Yellow flowers of the real Mexican Bird of Paradise

What is the small tree with yellow flowers and round leaves in Arizona?  The Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise, is a flowering plant species in the pea family, Fabaceae. This drought tolerant, perennial tree is native to Mexico and the extreme lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

Caesalpinia mexicana
Mexican Bird of Paradise yellow flowering bush tree
bush with yellow flowers round leaves
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise

All parts of this Mexican plant are poisonous.  The showy Mexican Bird of Paradise shrub thrives in dry conditions.  Once the roots are established, they are drought tolerant.  

yellow flowers and round leaves bush shrub arizona texas
Mexican Bird of Paradise, caesalpinia mexicana

If you are looking for a small shade tree that is flowering and easy to care for; the Mexican Bird of Paradise is perfect for your yard and a good choice for xeriscape desert gardens.

Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Poinciana, does best in full sun.  It is a perennial flowering tree that is heat resistant; with rounded leaves and spikes of solid yellow flower clusters.  The fragrant yellow flowers of this Bird of Paradise are very showy and will bloom throughout the year!  The USDA Hardiness Zone is 9.

Texas yellow flowers round leaves bush
Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Bird of Paradise Plant
Arizona bush yellow flowers shrub
leaves and yellow flowers of Caesalpinia mexicana, Mexican Plants

In the photo ABOVE see the rounded shape of the leaves and the yellow flowers.

The “Red Bird of Paradise”, – commonly but mistakenly called (The Mexican Bird of Paradise), –  has Red, Orange and Yellow Flowers. See the Picture below.

red orange blooming bush flowers
Red Bird of Paradise desert shrub

The Mexican Bird of Paradise bush can be pruned and trained into a small tree.

round leaves yellow flowers bush
Mexican Bird of Paradise tree, yellow flowers

How to grow bird of paradise plants from Bean Pods

Germinating the seeds for this Mexican Bird of Paradise will be easy! Simply soak the seeds from the bean pods in water for 48 hours or like many people use a damp paper towel.  If you are using the paper towel method to germinate your seeds-when a white shoot appears-plant it with the white shoot facing DOWN.

peat pots

To plant and grow your bird of paradise — plant the seed in peat pots.  Cover the seeds lightly with damp vermiculite or your choice of a good soil.

vermiculite

Bird of Paradise seeds need at least 8 hours of sun, but not direct sun it will be too hot! You can start to give them a little more direct sun after the first leaves appear.

Peat Pots are great and make growing and transplanting your Mexican, Yellow or Red Bird of Paradise seedlings much easier. Start your seeds indoors and when you are ready to plant your Bird of Paradise just put the entire pot in the ground. Roots will penetrate the peat pot and the pot disintegrates enriching the soil.

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Sage bushes with Purple Flowers bring life to the desert!

It is difficult to imagine that a flowering plant can thrive in hot desert temperatures; but, these vibrant purple sage bushes love the heat!

Tucson bushes with purple flowers
Purple flowering sage bushes – Texas Ranger Plant

Also known as Texas Ranger Plants, these lavender flowers fill the sage bushes that adorn the streets of the Sonoran Desert.

heat tolerant purple bush tjs gardenowers
Purple Flowering Texas Sage in the desert

Our Texas Ranger Plants, Leucophyllum frutescens, are blooming with butterflies and bees promenading between the purple flowers.

heat tolerant plant with purple flowers
purple sage bush with butterflies

The bees are buzzing noisily as they work their way in and out of the purple blooms.

phoenix purple flowering shrubs bush
purple flowers of the Texas Ranger plant

When it comes to drought and heat tolerant plants, Purple Sage is right at the top of the list.  The hotter it gets in the desert, the happier this flowering shrub is!

texas ranger plant sage Tucson
Purple flowers – Texas Sage Shrub in Arizona

As humidity rises during the start of Arizona’s Monsoon season, the Purple Sage bushes will bloom right before it rains.  The purple flowers are a built in barometer!

Growing and caring for Purple Sage is easy if you plant them in full sun.

varieties of sage bush shrubs purple white
Purple Flowering Texas Sage in the desert

This desert bush is native to Mexico and Texas and needs very little maintenance. Texas Sage is incredibly heat resistant and will not be harmed by moderate frost in the winter.

white cloud flowering white sage
white flowering shrub is White Cloud Texas Sage

The Sage bush variety with white flowers is called White Cloud Texas Sage.  It is exactly like the purple sage but with white blooms.

Texas Cloud Sage with white flowers bush
White Cloud Sage with Red Bird of Paradise Flowering shrubs
Mexico purple sage flower bush
Purple Texas Ranger Sage Plant

The best time to prune your Texas Sage is in the Spring.  Over pruning your sage bush will reduce the amount of flowers and cause the plant to use more water.

Native Arizona Mesquite Trees – growing tips – Velvet mesquite trees, The Tree of Life

Honey and Velvet Mesquite Trees can take the extreme heat and the cold! This tree grows fast.  What is the most common tree of the Desert Southwest?  It is the Mesquite! Like many members of the Legume Family, mesquite trees restore nitrogen to the soil.

Mesquite Tree Arizona
Honey Mesquite Tree

There are 3 common species of NATIVE mesquite trees:  Screwbean Mesquite (Prosopis pubescens ),  Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), and Velvet Mesquite (Prosopis velutina).

