I marvel at nature’s wild swings.
From north to south and from east to west we see wild variations in temperatures and vegetation.
I encounter this every time I visit my old winter roosting place in the Southwest. It is such a respite from the cold and drab of the upper Midwest. Stepping out of a plane into sunny skies and temperatures in the 70s makes me wonder why I live in Indiana. But then I quickly remember the Southwest in July when it’s too hot to even touch your car’s steering wheel or your legs touching that scorching hot seat when first entering your car in the middle of summer.
However, it’s hard to beat the sudden realization that the grass is green and the trees and shrubs are sprouting new growth and there are geraniums, pansies and snapdragons growing everywhere. Add to this the fact that vegetation in the desert southwest is a complete 180 degree reversal of what we have in the upper Midwest.
Just a few of the differences you’ll see are the palm trees, Saguaro cactus, cholla (teddy bear cactus), paddle cactus, mesquite trees, ocotillo and Bougainvillea. The Bougainvillea vines/shrubs are especially noticeable because they are in full bloom in pinks and reds.
Annual flowers are about the only plants that pretty much stay the same. As previously mentioned, currently blooming about everywhere in the Southwest are geraniums, pansies and snapdragons because they can handle the “still cool” nights. Also noticed were large croppings of purple lantana used primarily for a shrub because they are considered a perennial in the southern warmer states.
Some interesting facts about southwestern plant-life:
A Saguaro cactus grows from a small, slow-growing, globe-like outgrowth in the desert into a single, giant spike that is usually 1 foot to 1 ½ feet in diameter to a whopping 12 feet to 15 feet in height and generally does not produce an arm or appendage until an age of at least 80 years.
Just think of the enormity of that statement. Most of the giants with several arms are way older than most humans. These behemoths generally weigh several tons because of their ability and need to store great amounts of water to survive the desert droughts. My understanding is that they only grow in this southwestern territory.
The cholla cactus, also called “Teddy-bear or jumping cactus,” grows wild in the desert Southwest. The Teddy-bear moniker is their likeness to the fuzzy animal and the “jumping” cactus moniker is because their barbs penetrate with the slightest touch. Add to that, they have a reverse barb that is extremely difficult to remove.
The paddle cactus grows wild just about everywhere in this territory. They may be seen along roadsides everywhere, even among the rocks. Anywhere they can get a “footing” they will grow, making them a natural to domesticate into one’s landscape. They produce long, 1- to 2-inch needles and their common green color will turn to pinks and reds throughout their growing season.
Desert plant life is a “protected” treasure of southwestern states, so removing them in the wild is considered a crime. Poachers can be observed from the many lookouts throughout the desert and arrests made. They do, however, offer the species for sale at many retail outlets.
All good things come to an end, however, and it was back to reality when exiting the plane and then searching for my car in the parking lot, which was buried in a foot of hard-packed snow. I put a heavy coat in the trunk before leaving, but didn’t have the forethought to put in a pair of gloves.
I am thankful for a safe trip, but would not have been disappointed if there had been a flight cancellation “forcing” us to extend our vacation in the Southwest. Better luck next time, maybe.