Thursday, October 24, 2013

Fall Colors in the Sonoran Desert

Kendall Kroesen, Urban Program Manager

It was great to be back at Tucson Audubon's North Simpson Farm habitat restoration site on Wednesday. I helped Restoration Manager Jonathan Horst, crew members and volunteers plant grasses in an attempt to make the western part of the restoration area, where it meets up with the low-lying land along the Santa Cruz River, a native grassland.

Crew member Dan Lehman demonstrates a grass-planting strategy

And then we got to work, since there were a lot of grass "plugs" to plant.

Several species of native grasses waiting to be planted

After planting some grasses I took a few minutes to walk around and take photos, since I hadn't been out there for a while. The vegetation at the site is not typical of the iconic Sonoran Desert Uplands, with their ironwoods and saguaros. This is previously farmed dusty flooplain of the Santa Cruz River. It's now getting revegetated with a variety of plants, the most dominant of which is saltbush.

In autumn the abundant seeds on healthy four-winged saltbushes turn yellowish.

Four-winged saltbush (Atriplex canescens) turning yellow

Realizing that there might be other indications of fall, I looked around a bit more. Another species of saltbush, called quailbush (Atriplex lentiformis), was also turning color. But instead of typical fall colors the seeds on this plant, small lens-shaped ones, sometimes turn purplish.

Quailbush seeds

Then I ran across a whitethorn acacia (Acacia constricta). As the seed pods of whitethorns start to dry out, they turn red. It's a beautiful red.

Acacia constricta pods, and white thorns

And if you want some more traditional fall colors, well, you're almost out of luck. But here's the very top of a cottonwood tree, sticking out from the trees along the river. It was starting to turn yellow. 

Cottonwood (Populus fremonti) beginning to turn

There's beauty in our world where ever you look. Thanks crew and volunteers for making this restoration site more beautiful and better for wildlife.

Field crew and volunteers

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