Native Arizona Trees, Mesquite
Native Desert Tree – Honey Mesquite

These native trees are extremely drought tolerant. Honey Mesquites are more rounded with big, floppy, drooping branches.  The foliage is feathery and straight – paired with sharp spines on twigs.

yound mesquite tree
Arizona Native Mesquite Tree

This tree normally reaches 20–30 ft, but can reach as tall as 50 ft (15 m). The growth rate is medium.  Honey mesquite coppices  (it will make new growth from a root or stump if it is cut down), making permanent removal extremely hard.  If a single trunk is cut down the Honey Mesquite will replace it with a multiple trunk version.

Honey Mesquite Tree variety species
Tree with large needles, spikes in Arizona

The Honey Mesquite has pale, yellow, elongated spikes and bears straight, yellow seed bean pods. In this picture you can see how long and strong this mesquite’s spikes are. I’ve learned NOT to wear flip-flops when walking around our Honey Mesquite!

Caring for mesquite trees is a simple process after the tree has fully matured. Mesquite trees need a full day’s worth of direct sun light to grow. Make sure to plant your mesquite tree in a place where it will always have a lot of quality sun.

Good staking is crucial to the mesquite tree, especially in areas with severe summer storms, monsoon season, or high winds.

tree ties for young mesquite
Staking your mesquite trees

The shade from these native Arizona trees create a 10-15 degree cooler temperature!

 Mesquite tree for shade

 

The shortcoming of a Chilean or Honey Mesquite tree is wind damage. Proper staking and proper watering can help you avoid wind damage with your mesquite trees.

staking your tree
staking your honey mesquite tree helps prevent wind damage

Make your Mesquite trees “seek out” water and nutrients by careful arrangement of your irrigation emitters and scheduled DEEP irrigation. This will develop a more dispersed root system and reduces the risk of wind throw.

Pruning will keep your tree from becoming messy, while stimulating new growth on those branches that you pruned. The dead, diseased, broken or weak branches, drain the Mesquite tree’s energy.

Mesquite bean pods are rich in carbohydrates and have very low moisture content, making them an excellent source for harvesting, processing, and storage.  A variety of animals eat the seeds such as quail, dear, javelina, coyotes, squirrels and rats.

Historic records have indicated that almost every part of the mesquite tree has a use. The Pima Indians of southern Arizona referred to the mesquite as the TREE OF LIFE.

mesquite tree seeds bean pods
Mesquite tree leaves and bean pods 

During the inevitable droughts and deprivations of desert frontier days, the mesquite trees served up the primary food source for caravans and settlers.  Mesquite beans became manna from heaven.

Medical studies of mesquite trees and other desert foods, said that despite its sweetness, mesquite flour (made by grinding whole pods) is extremely effective in controlling blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

Mesquite trees have lateral roots that extend far beyond the canopies of the plants and tap-roots that penetrate well below the surface of the soil.  Some mesquites may live for more than two centuries;  according to U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

(Prosopis Velutina) Velvet Mesquite is the most common of the North American varieties, it ranges from southern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and most common to the Chihuahua and Sonoran deserts of Mexico.

Tree with ferny leaves and sharp thorns
Native Desert Trees, Velvet Mesquite Tree

Velvet Mesquite Trees are a deciduous plant that benefits by being able to retain moisture during the winter or exceptionally dry seasons better because water does not escape through the leaves.  These Mesquite trees have elongated bean pods that are sweet to taste when ripe ( reddish-yellow color).   This native tree has thorns with varying lengths even on the same branch.

Mesquite Trees
Velvet Mesquite Trees in Arizona

For the first year,  deeply water your mesquite tree every week or so until it has properly matured. Once your velvet mesquite tree has matured, it can survive with a little supplemental water in addition to natural rain. In case of droughts, do water your mesquite trees more often.

Velvet Mesquites hold the record for deepest root (160′); these tap-roots can tap into deep, underground water supplies that aren’t available to the average plant.

The seeds of mesquite trees need to be scarified (abraded in flash flood or digestive tract) to germinate. Coyotes, and other desert animals eat the bean pods regularly.

Mourning Doves are building their nest

It is spring and the male mourning dove labors hard to set up his territory.   When this male bird is ready to mate, he circles in a courtship flight and chases other doves from the area he desires to nest.

To attract a female mourning dove, this determined handsome bird perches in an open area and sings a “passionate” coo sound that is louder than his usual call.

difference of male and female doves
Male Mourning Dove

The Coooo bird call is mostly voiced by the male mourning dove and not the female. Once he has charmed a mate, the doves pair for life.

To hear the dove’s coooOOO sound, click on the short YouTube video below:

Doves mate primarily from spring to fall but are able to mate year round and produce several clutches of young.  These love birds are tranquil and elegant. 
doves birds mate
Mourning Doves seem to be the true love birds
  **Unfortunately, the Mourning Dove Nest can hardly be called a “nest” – generally these beautiful birds just throw a few twigs somewhere and begin setting up their flimsy nest.
tan bird with spots
dove nest on our porch

The nest is constructed over the course of 2-4 days with the male and female mourning doves working together.

bird nest with 2 eggs
mourning dove nest with 2 white eggs

With a hanging basket on our porch, it didn’t take long before a couple of mourning doves took up residence.  AKA Turtle Doves have been known to reuse the same nest over and over. Commonly raising 2 – 3 broods per season.  Researchers found that the basics for constructing the bird nest are mainly instinctive, but birds can improve their skills with experience.

flimsy bird nest with twigs and white eggs
when do the 2 dove eggs hatch?

