Tonto National Monument Favorites

  • Hedgehog Cactus
    Hedgehog Cactus
    by Stephen-KarenConn
  • Jojoba:  (Simmondsia chinensis)
    Jojoba: (Simmondsia chinensis)
    by Stephen-KarenConn
  • Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
    Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
    by Stephen-KarenConn

Most Recent Favorites in Tonto National Monument

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    Honey Mesquite

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 18, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa)

    Mesquite trees are rich with interdependent life, a protected place with shade, moisture and nutrients. The trees line dry washes, exist as individual trees or grow together to form small forests. The trees and the area around them are alive with many plants and animals. The tree canopy provides shelter for birds. Mammals also enjoy the shelter under the canopy, especially in the summer. Twice the number of fleshy stemmed plants grows under mesquite shelters as in the spaces between the trees. Well over a million flowers rich in pollen and nectar are produced each year drawing many insects and their predators. Seedpods are an important food source for many wildlife species, including insects.

    Larger mammals support the trees by eating the pods. Seeds passing through the bodys of the animals are more likely to germinate, in part because the digestive juices kill seed eating bugs. Otherwise, a few years of weathering is needed to release the seeds from the endocarp and start new trees. Smaller mammals gather and store the seedpods, sometimes scratching the seeds in the process, which also begins the mesquite growth process. Packrats are one such animal. They collect the pods, carefully sort them from other seeds and store them in their middens. In lean years, when their own harvest was used up, native people knew to collect the pods hoarded by the packrats. Mesquite trees are an important part of the desert environment.

    Honey Mesquite

    Honey Mesquite Honey Mesquite
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    Catclaw Acacia

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 18, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Catclaw Acacia (Acacia greggii)


    Living at elevations from sea level to 5000 feet, catclaw acacia trees often form thorny thickets along washes and streams. Deciduous, this large shrub or small tree can reach heights of 20 feet and ages to 130 years old. The scaly gray to brown trunks may be as thick as one foot in diameter. The branch and trunk woods were used by the Salado for firewood and tools. Each spring new leaflets return. The small leaflet size prevents too much moisture loss during photosynthesis

    Even in full canopy, the leaflets are not dense enough to block the view through the branches. Animals browse the leaves at times of low forage. Blooming heaviest in April and May, flowers continue to appear into October. The yellow, puffy flowers attract many different insects and are an important source of nectar for bees. Part of the legume family, the flowers further categorize the plant into the mimosa subfamily. In June, pods begin ripening. The Salado ground the pods, possibly to make a mush or cake. Once outside the pod, the wax coating of the seeds delays germination for several years. One more important resource used by the Salado.

    Catclaw Acacia

    Catclaw Acacia

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    ain-Fruit Cholla

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 18, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Chain-Fruit Cholla (Opuntia fulgida)

    Pronounced "choya," this tree-type cholla is also known as the jumping cactus. Ranging from south central Arizona into most of Sonora, Mexico, these cacti prefer the finer soils of the valleys and lower bajadas. With their many trunks and branches, these cacti can reach heights of eight feet or more. In good soils the height may pass 12 feet and be as wide.

    New growth occurs in two ways. A segment of dense spines grows until the start of the dry season. New growth is begun in the new season with the addition of a new segment. A second growth occurs to extend the lengths of the chains each year. Small pink flowers develop as new joints on the previous year's fruits. Flowers open in the afternoons during the summer months of May to August. By the next morning, fruit begins to form from the dried flowers, adding to the older branches and hanging fruit chains. Chains can measure up to two feet long.

    Chain-Fruit Cholla

    Chain-Fruit Cholla
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    Buckhorn Cholla

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 18, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Buckhorn Cholla (Opuntia acanthocorpa)

    Named for the forked branches resembling deer antlers, buckhorn cholla might easily have been named adaptable cholla. Throughout its range of southern California to eastern Arizona, a buckhorn's characteristics vary with almost every mountain range and valley population. Is this a process of evolving into a new species or the ability to adapt to the needs and conditions of different environments?

    Living on rocky and sandy slopes to 4000 feet in elevation, a buckhorn's branching stems spread the plant to ten feet across. With an average height of three feet, buckhorns appear bushy with many thin branches. With a short trunk and greater heights to thirteen feet tall, it appears tree-like. The stems, light to dark green, grow six to ten inches long.

