Thursday, October 20, 2011

Fall Colors!

Tucson and the Sonoran Desert are often accused of not having seasons.  I beg to differ, but to the careful observer, there are actually 5 or more we go through, not the standard 4 most of the country sees, considering our Summer monsoons that most do not see.

Fall colors, though, are mostly lacking.  Deciduous trees and plants in the desert drop their leaves when cold weather comes, or when enough time passes since the last rain it is no longer profitable for the plants to keep them.  In the highest mountains in Southern Arizona, as well as the higher terrain in the White Mountains and Flagstaff area, stands of aspen trees do turn a brilliant yellow-gold and draw bus loads of tourists.  But the Tucson area is mostly denied any reminders of Fall, save the moderating temperatures.

However, lately I have noticed a subtle coloring in recent trips through the desert to Kitt Peak and even driving through local neighborhoods.  Ocotillo plants, which normally only display leaves for a couple weeks after a rain before dropping them, are displaying brilliant to pale yellows in this short transition into cooler weather.  I pointed this out to a co-worker on our drive to Kitt Peak last week and he noted that in 30 years in Tucson he had never noticed them.  Particularly while surrounded by the still green palo verde and mesquite trees, the ocotillo make a spectacular, if singular impression.

Ocotillos are interesting plants.  Mostly they appear as nearly dead-looking sticks with rows of thorns along their length.  Immediately after a decent rain leaves sprout and in the Spring, brilliant red flower clusters cap the ends.  But while they carry thorns, they are actually hardened leaf stalks - they are not cacti.  And for a couple weeks, they remind Midwestern transplants a little of the colors they are missing back home...

1 comment:

David A. Harvey said...

Never notice them changing colors before - nice shots. ~Dave