So, you spotted a dove’s nest with two milky white eggs.  When will the dove eggs hatch?  The incubation period for Mourning Dove eggs is 14-15 days. Then another 2 weeks for the squabs to leave the nest.

One white egg is laid in the evening, and the female dove lays the second egg in the morning.

dove bird nest two eggs
Mourning Dove’s Nest with 2 white eggs

The day shift is handled by the male dove and the female incubate during the night shift.  If you do not see the doves change shifts, it can seem that the same dove has been on the nest the entire time. 

***In our experience, we have seen the male and female doves change places around sunrise and sunset.

The dove chick, “hatchling”, squab pictured below is one day old.  Both eyes on the newborn bird are closed.

one day old baby bird
a newborn baby dove is called a squab
two baby birds in a nest
2 to 3 day old dove newborn

Males and female doves work together to feed their newborns crop milk or “pigeon milk” for the first few days of their life. The dove’s Crop Milk is rich in fat and protein.  Adult mourning doves secrete the milk and regurgitate it to their little ones.

The dove parent opens its mouth wide permitting the nestling to stick its head inside to feed on the nutritious food.

mourning dove in the nest
The Male dove daddy caring for his squab

How do you tell if the male or female dove is in the nest?

With a trained eye you will be able to tell the difference.  Male Mourning Doves have a bluish crown and nape, and a rose wash to the throat and breast.  The crown and nape of the female dove is grayish brown, and the throat and breast has a brown or tan wash.

dove nest with 3 birds
female mourning dove with her squabs
Mourning Dove Nestlings will fledge in about 12-14 days. The bird parents continue to care for the dove fledglings for about another 16-20 days.

**Please NOTE:   Doves are more flighty than other birds and may abandon the eggs or nest if you bother them too much.

Best Pond filter system – All in One Lifegard Pump with UV Algae control

This is the best Pond pump we have ever used and our fish are healthy and thriving.  This All in One Pond Filter system is a compact filter for water gardens and ponds with Koi and fish.  It is extremely easy to install and easy to clean.  See the photos I posted from cleaning the pump today.

Lifegard Pond Pump and Filter
cleaned the Lifegard Pond filter

With the Lifegard All in One pond filter you have a choice of 4 different fountain spray patterns for your pond. To help control algae this efficient pump includes an ultraviolet sterilizer that has a separate plug so you can operate it only when you need to.

running the pond pump

The pond filter unit will float.  I need to put a few heavy rocks on top to hold the pond pump in place.  After years of using various pumps for our small Arizona pond, this is by far the absolute best pump system and I highly recommend it.  Even more so if you have fish and Koi in your pond.

healthy large goldfish

Healthy dogs!

Our Labrador, was tested for Valley Fever;  his test results and xrays are negative.  This is the best news and wonderful blessing.

Labrador Retriever mix
healthy flat coat retriever

If you live in Arizona, you and your animals will most definitely come in contact with Valley Fever fungi.  A strong immune system will defeat Valley Fever just like it would the flu.

The mucous membrane linings of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tracts provide one of the first lines of defense against invasion by microbes. Internal defense mechanisms for the immune system include the Lymphatic system, Thymus gland, bone marrow, spleen, white blood cells and antibodies.

valley fever life cycle
valley fever life cycle from the CDC

I’ve learned quite a bit regarding an animal’s immune system and the importance of keeping your pet healthy.

Our Jack Russel, is currently on medication for Valley Fever.  He is doing great and running around like a puppy!  Valley Fever is treated with anti-fungus medication.

dogs swimming in pool
jack russel recovering from valley fever

The immune system is your cat’s, dog’s, bunny’s, etc…  PROTECTOR.   It is the immune system’s job to respond to infectious challenges and antigenic stimuli from the outside world without destroying the host animal itself.

Siamese large cat
Cats can get Valley Fever too

My entire family, with and without fur, wishes you Love, Peace and most of all good Health.  

God Bless you and your families.

Valley Fever symptoms in our dog

Our Arizona Veterinarian informed us that our dog has Valley Fever, coccidioidomycosis.  This article is to share the information and facts we learned about Valley Fever fungus.  Our dog is on Valley Fever antifungal medicine,  and his prognosis looks good.

the same dog as Wishbone
our dog has valley fever

What symptoms made us visit the veterinarian?

  • Our dog was eating well but losing weight.
  • A few times I caught our pet crying as though he were in pain.
  • Something just seemed off with our dog
Coccidioides is a fungus
Valley Fever is a fungus

Canine valley fever originates in a dog as it inhales the coccidioidomycosis fungal spores. These fungus spores are usually found in dirt and in arid areas of the desert. Once inhaled, valley fever spores grow and multiply very rapidly at the first available point in a dog’s body, the lungs.

Symptoms of coccidioidomycosis, valley fever, usually appear between 1 and 3 weeks after exposure to the fungus.

Common Symptoms of Valley Fever in Dogs and Cats

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Lameness
  • Dry or moist cough
  • Bone swelling/joint enlargement
  • Extreme weight loss with muscle wasting
  • Enlarged lymph nodes

Most fungi are harmless, but some types like Valley Fever can make you sick.  The map below shows areas of the United States that have common cases of Valley Fever in humans and animals.

Valley Fever map
locations where Valley Fever fungus is found

The fungus spores of Valley Fever begin in the lungs until they grow large enough to rupture, releasing hundreds of endospores.  These numerous spores begin a parasitic stage in the tissues and disseminate into the animal’s body.  The Valley Fever Fungus can spread to the organs.

