January 19, 2010

The Rebirth of the Sonoran Desert - early stages

The first of the three expected storms rolled by yesterday. The rains were less than advertised. Rather, they were mostly just passing showers and drizzle, similar to what we would expect to see on a typical January day in Seattle. But, two more storms are coming in the next few days.

Despite the lack of rain, it is amazing how quickly you start to see the desert perk up with the slightest moisture. The rain, while not heavy, was enough to seep a few inches into the soil. This, in conjuction with a light rain three days ago, has already made a difference. Since most plants in the desert have wide and shallow roots, they are able to soak up even the tiniest precipitation.

It is amazing how quickly some plants respond. Within 72 hours, some of the ocotillos and palo verdes have already begun to sprout new leaves. Once they have fully leafed out, the ocotillos should start producing their long red tubular flowers, which should make the hummingbirds very happy.

It will take a more soaking rain for the large and deep rooted plants to really respond. I await to see the saguaro's expansion. They have an accordian like structure that can contract as the drought continues and can almost immediately expand as they soak up moisture.

I have taken a photo of one specific saguaro that I will return to in the days following the upcoming storms to actually measure how much it expands.

The chuparosa is an important flower for hummingbirds in the desert. They drop their leaves during drought. However, with a tiny bit of water, the flowers immediately begin to bloom and leaves begin to sprout.

One of the most important contributions the winter rains make is for the survival of baby saguaros. With little room for water storage during long droughts, these tiny saguaros have little room for error. They need the shade of larger plants and good rains until they get large enough to make it on their own. This tiny 4" saguaro is probably pretty happy now!

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