Monday, January 20, 2020

Sonoran Sketches

Sketch of Ocotillo plant

   The ocotillo is one of my favorite plants, since I first met them while living in California many years ago. After all the time I've spent in the deserts, it is only in the last few days that I've learned they are not cactus. I sure feel dumb! But an easy mistake to make; they grow where cactus grow, they have thorns. I confused thorns with spines; they are not the same thing.
Ocotillo is interesting to draw; many textures, and sometimes small green leaves for contrast and of course the beautiful long curved thorns. Very red flowers crown her stems in the spring.
   Ocotillos bloom in the spring, often even if there is no rain. They provide a dependable food source for migrating hummingbirds with their regular blooms. As with many desert plants, there are numerous ways that humans and other animals use ocotillos.
    A spray of their branches rising up to twenty feet from the rocky ground, topped with trumpets of crimson is a beautiful sight.
    Making sketches here in the desert seems challenging if one is unfamiliar with the terrain. Everything has a spine, thorn or sharp tooth. But it is really not much different to wander here than at home in the Driftless hills. There, checking for ticks before and after sitting in the forest is similar to taking a look around for cactus spines or residents better left alone, such as scorpions and rattlers. 
   So after finding a nice flat rock and a good view, sketching here is rewarding. Every plant has a unique and different shape. Trees, cactus, vines, shrubs, lichen, moss all grow here. There are over 2,000 plants in the Sonoran desert so there is no shortage of subjects to draw. This desert is one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet. Yet zooming by in a car, we see almost nothing but a few tall cactus and a monotone flat land.
   Artists in this area often use very bright colors. Some of that is because of the Spanish and Mexican influence. Brightly colored buildings, blankets and pottery are part of this region's history.  The people who have lived here for thousands of years also developed dramatic and colorful art. But beyond that, the land itself holds an amazing amount of color. Cactus display every color from green to purple, to red, yellow, black, white, browns and some turn purple with cold temperatures.

   Saguaro cross section, above, has a core ring of woody ribs that support the water filled, fibrous body. An old saguaro can weigh thousands of pounds and is a world of food and shelter for many other desert residents.

   The Golden Torch cactus is from South America. Grown in botanical gardens here, it's quite arresting to see when backlit by the sun. Did you know cactus are Western Hemisphere plants? They live from southern South America to northern Canada. There may be one or two species in Africa, but this is home for them. We have cactus in Wisconsin; prickly pear grow in the sandy areas along the Wisconsin River valley.

   The desert, like the prairies, once visited can be hard to forget. They are hidden worlds, full of diverse and unique life, colors that change constantly and a beauty that we have mostly forgotten is how the world should be.
                                                                                  desert beauty


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