The immune system does have the capability to fight off the Valley Fever infection before symptoms can even be realized, but it requires an exceptionally strong immune system to do so.

valley fever in canine lungs
fungus in a dog’s lungs

According to the University of Arizona, about 70% of dogs who inhale Valley Fever spores control the infection and do not become sick.  The Valley Fever infection can range from mild to severe.

Canine Valley Fever will begin to affect the dog’s joints if the condition continues to progress.  It is very sad when the infection of Valley Fever is so severe in the bones that an animal can no longer move its arms or legs.

joint with Valley Fever fungus
dog’s bone below the knee joint with Valley Fever fungus

It is very important to continue medicating your dog as directed until the veterinarian confirms that the blood tests are negative and tells you to stop medication. If you stop treating Valley Fever too soon, symptoms may recur.  Some animals will have to remain on the anti fungal medication for life.

life cycle of valley fever
life cycle of valley fever

Is Valley Fever contagious from animal to animal, human to human, or animal to human?
NO.  Valley Fever is considered a non-contagious disease. Even if multiple animals or humans are affected in the same household, each Valley Fever case was acquired independently.

Recently, I felt swollen glands on our other dog.  This week we took him to the doctor for Valley Fever blood tests and x-rays.  Already our heart is heavy with our little dog being infected and I can’t yet imagine how crushed we will be if our other dog comes up positive.

our dogs at the Veterinarian
Shadow and Trigger for their checkup

A Valley Fever vaccine is under development. Here’s hoping it is developed soon and may be available to prevent Valley Fever or make it very mild.

Labrador Shepherd mix
our black Labrador

The Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the University of Arizona is the only academic research institution in the world focused on the study of Valley Fever.

 

 

 

Arizona Coyotes – Prairie Wolf desert animals

The most famous desert animal is the coyote.  One could even consider the coyote as a symbol of the West.  Native American legends call the coyote the WISE ONE. Our relatives live in a natural area of the Sonoran Desert with a first hand view of coyote behaviors.

Sometimes called the Prairie Wolf, coyotes are a species of canine found throughout North America from eastern Alaska to New England and south into Mexico and Panama.

  • Family: Canidae – Order: Carnivora – Species: Canis latrans
coyote in Tucson Arizona
coyote in the desert during summer

With their narrow face and big ears a coyote can be mistaken for a medium sized dog. The coyote’s fur color is light brown to grayish.  They have a long, bushy tail with a black tip.  Desert coyotes only weigh 15 to 25 pounds with long slender legs and small feet.  You will NEVER see a fat coyote in the wild.

coyote in arizona desert
coyote in the Arizona Desert

The picture above was taken while we stood in the backyard.  Most evenings, as the sun begins to set the coyotes start the hunt for food.  No matter how well we try to hide they know we are there.

The coyote is intelligent and has keen senses that adapt it for survival.  They have excellent vision, acute hearing, and an extremely sensitive nose!

The coyote’s elongated nose, muzzle, has a highly developed sense of smell to detect prey, other coyotes and us humans.

According to Tennessee Wildlife Resources  The coyote’s eyesight is six times greater than humans.  The sense of smell of the coyote is 23 times better than a human.

Coyote Phoenix Tucson Arizona
Coyote’s tan fur and bushy tail

Coyotes typically sing a wake up song around dusk as they prepare for a hunt.  They make unique sounds to communicate with their family members.

To hear the sounds of a coyote try here: Arizona Desert Museum Coyote sounds

Coyotes adjust their hunting style to what foods are available. When they hunt small prey alone, they usually stalk it and then pounce. If the prey is larger like a deer, coyote will often hunt in small packs and work together to kill the prey.

coyote in the Tucson desert
Arizona Coyote

Coyotes are omnivores, which means they will eat or try to eat just about anything. In the Sonoran Desert, coyotes vary their diet with the seasons. Cactus fruit, mesquite beans, flowers, insects, rodents, lizards, rabbits, birds, and snakes make up some of their dietary choices.

Secure your garbage cans because coyotes will knock them over. Coyotes also walk along the tops of walls around homes in search of unattended dogs and cats to eat.  Coyotes have lured free-roaming dogs away from their owners to attack them.  They are cunning.

Coyote in our Arizona yard
Coyote in our Arizona yard

The most common enemy that coyotes face is disease. Bears, wolves and mountain lions will also prey upon coyotes.  A pack of coyotes is their strength and should never be underestimated.  How fast can a coyote run?  They run up to 30 mph.

coyote animal face, eyes in Saguaro National Park
Eyes of the Arizona Prairie Wolf, Coyote species

Coyotes have a central den site which is used for rearing the pups and sleeping. They will scent mark the area around the den and defend it from other coyotes. The breeding season is February to March with young born in April and May. Coyotes only use dens for whelping pups.

In the wild, coyotes live between 10-14 years. In captivity coyotes are known to live much longer, as many as 20 years.

Coyote is always out there waiting, and Coyote is always hungry. – Navajo Proverb

Many Native American tribes consider the coyote to be their creator. Some tribes also regard Coyote as teacher and magician. Coyote is often associated with the “trickster.” In all of its roles, Coyote is a benevolent figure, intentionally or otherwise helping us to restore balance and order.

The Saguaro National Park

While traveling Arizona we stopped at Saguaro National Park, in Tucson.  The park is located in the Sonoran Desert.