    Buckhorn Cholla

    Buckhorn Cholla
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    Banana Yucca

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 18, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Banana Yucca (Yucca baccata)

    A champion of utility, the yucca provided the Salado with both food and fiber. Buds, flowers, and fruits are all edible. Native people preserved the large, banana-like fruits by roasting them and pressing the pulp into cakes, which were dried in the desert sun. Its sharp-tipped leaves made excellent awls, and stringy leaf fibers were made into skirts, sandals, baskets, string, rope, nets and snares. Even the roots were useful, providing an excellent soap and shampoo.

    Banana Yucca

    Banana Yucca
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    Ocotillo

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 17, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Ocotillo (Foquieria splendens)

    The ocitillo is one of the oddest and most distinctive plants of the southwestern deserts. Despite its heavily thorned stems, this plant is not a cactus, but a member of the candlewood family. Leaves appear in the spring after the winter rainy season and are dropped to conserve moisture when the soil dries out. when the semi-dormant period is broken by heavy rains, the ocotillos come into full leaf again within a few days. This cycle may reoccur several times during a single growing season.

    Ocotillo

    Ocotillo
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    Brittlebush

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 17, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)

    Brittlebush, with its striking green-gray leaves and bright yellow flower heads, is one of the most conspicuous shrubs of the southwestern deserts. In early spring, brilliant displays often carpet the desert mountains and hills. The brittle wood extrudes a clear resin which was used as a glue or smeared warm over the body to relieve pain. In periods of severe drought, almost all the leaves are dropped, leaving the brownish-gray stems to store water until the rains return.

    Brittlebush

    Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)
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    Jojoba

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 17, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis)

    Jojoba is diocious, meaning the male and female flowers are found on separate plants. The acorn-like nuts, which appear on the female plants in late summer, sometimes served as food. More importantly, a thick rich wax was pressed from the nuts and applied to burns, wounds and sores as a medical salve, much like vaseline. Today Jojoba is grown as an agricultural crop in many parts of the world.

    Jojoba

    Jojoba:  (Simmondsia chinensis)
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    Barrell Cactus

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 17, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Barrell Cactus (Ferocactus wislizenii)
    Two varieties of barrel cactus are identified at Tonto National Monument. They are similar in many ways. Both are usually unbranched unless the growing tip of the cacti is damaged. The pleated stems allow expansion for sudden storms and shrinkage during dry times. Located on the outer rib of the pleats, the longer central spine sticks out from the spine cavity or areole and is ringed by other small spines. The barrels are usually globe-shaped, becoming more columnar as they grow to heights of ten feet or less. Rodents, birds, mule deer, bighorn sheep and javelina eat fruits and seeds. Cactus beetles, jackrabbits, packrats and javelina, eat the plant itself. It is estimated they live for more than a hundred years. There the similarities end.

    Sometimes confused for young saguaro, the California barrel grows from sandy alluvial plains to steep rocky slopes. Their red, yellow, or brown central spines are flat and curved at the tips, but not hooked. They are dense enough to hide the stem beneath. The short, funnel-shaped yellow flowers appear in March and April among the dense spines of the cacti stem tips.

    Barrell Cactus

    Barrell Cactus Barrell Cactus
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    Hedgehog Cactus

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 17, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Hedgehog Cactus (Echinocereus engelmannii)

    Growing in clumps of 2 to 12, the stems of this small cactus resemble spine covered cucumbers standing on end. The delicate purple flowers close each night and open in the warmth of the following day.

    The first cactus to bloom in early spring, its blossoms were a welcome sight to the Salado for they signaled relief from the monotonous winter diet of dried foods. Once the spines are removed, the red juicy fruit can be eaten without further preparation.

    Hedgehog Cactus

    Hedgehog Cactus
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    Desert Plants: Teddy Bear Cholla

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 5, 2006

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    Favorite thing: One of the things Karen and I enjoyed most at Tonto National Monument was the opportunity it gave us to discover and learn more about the amazing plant life of the Sonoran Desert. Here in the "General Tips" section I will share photos we took of some of these plants, along with the descriptions taken mostly from plaques along the "Cactus Trail."

