After a relative hiatus of some years, spring has made a phenomenal comeback. This year’s abundance is to be celebrated, as any seasoned Arizonan well knows. While monsoon floral displays tend to be quite consistent, those of spring are mercurial. This year, ample late monsoon and well-spaced winter rains served to saturate soils so thoroughly that a spectacular wildflower display was almost a foregone conclusion as of early February. Still, I must admit sweating it a bit until the first flowers tentatively poked their petals into the air, awaiting various pollinators to arrive.
The virtual carpet of native flowers has, like ecological dominoes, led in turn to a general revival of biodiversity that, unfortunately, seems to be increasingly rare. Here, then, is a partial ‘Who’s Who’ of the players that have made this such a memorable spring.
When I think of the quintessential Sky Islands species representing a spring surfeit, Mexican poppies immediately come to mind. This species can often dominate landscapes, blooming as early as January and continuing as late as early May. While yellows and oranges predominate in their blossoms, a much rarer white-petaled variant can be found here and there.
Joining the poppies are a whole host of other striking wildflowers. Various lupines with mainly purple and pink blooms can dominate local landscapes. Purple Papago lilies (actually related to agaves and yuccas) along with deep yellow mariposa lilies (actually a lily) are perennials – rare among our spring flowers – that attract butterflies.
The list goes on. Pink fairy dusters, which can bloom three times a year, lure in hummingbirds and sphinx moths. Several species of native desert dandelion “exploded” this spring, each with reduced leaves that allay desiccation. A number of phlox species seemingly came out of nowhere, covering the ground in areas where I had not seen them in more than a decade. A species of yellow blazing star, or stickleaf, with small, stellar-shaped yellow flowers now dominates as a dense ground cover in some areas. The kaleidoscope of color has been dazzling, dense, and delightfully disconcerting.
Lured in with the promise of nectar and pollen, butterflies have responded nicely of late. Pipevine swallowtail, painted lady, checkered white, dainty sulfur, southern dogface, Texan crescent, tiny checkerspot, golden-headed scallopwing, and others have added greatly to our spring biodiversity.
These winged wonders along with other insects serve not only as effective pollinators, but also as food for a myriad of other species, such as birds. Thus, there has been a nice influx of migrant, often insectivorous, birds. Lizards too, especially ornate tree lizards and elegant earless lizards have come out in force to soak up the sun and sup upon small insect fare.
All these small vertebrates have not gone unnoticed, as red-tailed and gray hawks along with American kestrels ply the sky, searching for a quick meal. Coachwhips and diamondbacks slither below, seeking the same.
Even the beleaguered honeybee seems to have staged a respectable comeback, as evidenced by the peaches, apricots, plums, and quinces in our organic orchard. Indeed, one could not ask for a more abundant spring, though perhaps we should plan for them.
Gone are the days of “benign neglect” of nature, where life seems like so much window dressing. With so many humans crowding our fragile planet, we must now try to support, promote, encourage, and entice our native species while becoming more self-reliant at every turn.
Thus, I implore you to: plant an orchard tree or two, compost your food waste, grow an organic garden, remove nonnative species from your yard, plant and encourage native plants that attract wildlife, reduce your water use, and in general live more lightly on the planet. The time has past when this was a choice. Now, I feel it is our collective duty.
Vincent Pinto and his wife, Claudia, run RAVENS-WAY WILD JOURNEYS, their Nature Adventure & Conservation organization devoted to protecting and promoting the unique biodiversity of the Sky Islands region. RWWJ offers a wide range of custom-made self-reliance and Earth Stewardship programs. Visit: www.ravensnatureschool.org