Familiar… but different

Earlier this week I was able to visit University Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM) Los Arcos in Hermosillo, Sonora. I was thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to visit Dra. Angelina Martínez Yrízar and Dr. Alberto Burquez Montijo, and to meet Dra. Enriquena Bustamente, and to go out in the field with them! I always learn new things while hiking with experts.

The plants in Sonora were familiar, but a little wrong – like a dream where everything is just backwards. We were driving across the Plains of Sonora region of the Sonoran Desert, while I spend most of my time in the Sonoran Uplands region. For example, visitors to Tucson from more temperate regions of the US are often blown away by the spectacularly strange looking plants. A favorite of mine is the ocotillo, Fouquieria splendens, that waves tentacles skyward like a very lost giant kelp:

"What is that?" I remember thinking when I first visited Arizona.
“What is that?” I remember thinking when I first visited Arizona.

The shrub (not a cactus, despite its evil looking thorns!) produces leaves only after rains, and in the springtime sports a brilliant red inflorescence like a gas flare in the night:

Everything blooms. (Except the foothills paloverde and the saguaros, I guess... those come later!)
Ocotillos lurk in among the wildflowers in spring of 2010.

The red flowers are edible. Many of them have a bitter taste to me if the sweet drop of nectar has already been provided to a pollinator:

Also adds a nice flavor to water bottles when added.
Also adds a nice flavor to water bottles when added.

I remember how eagerly I stared at the ocotillos the first year I was in Tucson. Now I look mostly to see if they have leaves, if they have flowers. But arriving in Sonora, I found the ocotillos had more than that – they had trunks and branches!

What is that?!
What is that?!

Just kidding, these were not ocotillos at all, but a different species: the Mexican ocotillo tree, or Fouquieria macdougalii. Their flowers were distinct, and even more enchanting, but I was so busy photographing them I forgot to taste.

They LOOK tasty
They LOOK tasty

Guess I’ll have to go back soon. Gracias para una visita muy buena.

Photo by Dr. Alberto Burquez Montijo
Photo by Dr. Alberto Burquez Montijo

2 thoughts on “Familiar… but different

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