Among Friends. May 2022. Jay Walking.

Arizonans harbor myths about “our” jays. I often hear folks talking about the blue jays in their yards. Well, yes, they have jays, and they are basically blue, but the proper Blue Jay is an eastern US species that has only been recorded in SE Arizona a couple times. We have four species of “blue jays” in Arizona: the Steller’s, Mexican, Pinyon, and Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay. I’ll focus on the scrub-jay in this essay, but I’ll show examples of the others for comparison. It’s time to set the record straight, so let’s do some jay walking.

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Among Friends. May 2022. Yucca.

While cacti often epitomize “desert” in North America, it’s the yuccas that are widespread and notable representatives of semiarid areas throughout much of the continent from Guatemala to southern Alberta, Baja California to Florida and up the coast to Maryland. There are almost 50 species, at least 14 in Arizona. They are completely dependent upon yucca moths for pollination, but the story is more complex than most of us realize. Let’s take a closer at look at these fascinating plants.

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Wild Wednesday. 6 April 2022. Silktassel.

Shrubs often fail to gather the respect they deserve. They lack the overbearing massiveness of a towering tree or the colorful brilliance of a showy wildflower. However, shrubs completely dominate the chaparral ecosystems in the West, and they create wonderful diversity in the understory of woodlands of oaks, pines, pinyons, and junipers. One of my favorites is Wright’s Silktassel, Garrya wrightii, found throughout Arizona from about 3000-8000 feet, the southern half of New Mexico, the western tip of Texas, and down to central Mexico. Let’s see what makes this shrub so likeable.

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Wild Wednesday. 30 March 2022. Thanks Vermilion!

On the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin was given the nickname “Flycatcher” for his skills at collecting specimens. To us, the word “flycatcher” seems obvious—a bird that catches flies. But as I have often cautioned, names can be deceiving. If you lived in Europe, Asia, or Africa, “flycatcher” would mean a member of the Muscicapidae, a large family of true songbirds collectively known as “chats, robins, and Old World Flycatchers.”

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Among Friends. 28 Feb 2022. Alligator Juniper

One of the most distinctive trees of the Southwest is the Alligator Juniper, well-named for its platy, saurian-like bark. My natural history students had no trouble learning it by appearance, and, with the mnemonic clue, “Johnny Depp,” they quickly caught on to its scientific name, Juniperus deppeana. Of course, an organism is so much more than its name, and the Alligator Juniper is special in so many ways that it earns the limelight in this essay. As you will see, this amazing plant is one of my all-time favorites, very close to my heartwood.

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Among Friends. Goldeneye

Goldeneye! No, not the James Bond movie (though the original James Bond was an ornithologist). I mean the Common Goldeneye, a gorgeous duck very near to my heart (emotionally, not anatomically).

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Among Friends. Mullein

I’ve been mullein over just how to tell the story of a plant that brings out mixed feelings in people. Mulleins are not native to the United States, but the woolly one, at least, is visually familiar to many people who may not know its back story. Why don’t we take a closer look?

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