Saguaro National Park in AZ
Saguaro National Park in AZ

The giant cacti, called Saguaros, are protected and preserved within the park.

The saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert
The saguaro cactus in the Sonoran Desert

After a single rainfall, Saguaros can soak up to 200 gallons of water through their huge network of roots that lay just 4-6 inches below the desert surface. That is enough water to last this giant cactus an entire year!

the saguaro expands with water
the saguaro expands with water

A saguaro expands like an accordion when it absorbs water which can increase its weight by up to a ton.

saguaro cactus white flowers in bloom
saguaro cactus white flowers in bloom

In 1931, The Saguaro’s Blossom became the Arizona State Flower.

The Saguaro Cactus blooms April through June. Its flowers are creamy white and numerous. Up to a hundred flowers can bloom on one Saguaro Cactus!

Saguaro Cactus Flowers
Saguaro Cactus fruits and blooms

The saguaro blossom opens after sunset and by the next afternoon the flower is wilted. The white cactus flower repeats itself night after night.   During the few hours the saguaro flower is open birds, bats, and  honeybees pollinate them.

saguaro red fruit
saguaro red fruit

Later in the summer, the cactus flowers that were pollinated will become red-fleshed saguaro fruits that are enjoyed by the local bird population. The saguaro cactus is also known as the pitahaya, sahuara and giant cactus.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park
trails at Saguaro National Park
trails at Saguaro National Park
nursing trees for saguaros
Palo Verde and Mesquite Trees are shelter for young Saguaros
nursing tree for saguaro cactus
nursing trees provide nitrogen for cactus

The Saguaro often begins life with a nurse tree or shrub which can provide shade and moisture for the germination of life. This Saguaro grows slowly — only about an inch a year — eventually becoming very tall;  reaching heights of 50 feet.  The largest saguaro cacti, with more than 5 arms, are approximately 200 years old.

 

Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion – Largest scorpion in North America

We found several bark scorpions in our Arizona yard but this is the first time we found a Giant Desert Hairy ScorpionHadrurus arizonensis.  This giant scorpion is the largest scorpion in the United States.

Scorpions are related to spiders, ticks, mites, etc… They are venomous arthropods in the class Arachnida.   Scorpions have over 1,300 species throughout the world.  They have four pairs of legs and pedipalps with plier-like pincers on the end.

giant desert hairy scorpion
Hadrurus arizonensis, Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion

Three species of scorpions are commonly found in the Arizona Desert:

  1. Small Bark Scorpion, Centruroides exilicauda
  2. Striped Tail or Devil’s Scorpion, Vaejovis spinigerus
  3. Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion, Hadrurus arizonensis

Arizona is home to more than 30 species of scorpions but the only truly “life threatening” one is the small Bark Scorpion.  Unlike the other species, Bark Scorpions like to climb.

Giant Arizona Scorpion
the largest scorpion in the US

Scorpions have mouthparts called chelicerae that enable it to rip and tear its prey while feeding.  They have a sensitive antennae along with the pincer-like pedipalps that are used to hold the prey while inflicting venom or eating.  The Scorpion’s body has two main parts; the cephalothorax and the abdomen.

Hadrurus arizonensis
the largest scorpion in North America, Hadrurus arizonensis

According to the book Scorpions: A Complete Pet Owner’s Manual, in order to measure a scorpion; start from the tip of the telson, stinger, to the prosoma, head.  Our Arizona scorpion was just over 5 inches!  Giant Hairy Scorpions have a dark back.

scorpion tail stinger
Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion Tail, metasoma

The metasoma (tail) of the scorpion is actually an extension of the abdomen. It consists of five segments, each one longer than the last; at the tip is the telson (stinger).

All Scorpions are nocturnal and leave their shelters at night in search for prey.  A Giant Hairy Scorpion burrows deep in the desert soil.  This large scorpion follows the moisture level in the soil and can burrow as far as 8 feet below the surface!

home / nest of the scorpion
Scorpion burrow opening

Scorpion burrows are commonly oval or crescent-shaped.

large Arizona Scorpion
Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion in Arizona

Although this scorpion is very large, the sting is somewhat mild and feels similar to a bee sting.  The sting is not life threatening.  If by some chance you experience an allergic reaction to a Giant Hairy Scorpion sting,  seek medical attention immediately.

Scorpions give birth to live young during the summer months and the babies safely ride on mom until their first molt, approximately 2-3 weeks.

If you really want to observe these ancient nocturnal arachnids, take a black light to the desert on a moonless, warm night.   In the dark you will be able to see scorpions dig burrows, capture prey and possibly witness a unique mating ritual.

How do we try to keep our home scorpion free?  By keeping our windows and doors closed!  When opening a door in the desert, make it a habit to look at the bottom.  It is known that scorpions have poor eyesight and tend to walk along walls.  Glue boards placed by doors and windows are good ways to catch scorpions inside the home.  Bark Scorpions are smaller and more common in homes.  Bark Scorpion stings can be fatal so we have a contract with Truly Nolen that helps to keep our home safe. 

Migrating birds fly off course – Brown Pelicans in the desert?

