus. Interesting that the IUCN lists the species as Endangered. Larval Host for the spectacular Splendid Royal Moth, Citheronia splendens sinaloensis https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/312095-Citheronia-splendens-sinaloensis



* not pictured * Present on the same slopes was plenty of another tropically connected plant species,  Prairie Acacia, Acaciella angustissima as well.

One, of a few true Goldenrods, Genus Solidago  native to the Western U.S.


Turpentine Bush, Ericameria laricifolia. Tough fall flowering sub-shrub sometimes seen in cultivated landscapes.

Trans-Pecos Morning Glory,  Ipomoea cristulata. One of two local, Red - flowered Morning Glories ( I. coccinea is the other. May have been introduced originally ) Surprised just how widespread this species is out there.. Assumed these were one of the " shyer " Morning Glories ..preferring to hang out in shadier, moister areas along streams, rather than scrambling over various things in some pretty open and hot / dry locations. Seeing how extensively this species is spread over the landscape, especially in the areas where last June's fire roared through, appears this may be one of those " fire scar pioneers "  germinating quickly, and aggressively after wildfires to help stabilize loose, open soil and provide shade and cooler soil temperatures for other, more perennial things to germinate / re-generate and establish themselves as quickly as possible. As those plants fill in, presence of the Morning Glories wanes a bit ..or shifts to the remaining open areas between shrubby things.  Good plant for Hummingbirds and Butterflies, esp. Sulphurs in the Genus Phoebis  that can't resist red - flowered plants.


Ivy Leaved Morning Glory, Ipomoea hederacea, also present here, seemed to be less widespread in the same post fire areas. Wouldn't doubt a couple of the other Ipomoea sp. i've seen in S. AZ are also present in the area.

Evolvulus sp.

One of a few native Buckwheats observed, Genus Eriogonum.


Very good diversity among grasses in this area.  A few of the more unique..

Muhlenbergia sp. ..i think.  Many species are well known in the Horticultural Trade. Far superior ( and far less invasive ) compared to things like Fountain Grasses, Genus Pennisetum / other non- native Ornamental Grasses )



AZ. Cottontop, Digitaria californica  Attractive and tame bunch- type grass related to weedy / aggressive Crab Grasses. Somewhat sparse looking in habitat, Can fill in nicely in cultivation w/ some shade, extra moisture.


Vine Mesquite, Hopia obtusa. Sod forming, but rougher looking than typical turf-type grasses. Great option for the natural meadow look in rocky / sandy spots where water might collect.  Fills in quickly via. stolons. Seed is edible ( though you'd have to collect a lot ) and supposedly possesses a sweet, mildly nutty flavor. Was an important crop for Native tribes across the Southwest / Texas /  Mexico.



One of the Lip ferns, Possibly Coville's, Myriopteris covillei.


One of the many leafy, non- tropical Mistletoe sp, Genus Phoradendron.


 Snapdragon Vine, Maurandya antirrhinifolia  Red / Maroon- flowered form.. Most plants encountered within it's range are Blue flowered.. though White flowered plants occur sporadically.


 Finger - Leaved Gourd, Cucurbita palmata .. Seed  *might*  be edible.   Flesh/ Rind are extremely bitter..  Few animals touch it, except to try and get at the seeds.


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Plants observed on Wednesday's trip:

More drool worthy Agave.. Was able to collect seed off a few this time.. ..And yes, i'll pass around a few once i get seed going ( for anyone who might be interested ).






Could have collected more if i'd brought a towel  and hand brush w/ me.. ( No need to tear down mature seed stalks .. shake or tap the stalk w/ your fist or hiking stick and seed rains down from above.. Occasionally, would come across a few plants that had been blown over that still had seed in the capsules..  LOTS of seedling / very young plants in various spots as well.

Don't recall seeing Seedling Dasylirion wheeleri anywhere i have hiked here..  Found others in different spots..

Finally came across some nice ( and un- burnt ) Echinocereus specimens.. More than likely part of the tough to separate E. englemannii complex.


More nice Single Leaf Pinyon, ..and a young seedling..




