©Bert Gildart: Here at the base of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona, various species of cholla are now in full bloom and the flowers the species produces are absolutely gorgeous. But it requires only the slightest of brushes against the plant to appreciate the names: Staghorn cholla, Teddy bear – and Jumping Cholla. The last of the names is applied because the spines literally seem to be jumping from the plant and then clinging to its victim.
The biology of the species is fascinating, but just as interesting are some of the ways in which various species of wildlife have managed to use the most irritating aspects of the plant to work for them.
This, then, is a brief portfolio picturing the plant’s biology as well as a few of the species of wildlife that have made the almost dangerous aspects of the cholla work for it.
L to R: Jumping Cholla backdropped by Superstition Mountains, flower of cholla, fruit of cholla.
Cholla has evolved to produce both flowers and spines from the same location known as the areole (see middle image just below). Spines, of course, are the structures used for one of two purposes. They either protect or they are used to help in the process of dissemination. Spines are of two types and if you look closely at the pad of this jumping cholla (again, middle below), you’ll see two types of spines, the central spine and the radials. When touched, spines of this cholla break off in joints and it only takes the merest of touches and wham – you’ve got an unwanted passenger.
I carry needle nose pliers, and that’s generally what it takes to pull one off. Obviously, the spines are painful.
Cholla also produces a fruit (above right) and I’ve back dropped its beauty (below right) with a sunset. Fruit of course is also associated with flowers, and the flowers of cholla are absolutely gorgeous.
L to R: Pack rats use the joints, which contain those lethal looking spines to protect its nest, somehow dragging them by the hundreds to their sites; areole of cholla showing both central and radial spines; cholla bacdropped by setting sun, creating a deceptively inviting setting.
Some species of wildlife have somehow learned to use the cholla joints for protection and one is the packrat (above left). Janie and I found this nest immediately outside our camper. Not only had the packrat collected cholla, but it had also pulled in a corn husk and several different candy wrappers.
To me the most incredible adaptation is the one made by the Curved-billed Thrasher. Somehow it avoids the spines and creates a nest deep with a cactus plant, most typically, the Jumping Cholla, probably because it grows up to 12 feet tall. Finding a nest (me that is) meant carefully pushing aside cactus branches and then invariably using pliers to extract cholla joints. In this manner I found four nests, only one of which was properly oriented for photography.
Though "everything cholla" is interesting, the most fascinating of associations is that of the Curved-billed Thrasher with an environment that seems almost lethal.
Curved-billed Thrasher emerges from nest to investigate the noise created by ravens flying overhead. The bird quickly accepted my photo blind.
I set up a blind and then spent almost eight full hours waiting for the nesting Curved-billed Thrasher to assume the proper pose. For me this provided one of my most exciting photographic challenges of the season and I was delighted with several of the results. I’m hoping that before we leave the young will hatch and that I can see them perched on a thorn.
For me, the adaptation this Thrasher has made to almost lethal environment symbolizes one of the greatest challenges in this complex world of natural history, and I feel privileged to have seen it here at the base of the Superstition Mountains near our Lost Dutchman Campsite.
AIRSTREAM TRAVEL FOUR YEARS:
*National Bison Range
4th ed. Autographed by the Authors
Hiking Shenandoah National Park
Hiking Shenandoah National Park is the 4th edition of a favorite guide book, created by Bert & Janie, a professional husband-wife journalism team. Lots of updates including more waterfall trails, updated descriptions of confusing trail junctions, and new color photographs. New text describes more of the park’s compelling natural history. Often the descriptions are personal as the Gildarts have hiked virtually every single park trail, sometimes repeatedly.
$18.95 + Autographed Copy
Big Sky Country is beautiful
Montana Icons: 50 Classic Symbols of the Treasure State
Montana Icons is a book for lovers of the western vista. Features photographs of fifty famous landmarks from what many call the “Last Best Place.” The book will make you feel homesick for Montana even if you already live here. Bert Gildart’s varied careers in Montana (Bus driver on an Indian reservation, a teacher, backcountry ranger, as well as a newspaper reporter, and photographer) have given him a special view of Montana, which he shares in this book. Share the view; click here.
$16.95 + Autographed Copy
What makes Glacier, Glacier?
Glacier Icons: 50 Classic Views of the Crown of the Continent
Glacier Icons: What makes Glacier Park so special? In this book you can discover the story behind fifty of this park’s most amazing features. With this entertaining collection of photos, anecdotes and little known facts, Bert Gildart will be your backcountry guide. A former Glacier backcountry ranger turned writer/photographer, his hundreds of stories and images have appeared in literally dozens of periodicals including Time/Life, Smithsonian, and Field & Stream. Take a look at Glacier Icons
$16.95 + Autographed Copy