We were privileged to document the noble Brown Pelican landing at Lakeside Park in Tucson. This impressive sea-bird extended its wings (almost 8′ wingspan) to brake before alighting on the water.

migrating birds in arizona
brown pelican in Tucson Arizona

Various migratory birds wind up off course due to bad weather and end up in Arizona lakes.

birds off course in arizona
pair of pelicans at Lakeside Park

Brown Pelicans have an extremely long bill with a large pouch attached on the lower half.  The pelicans pouch is used to catch fish.

endangered birds in arizona
Brown Pelicans have a long bill
Lakeside Park migratory birds
Pelicans in the Sonoran Desert

According to the LA Times, these odd looking large Brown Pelicans were nearly driven to extinction because of abuse from hunters and fishermen.

Hunters coveted its plumage and commercial fishermen believed pelicans were gobbling too many fish. These sea birds were also hurt by the effects of a chemical pesticide, DDT.  It is no wonder brown pelicans were placed on the federal endangered species list.

Louisiana’s state bird is the Brown Pelican.  This bird started to make a recovery, only to suffer again from the coastal damage incurred from the oil spills.

Louisiana state bird pelican
Brown Pelicans damaged by the oil spill

During the oil spill in 2010, this whole area was covered with oil, said P.J. Hahn, a coastal zone director in Louisiana.  The brown pelican was particularly at risk because it dives beneath the water’s surface to forage.

Dedicated teams worked diligently to save the brown pelicans after the massive oil spill.

brown pelican bird
Volunteers helping the Brown Pelican during an oil spill

(above photo courtesy of http://www.latimes.com/  Los Angeles Times)

Are Brown Pelicans, still on the endangered species list?

The Brown Pelican finally came off the endangered species list in 2009.   Now, there is a growing fear history could repeat itself because there is not enough habitat for the birds to nest.

migratory birds in the desert
pair of brown pelicans in Arizona

One of the most prominent characteristics to observe for this large pelican, also called the California Brown Pelican, is the way it forages for food.  It dives beneath the water surface.  Pelicans simply catch the fish in their pouch, drain the water out and swallow the fish immediately.

pelicans in the desert
Brown Pelican plunge for fish
sea birds in arizona
Large pouch of the Brown Pelican bird

Watching the Pelicans effortlessly fly, gallantly dive, and methodically fish was one of the highlights of our year!

These Sea Birds can facilely glide low over the water; so low their wingtips often brush the waves – with occasional slow, powerful wing beats to gain speed.

Brown pelicans in the desert
Lakeside Park migrating birds – pelicans

Brown Pelican birds are the only pelican to plunge dive to catch their prey, other species of pelicans fish from the surface of the water.

wing span of brown pelican bird
Brown Pelican’s wing span can reach 7 feet

They can be seen performing a surface plunge from as high as 20 meters to catch their prey!

pelican birds in tucson phoenix
Brown Pelican dives to collect fish

Click below to watch a short video of Brown Pelicans diving for fish:

In flight, the Brown Pelicans hold their head back on their shoulders and rest their bill on their folded neck.

pelicans in tucson lakes - lakeside
Brown Pelican amazing flight and wing span

Pairs of Brown Pelicans are monogamous for a single season but the pair bond extends only to the nesting area; away from the nest, mates are independent.

Pelicans blown off course in Tucson
Brown Pelicans in Arizona

From the fossil record, it is known that pelicans have been around for over 40 million years.  Brown Pelicans live on both coasts in the United States.

Lakeside Park pelican heron egret Arizona
Brown Pelican, Great Blue Heron, Great White Egret

Nesting and roosting birds are very sensitive to human disturbance, load noises from boats etc…  Nest disturbance is the biggest reason for a bird to abandon its nest. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to tamper with, or destroy active nests of native wild birds. If there are eggs or babies – you cannot touch the nest or harass the birds in any way.

Brown Pelicans reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years of age.  Adult Brown Pelicans have few natural predators.

migrating birds in Arizona
Great Blue Heron and Brown Pelican at Lakeside Park

Quick Brown Pelican Facts:

  • Young pelicans feed by sticking their bills into their parents’ throats
  • Pelicans build large nest structures on the ground, in trees, or on vegetation
  • The nesting season can extend from January through October
  • Brown pelicans normally lay three eggs and the adults share incubation duties
  • They can dive from 60 feet in the air
  • Brown pelicans can live up to 40 years old
  • A pelican’s throat pouch can hold over 2 gallons of water

If you see Brown Pelicans in Arizona PLEASE Call AZ Game and Fish at 520-290-9453 and let them know.

The difference between drought tolerant and drought resistant plants?

Define drought tolerant.  What is a drought resistant plant? Here is the difference between drought tolerant (true desert plant) and drought resistant (originated in semi-arid places).

A flower or plant that has naturally evolved to survive periods of drought with little water and has the ability to tolerate substantial dehydration of their tissues and organs is drought tolerant.  Xerophytes are the BEST drought tolerant plants, shrubs, trees, and cacti.

cactus plants use little water are heat tolerant
Drought tolerant Saguaro Cactus and Prickly Pear Cactus

Cacti and many plants survive on little water and make Xeriscape not only essential but pleasing to the eye. Derived from the Greek word “xeros”, meaning “dry” and combined with landscape, xeriscape means gardening with less than average water.

drought resistant landscape yard
flowering, hairy cactus with drought tolerant agave plants

Many xerophyte plants have specialized tissues for storing water, as in the stems of cacti and the leaves of succulents. Others have thin, narrow leaves, or even spines, for minimizing water loss.  Xerophyte leaves often have abundant stomata to maximize gas exchange during periods in which water is available, and the stomata are recessed in depressions, which are covered with fine hairs to help trap moisture in the air.

drought resistant tolerant bushes in yard design
xeriscape yard with XEROMORPHIC plants like cactus, yucca, ocotillo

Drought tolerant plants have adapted by making use of either C4 Carbon Fixation or CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions.

xerophyte plants best drought resistant
A drought tolerant Joshua Tree and Yucca Cactus in this photo

In a plant using full CAM, the stomata, in the leaves, remain shut during the day to reduce the loss of water as vapor, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide (CO2). The CO2 is stored and then used during photosynthesis, which is the process of capturing the suns energy.

what is drought tolerant and resistant plants
Saguaro cactus and Palo Verde Tree are well – adapted drought tolerant plants.

