The palo verde are magnificent this week, great yellow clouds of bloom hanging over the desert. They remind me of the forsythia bloom that we awaited so impatiently when we lived in New England. But the palo verde are trees, and forsythia are shrubs – there is an appreciable difference.
A few showers overnight washed the desert; all the dust in the air was brought to earth, the mountains appeared with a clarity we have not seen for a couple of months. And the plants! They are all as happy as can be to have had a drink, spare as it might be. I took a walk in the unseasonably cool temperature to enjoy the cheery mayhem that is spring in the desert.
The saguaro are in bloom. The first years we were here I was disappointed that these enormous, heavy behemoths produce such small flowers. Now, though, they seem just right, a ring of posies around the heads of the aged parents.
The saguaro is important to the Sonora Desert ecology. It is home and food source to many inhabitants. Saguaros live a very long time, 150 years and more. The first arm, if the saguaro has one at all, will not appear until the plant is 50-75 years old. It starts as a little bump and then slowly, slowly turns into an appendage.
The saguaro can hold a lot of water, swelling and decreasing as the supply allows. It’s a heavy plant (a mature saguaro may weigh 2 tons plus); its roots spread out as wide as the plant is tall, at depths of 4-6 inches, and it has a tap root that runs 2 feet deep. The shallow roots collect what water they can during the brief rains that visit the desert and give the cactus a foundation to withstand desert winds.
Saguaros provide nesting spots for many birds – cactus wrens, gila woodpeckers, even owls and eagles nest in its arms. Today I watched a woodpecker feeding its young deep in a cactus hole. The woodpeckers peck out a hole in the tree, which then forms a scab inside and hardens, making a deep hidden nest. When the cactus dies the hardened bowl nests remain (as do the ribs); indigenous people have used them for storage for centuries.
There were plenty of other birds out and about. The quail were everywhere, though their eggs seem not to have hatched yet. It’s always such fun to see the little quail babies, who look like small commas racing after their mothers as they all run across the road. The lovely cactus wrens were busy in the saguaro; they have a grating song, quite unexpected for such a pretty bird. A roadrunner had a successful hunt, bagging a delicious large lizzard:
The desert is alive and vivid in springtime. When the heat of summer arrives everything will slow down. But for now we can enjoy the bird song and the beautiful cactus blooms.