    Teddy Bear Cholla (Opuntia bigelovii)

    Imagine the misery this cactus caused the scantily clad Salado people as they roamed the hillsides gathering wild food and hunting deer and other creatures. After blooming, the developing fruit does not contain viable seeds. This cholla relies on another method to grow new plants. The joints break off very easily and root nearby or are carried by animals to other places to root and grow. For poor hikers, the teddy bear’s joints stick to the skin at the slightest contact, even seeming to jump at a victim, hence its other name, “jumping cactus.” Cholla spines penetrate deeply and are very painful to remove. Cactus wrens find protected nesting sites among the teddy bear branches, and woodrats use the cholla joints to barricade their burrows

    Teddy Bear Cholla

    Teddy Bear Cholla Teddy Bear Cholla
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    Sotol

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 5, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Sotol: (Dasylirion wheeleri)

    Sotol is frequently confused with its close relative, yucca. However its saw-toothed, ribbon-like leaves and tiny flowers clustered on caterpillar-shaped spikes distinguish it from the yucca's smooth-edged leaves and bell-like blossoms. Indians ate the large budding flower stalk after roasting it in stone-lined pits. Many of these roasting pits can still be found throughout the area. Leaf fibers were used for mats, sandals, coarse ropes and other household items.

    Sotol

    Sotol
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    Prickly Pear

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 5, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Prickly Pear (Opuntia chlorotica, Opuntia engelmannii, and Opuntia macrocentra)

    A cacti seen in more places than just the desert is the prickly pear. Living for 30 or more years, various species range from southern Canada to southern South America in arid deserts, tropical woodlands and high mountains. Three varieties of prickly pear live at Tonto. Englemann's, black-spined, and pancake are their common names.

    Stems or pads of the prickly pear grow in distinctly jointed segments. These joints continue to grow until the dry season begins. New growth begins with a new pad. Whether or not they have spines, they have glochids. Glochids are small to minute barbed spines that are very sharp and brittle and easily detatched by anything that touches it.

    Blooming in May, each yellow flower lasts only a single day, some aging to an orange color. Fruit, called tuna in Spanish, ripen to purple and red in July and August. In addition to young pads, the Salado harvested the fruit for food. The juice squeezed from the pads has been used for hundreds of years to strengthen adobe mortar.

    Prickly Pear

    Prickly Pear Desert Scene: Prickly Pear in Foreground
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    Saguaro Cactus

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 5, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Saguaro Cactus (Carnegiea gigantea)

    The saguaro (sah WAH ro) is a species of cactus living only in the Sonoran Desert, mainly in southern Arizona and the state of Sonora, Mexico. They live from sea level to about 4,000 feet in elevation, preferring well drained soils of plains, hills and slopes.

    Tonto National Monument is near the northeastern edge of saguaro habitat as their sensitivity to frost and freezing limits contains their range. In this rugged Arizona Upland region, saguaros are most common on the warmer east and south facing slopes, growing to an average of 50 feet in height. Growth is a slow process for the saguaro – reaching about a half-inch the first year, about one foot the first fifteen years, about ten feet in 40 to 50 years and from twelve to twenty feet in 75-100 years.

    As the saguaro grows, it is able to absorb more moisture to sustain its growth for longer periods, thus increasing the growth rate. Saguaros take between 50 and 100 years to grow their first arm and some never grow arms. The number of arms does not relate to age, but to the soils and the amount of rainfall. In dryer areas, saguaros are smaller and have fewer arms.

    Occasionally, a cactus develops an abnormal growth of unknown origin, possibly damage of some type to the growing tip. The growing tip enlarges and flattens, creating a giant fan-shaped crest known as cristate, fasciated, or just plain crested. Crested saguaros are more obvious than other crested cactus due to their height.

    Saguaro Cactus

    Saguaro Cactus Woody Ribs of a Dead Saguaro Hillside filled with Saguaro and other Plants
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    Agave

    by Stephen-KarenConn Updated Jan 5, 2006

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    Favorite thing: Agave (Agave chrysantha)
    Not only was this plant native to the area, but the Salado cultivated it in their fields. Slow growing and living at higher elevations on dry, rocky slopes, not enough agave grew without cultivation to supply Salado needs. The whole plant was used. Split flower stalks were used as slats for roofing and as hearth boards for fire making. A leaf's outside skin and inside pulp were eliminated to reveal the fibers within. The sharp point at the leaf end became the needle for the attached fiber thread. Roasted as a whole, the base of the leaf rosette was eaten like an artichoke. The cooked leaf pulp was shaped into cakes. Providing food, fiber, rope, medicine and drinks, the agave was one of the more important plants available to the Salado.

    Agave

    Agave (Agave chrysantha)
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