CAM is particularly good for arid conditions because CO2 can be absorbed at night, allowing the pores on the leaves to stay closed during the day and thus reducing water loss. A easy way to explain it is drought tolerant plants can slow down metabolism.

Blue agave cactus plant with spike leaves in desert
Lovely Agave titanota BLUE variety

High elasticity of the cytoplasm and the capacity to withstand compression of the cells during dehydration are characteristic of drought-tolerant plants. What is cytoplasm? An easy definition of cytoplasm is a gel-like casing, covering – containing all the contents of the cell’s organisms, except the nucleus. Most metabolic (chemical reactions) pathways occur in the cytoplasm.

ocotillo tall cactus for drought tolerant yard arizona
Ocotillo Cactus plant in the desert

Not to be confused with drought-tolerant plants, Drought Resistant plants are not true desert plants. Many have originated in semi-arid regions, the area around the Mediterranean, Latin America and sub-Sahara.

Here are pictures of drought resistant plants that are not native desert plants.

color ideas for your desert low water, garden
colors of flowering lantana drought resistant plants next to oleander bushes

Lantana

drought tolerant and heat resistant flowering plants of the desert
The New Gold Lantana along with Trailing Purple Lantana plants
drought tolerant flowering lantana plants
White, Red (Texas) and Gold Lantana drought resistant desert plants

Lantana, in the verbena family, is a highly attractive drought resistant flowering plant that originated in tropical regions of Africa and the Americas.

drought tolerant and heat resistant purple lavender plant
lavender shrub is drought resistant

Lavender

top best drought tolerant flowering plants
young lavender drought resistant plant

This plant has it all: Drought resistant, it looks great, it smells wonderful, and it’s as tough as nails (as long as it’s not too wet).  Lavender is in the mint family and originated in the Old World around the Canary Islands, Africa, India, and Asia.

best drought tolerant heat resistant desert plants
Yarrow, yellow flowering drought resistant plants

Yarrow

Not only does yarrow tolerate heat and drought like a champion, but this easy-growing perennial is also a great cut flower.  Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, originated in regions of Asia and Europe.

best drought tolerant heat resistant desert plants
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) drought resistant plants

There is a difference between drought resistant and drought tolerant plants. Knowing the difference can save you considerable heartache.

Diseases of trees – mistletoe growing on a tree – infected Mesquite trees

Does your tree look like it has a disease?  It is common for Mistletoe to invade a host tree and become a parasite.  Desert mistletoe is a true evergreen plant and is an obligate (binding) parasite on its host.

Mistletoe is one of the main causes of diseases in mesquite trees and is native to much of the eastern third of the U. S.  Mistletoe plant berries are said to be poisonous, but birds do eat them.

mesquite tree disease, infected with mistletoe

Desert Mistletoe or mesquite mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, is a parasitic plant native to southern California, Nevada, Arizona, and Baja California. It can be found in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts under 4000 feet elevation.  The female Mistletoe plant produces red seeds that the birds love to eat.

disease growth on desert trees
Desert Mistletoe on trees, birds eat the berries

Mistletoe seed and red berries are an important part of the desert bird’s diet.  The seeds are “sticky” and birds bring them to branches of trees where they perch.   The seeds germinate and grow inside the tree. The species most affected are the leguminous trees in the low desert including:

  • mesquite,  Prosopis
  • palo verde,  Cercidium
  • ironwood, Olneya
  • acacia,  Acacia greggii  

The mistletoe seeds germinate and grow into the tree with sinkers (organs acting much like the roots of a plant).  The mistletoe sinkers absorb water and nutrients from the tree host.  These mistletoe roots grow inside the tree for some time eventually producing the conspicuous growth of stems, leaves and bulges.

witches broom infection on a desert tree
tree infected with Mistletoe – called a witches broom

Mistletoe takes a long time to kill a tree but certainly causes decline.  Mistletoe infections cause swelling and witches’ brooms  (what is called the growth of stems seen in the photo below).  Old severe infections may result in swollen areas of dead wood that are brittle and break easily.  These limbs should be removed if they pose any danger.

honey mesquite tree with disease growth
mistletoe growing in tree, wear some gloves and remove the growth manually

The only way to control mistletoe is to remove it manually.  Put some gloves on and remove the mistletoe growth and stems with your hands.  Manual removal does not kill the mistletoe because it is growing inside the trees tissue; but good control can be achieved by removing it.

Pruning out heavily infected branches may help… but that decision is usually based on how much can be pruned without destroying the beauty of the tree.  Also, it is impossible to know if you have pruned far enough away from the infection to get all the mistletoe that is growing inside the host.

mistletoe disease in tree

Wrapping pruned sites is not recommended since such procedures do not kill the mistletoe and may easily cause more harm than good to the tree. Sprays sold for mistletoe control will remove the outside growth just as pruning, but they do not kill the part of the mistletoe plant inside the tree.

