Wildflowers are beautiful wherever you find them, but the more you know about them, the more they will amaze you.
So seven Pima County residents were appropriately amazed in mid-July when Meg Quinn led them on a wildflower hike on Mount Lemmon. The hike is one of the many free outings, workshops and special events offered by the Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department’s Environmental Education and Interpretive Programs.
Quinn is the adult and volunteer program coordinator and the author of two books about Southwest wildflowers.
The monsoon brings a “second spring” to Mount Lemmon, Quinn explained as the group gathered to walk the Oracle Ridge Trail after carpooling from Tanque Verde Road and Catalina Highway at 8 a.m.
“The season starts in July once we’ve had some summer rains,” she said. “The peak season is usually in August.”
The Bullock Fire burned the trail area in 2002, and flame retardant left red stains on the rocks. The skeletons of silver leaf oak trees stand stark against the sky, with new branches springing from the roots, competing to become surviving trees.
Unfortunately, the charred trunks of ponderosa pines show no such signs of renewal.
In 3½ easy-paced hours – less than four miles out and back – we saw more than 20 types of wildflowers, most of which were on a list that Quinn distributed.
Showy red-orange paintbrush and beardtongue penstemon. Yellow Hooker’s evening primrose and purple Wheeler thistle. Tiny and delicate lotus and ipomopsis tenuituba, whose even tinier pink spots – visible through shared hand lenses – prompted surprised oooo’s.
Quinn did more than match common and botanical names with flower faces. Careful to share the single samples she picked – instead of each picking our own – we smelled the spicy scent of bee balm, stuck sticky bedstraw to our shirts and felt the flannel leaves of mullein.
We learned that yarrow is also known as wound wort because it stops bleeding and that Arizona fleabane “is supposed to keep insects away.”
Who knew that the leaves of Palmer lupine follow the sun? Or that its “banner” petal changes color after it’s been pollinated – a “don’t bother” sign to passing bees?
Quinn shared a poem to help us tell the difference between the rushes we saw and other plants.
“Sedges have edges,
Rushes are round,
Horsetails have coarse tails,
Cattails have flat tails.”
If you go on Quinn’s wildflower hike on Aug. 8 or Aug. 30, you’ll probably get to see coral bells in bloom.
“It’s never the same on this trail,” Quinn said. “There’s difference species in different places.”
If you’re really lucky, you might get to see an orchid.
“You don’t find orchids; they find you,” said Quinn, who says they appear in her peripheral vision when she’s looking at other plants.
Whenever you go, you can expect cooler temperatures on Mount Lemmon than in the valley below.
Linda Vaught, who’s been going on the Environmental Education hikes for 6-7 years, calls them Pima County’s “best-kept secret.”
“I just love to go on the Pima County nature hikes,” Vaught said. “You don’t have to have any money. People are willing to carpool. It’s a wonderful thing.”
For more information about the Environmental Education programs, please visit http://www.pima.gov/nrpr/eeduc/environ.htm
To see a list of the Pima County Natural Resources, Parks and Recreation Department’s scheduled wildflower, birding and even lizard walks, and other events, please visit http://www.pima.gov/nrpr/calendar/index.htm
Books by Meg Quinn
- Cacti of the Desert Southwest
- Wildflowers of the Desert Southwest
- Wildflowers of the Mountain Southwest