Perfectly healthy and super blue AZ Cypress.. Possibly the Smooth - Barked Form ( based on how it is growing.. Standard, non shedding form typically grows more upright / pyramidical, even when younger. )

More Goodding's Verbena brightening up an otherwise barren post -fire landscape.  It was seeing the " Blue "  flowers on some of the plants in the distance down here from the trail  that lead me to take a closer look at this area.


Little unusual to see either of these flowering so late in the year..

Possibly Nuttall's Snapdragon, Sairocarpus nuttallianus  Much more common in the same habitat across S. Cal.  Supposedly a spring bloomer.. but not here, this year at least.


Blazing Star, Mentzelia sp. another annual that you see more often after wet winters..

Shrubby Purslane, Portulaca suffrectescens, the " Perennial " version of the Annual " Moss Rose "  that used to be quite popular for annual summer color / Hanging Baskets.


Lots of Ferns here too..  If we get any rain this winter, will be interesting to see what other fern sp. might be found come Feb. / March. Observing where they prefer to grow in habitat provides valuable clues on what they'd prefer in cultivation. Most of the " Desert / Drought adapted " species will take some sun, but want the roots well hidden and cooler.  Still working on getting some going.

Myriopteris sp.. Green could be Coville's .. Bluish silver, not entirely sure ( There's a couple that have similar coloration.. M. lindheimeri  would be the most common  )







False - Cloak Fern.. ( Argyrochosma sp.. Possibly A. jonesii  ) Kind of resembles a thicker leaved Maiden Hair Fern. Both this sp. and the species pictured below were very common in the post burned area.. Guess not all Ferns are delicate.

Coffee / Cliff Brake sp. ( Pellaea sp. )

Emory Oak..





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  • 1 month later...
3 hours ago, teddytn said:

@Silas_Sancona craziest thing to see for me is the ferns!!! Crazy to see them in a place so dry

It does kind of throw you off seeing ferns growing out there ..and in other areas here ( esp. out in the desert, right next to / around cacti ) < esp. the few that grow where they get a pretty good amount of sun > but, in a way, it makes sense considering the area's paleo history.. Overtime. as the landscapes dried out, the ferns here found places to get what they needed to survive, while evolving to handle the current conditions pretty well. These are plants that rot, almost instantly in some cases, if kept too wet.. A shame very few ..maybe just a couple of the true Cloak Ferns ( Astrolepis ), are seen for sale..  Most of these would be awesome accents in arid / desert-y themed gardens / landscapes.

Thing is you can't just dig them from habitat to get the ball rolling ( illegal / highly frowned upon, in most cases, in many areas anyway ) since many times, habitat collected specimens don't typically adjust to cultivation, and slowly die off.   Starting them from spores .. is often a long ( though fascinating ) process i myself are still working on to get right (  see another thread / link to an article in that thread related to these ferns ) A couple other people may also try to get more of these ferns out in front of a wider audience in the next few years as well.. but it takes time..


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You have a great eye, as well as knowledge, as your desert post show... It amazes me what you find, and the vast info you possess.... The things many of of over look, you see, and know it's history and place in the natural world... Thank you for all of these great post...


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3 hours ago, Butch said:

You have a great eye, as well as knowledge, as your desert post show... It amazes me what you find, and the vast info you possess.... The things many of of over look, you see, and know it's history and place in the natural world... Thank you for all of these great post...


Greatly appreciate the feedback Butch.. 

While it might be " too " much detail to some,  Like @Darold Petty  pointed out in a different thread, many people view the desert as a fairly bleak / barren / ~boring~  looking landscape when passing through ..at 60 0r 80mph.. When you actually stop, get out and do some fairly easy detective work, you can uncover a much more complex landscape, full of things that connect to everything else like pieces in a puzzle.. That helps broaden an often narrowed view of what you see..

Whats good, these days at least, is anyone who might be interested in " digging a bit deeper " can research interesting things on apps like say iNaturalist, then take a hike somewhere to view X plant in person ..alongside everything else growing w/ it. It's those " ah ha " moments when that narrowed field of view starts to see a much different picture..

For you, and others interested, I should mention, ..if i didn't here, or in the other related threads..  Oak Flat is also a pretty good OHV area.. Were people out there last time i was up there and i think a few of the trails are wide enough to get out to the upper parts of Devil's Canyon.  Numerous other OHV areas, that allow access into even more remote, not often seen, and spectacular areas that connect to ..or are very close by as well.


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