Is Purple Texas Sage edible? Eating a Texas Ranger Plant

Can you eat purple sage, Texas Sage?  This perennial evergreen shrub with grayish leaves and budding purple flowers is actually not sage at all.

shrub with purple flowers arizona
Purple flowering Texas Ranger Sage Plant

Rarely called Silverleaf, this popular bush is predominately specified as Texas Ranger Plant or Purple Texas Sage.

purple flowering shrub
Leucophyllum frutescens, Texas sage

Leucophyllum frutescens is the scientific name for this Sage Bush, and it is a member of the figwort family.

white cloud sage bush
white flower, White Cloud, Texas Sage

Texas Sage shrubs with white flowers are called White Cloud.  According to the National Gardening Association, Texas Sage is one plant that is most often ignored by deer unless they are starving.

bushes shrubs with white flowers
Purple and White Texas Sage bush varieties
Phoenix shrubs with purple flowers
Purple Flowers Texas Sage bushes in AZ TX CA

Rabbits and other small animals in the desert will not eat this Purple Sage either.  It is safe to say that this white or purple flowering bush is critter proof!!

texas purple flowering plant
purple flowering bush in AZ, TX

After several hours of research we were not able to find any evidence of the Texas Sage plant being edible.  Looks like it is best to leave this luscious purple shrub to the bees and the butterflies.  

purple flower bus
Texas Sage bush, Leucophyllum frutescens

Eating Texas Sage is not recommended.  Nonetheless, it is a gorgeous addition to your sun-filled garden!  White or purple Texas Sage is a popular ornamental plant that does best in dry, warm locations.

Tucson bushes with purple flowers
Purple flowering bushes sage in the desert

This flowering desert bush can grow up to 8 feet high!  In Arizona, Purple Sage is often used as a border or hedge for yards.

Texas Ranger shrubs plants
Purple flowering Sage Bushes

To learn more information regarding care and pruning your Texas Sage; check our sage category.

Encountering a Gila Monster or Mexican Beaded Lizard – lizards protected by law

The exotic color pattern of the gila monster (pronounced – Hee la) is black with pinkish or yellow spots and bands.  Its unusual skin is beaded in appearance. Native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Mexico, the Gila Monster is a species of venomous lizards.  This lizard is named for the Gila River in Arizona where they used to be abundant.

pink and black stripes marks fat lizard
Gila Monster desert lizard

Towards late summer, gila monsters become active after thunderstorms. Although this lizard is venomous, it moves very slow and represents very little threat to us humans.  People often kill gila monsters due to fears; even though it is protected under Arizona state law.

If you encounter a Gila monster remain calm. This lizard will move on if left alone.  Alert anyone in the vicinity and keep your pets away.  For questions or advice call your Game and Fish Department.

 arizona slow lizard gila monster
pink and black lizard – gila monster

Do not worry or have fears; the Gila monster tries hard to avoid humans and other large animals. To warn off potential predators, gila monster lizards will open their mouth very wide and hiss.

poisonous lizards venomous
gila monsters open mouth and hiss as a warning

What to do if you are bitten by a gila monster?  —  A Gila monster bite is painful to humans but rarely causes death. The biggest problem you will have is trying to get the lizard to release its grip!  The bite is strong,  you may need to fully submerge the biting lizard in water to break free from the bite.  If there is no water, you can use a stick to pry the gila monster’s jaw open. Be careful after you have dislodged it.

black striped large lizards - arizona
slow moving gila monster lizard

Remain calm if bitten and get to a medical facility immediately.  Remove all jewelry from the bitten limb and keep it below heart level.  DO NOT use a constriction bandage or a tourniquet on a gila monster bite.

picture of beaded gila monster
gila monster lizard face

The Gila monster eats primarily reptile eggs, frogs, insects and worms – feeding only five to ten times a year in the wild. They have poor eyesight but an extremely acute sense of smell which they use to locate prey. The sense of smell of the gila monster is so keen that it can accurately follow a trail made by a rolling egg.

They live in burrows, thickets, and under rocks with ready access to moisture.  Gila Monsters are solitary and live in desert and semidesert areas.  They are inactive much of the time.  When spring arrives, gila monsters begin to hunt again. During the summer the lizards only come out in the evening.

lizard looks like a dragon
gila monster beaded skin lizard

Breeding season for Gila monsters is usually early summer. The female digs a hole, lays a clutch of oval-shaped eggs. Four months later, the baby Gila monsters break out of their eggs and crawl to the surface. The Gila monster may live up to 20 years in the wild, or 30 in captivity. This heavy, slow-moving gila monster, is the only venomous lizard native to the United States and one of only two known species of venomous lizards in the world, the other being its close relative, the Mexican Beaded Lizard.

mexican beaded lizard
mexican beaded lizard

The beaded lizard is larger (2-3 feet in length) than the Gila monster (up to 2 feet in length);  but has duller coloration with black and yellowish bands.  The Mexican beaded lizard’s venom contains enzymes used in manufacturing drugs to treat diabetes. Once again people kill these lizards because of fears and superstitions.  The beaded lizard is protected by Mexican law and it dwells within the range of several protected areas.

protected desert lizard species
Mexican Beaded Lizard

In 1952, the Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, became the first venomous animal in North America to be given legal protection;  it is illegal to “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect the Gila Monster.  Gila monsters are listed as Near Threatened.