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Over the weekend Marci went hiking in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains with our friend Erin. At one point they stumbled upon some desert hackberry plants (Celtis pallida) full of large ripe orange berries. Unfortunately they were not equipped to harvest many of the berries, but they brought back a small jarfull. The berries are delicious and we are excited to make some hackberry jam.

We went out later to look for more hackberries in the Tucson Mountains, but the plants were mostly devoid of ripe berries. They’re at a lower elevation than the plants in the Santa Catalinas, so we’re not sure when they were producing, but we’ll have to remember next year that mid-fall is hackberry season!

The berries began to spoil very quickly (after the first night they were starting to turn brown), so we froze them until we can figure out something interesting to do with them.

A wash in the Tucson Mountains

A wash in the Tucson Mountains, a typical habitat for desert hackberries and many other native species.

Closeup of native desert vegetation in the Tucson Mountains

A closeup showing characteristic native vegetation along the wash (especially desert hackberries, Acacia, velvet mesquites, etc.), and further from the wash (saguaros, palo verdes, etc.).

A desert hackberry

A desert hackberry (Celtis pallida) along a wash in the Tucson Mountains. This plant was devoid of ripe berries.

This weekend on a beautiful fall day we visited Florida Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains, which are directly south of Tucson. The canyon was lush and colorful, and the insect activity was impressive (we’re entomologists, so that’s a good thing).

A morning glory vine (Ipomoea hirsutula?). These were fairly common in the canyon, especially on shady cliffsides.

An adult giant mesquite bug (Thassus sp.). These insects produce noxious defensive compounds; the nymphs are strikingly colored (red, white and black), a clear example of aposematic (warning) coloration.

Desert cotton (Gossypium thurberi). These beautiful plants were very common in the canyon, and many of them exceeded seven feet tall.

Scarlet creeper (Ipomoea coccinea), another species of morning glory. We only saw a couple of these plants, but they were striking.

Oak galls. These growths are induced in oaks (Quercus spp.) by insects, especially by tiny wasps. The galls nourish and protect the insects, which develop within them.

Acorns on the ground

Acorns on the ground. We found only a couple of oak trees which were still producing acorns. We harvested a small amount in the hopes of producing acorn flour, but when we got home we discovered that they had almost all been colonized by some sort of larval insect (probably a fly of some kind). We did manage to harvest some juniper berries, which are delicious!

Algal growth in a pool

Algal growth in a pool. The stream in Florida Canyon was low but it was running, and some pools such as this one were supporting dense algal populations.

A native cucurbit, the coyote gourd (Cucurbita palmata). The flesh is supposedly edible, and edible cooking oil can be extracted from the seeds, but we didn’t try.

June 2017
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