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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Kade

Brittlebush, brittlebush and more brittlebush at Bartlett Lake

Decided to get out of the house yesterday and take a ride to Bartlett Lake. It is approximately 35 miles from our house.

We are rejoicing at our choice of cars right now. The Tesla Model S comes with an air filtration feature called the "Bioweapon Defense Mode". Boasting a HEPA air filter system, Tesla states that it is 10 times bigger than regular cars' air filtering systems. The HEPA air filter system removes "99.7% of fine particulate matter and gaseous pollutants, as well as bacteria, viruses, pollen, and mold spores."

I made sure it was on this mode for the entire trip!!

Bartlett Lake is a reservoir that was formed by the damming of the Verde River. It is downstream and to the south of Horseshoe Reservoir. Constructed in 1936–39 by the Salt River Project, the Bartlett Dam and reservoir were named for Bill Bartlett, a government surveyor. Bartlett Lake was the first reservoir built on the Verde River.

Bartlett Lake is a popular recreation area in the Tonto National Forest. The facilities at the lake are managed by the Forest Service. After wet winters, the Bartlett Lake area often has fine displays of spring wildflowers. With all the rain we had this winter, I assumed there would be more wildflowers. This year seems to be the year for brittlebush and desert marigolds.

The Bartlett Reservoir area is noted for the spectacular vistas of the Desert Mountains and the Sonoran plant life. A fair portion of the west side of the reservoir is devoted to camping and picnicking. Bartlett has been a favorite with anglers since Bartlett Dam was constructed in 1939. Several state-record fish have been caught there. The 1977 Small-mouth Bass state record tipped the scales at seven pounds. The carp state record still stands at 37 lbs. 5 oz. Flathead Catfish lurk in the depths. “Fish City” near Bartlett Flat is a fish-habitat improvement project.

Brittlebush is a member of the sunflower family.

The hairs on the brittlebush plant serve several purposes. Many desert plants have hairy leaves or stems. The hairs act like a blanket over the leaves to protect them from the heat and cold. The white color reflects the sunlight helping to keep the plant cool. They also help trap any moisture and reduce the amount of water lost.

Brittlebush as far as you can see

The red shrubs are chuparosa.The plant takes its common name from the Spanish word for hummingbird (its pollinator). If Arizona’s hummingbirds could vote on a state flower, it would be this shrub. Chupasoa blooms through the long mild winter. Thin, pale green stems twine and twist forming a loose, rounded form The thin, tubular scarlet red flowers are prolific on the plant in winter. Chuparosa typically grows at a moderate to fast rate up to 5 feet tall by 8 feet across.

Now, this a a tall saguaro!! The pink bush to the left front of it is a fairy duster.

A saguaro can grow to be over 40 feet (12 m) tall. It is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican State of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the state flower of Arizona. Its scientific name is given in honor of Andrew Carnegie. In 1994, Saguaro National Park, near Tucson, Arizona, was designated to help protect this species and its habitat.

Saguaros have a relatively long lifespan, often exceeding 150 years. They may grow their first side arm any time from 75–100 years of age, but some never grow any arms. Arms are developed to increase the plant's reproductive capacity, as more apices led to more flowers and fruit.

A saguaro is able to absorb and store considerable amounts of rainwater, visibly expanding in the process, while slowly using the stored water as needed. This characteristic enables the saguaro to survive during periods of drought. The saguaro cactus is a common image in Mexican culture and American Southwest films.

The growth rate of saguaros is strongly dependent on precipitation; saguaros in drier western Arizonagrow only half as fast as those in and around Tucson. Saguaros grow slowly from seed, and may only be 0.25 in (0.64 cm) tall after 2 years. Cuttings rarely root and when they do, they do not go through the juvenile growth phase which gives a different appearance. Since 2014, the National Register of Champion Trees listed the largest known living saguaro in the United States in Maricopa County, Arizona, measuring 45.3 feet (13.8 meters) high with a girth of 10 feet (3.1 meters); it has an estimated age of 200 years and survived damage in the 2005 Cave Creek Complex Fire. The tallest saguaro ever measured was an arm less specimen found near Cave Creek, Arizona. It was 78 feet (23.8 meters) in height before it was toppled in 1986 by a windstorm. They are stem succulents and can hold large amounts of water; when rain is plentiful and the saguaro is fully hydrated it can weigh between 3,200–4,800 pounds (1,500–2,200 kg).

Saguaros have a very large root network that can extend up to 30 m (98 ft), and long taproots of up to 1 m (3.3 ft) deep.

Saguaros may take between 20 and 50 years to reach a height of 1 m (3.3 ft).

Ocotillo are a large shrub with long cane-like unbranched spiny stems that grow from a short trunk. Ocotillo is not a true cactus. For much of the year, the plant appears to be an arrangement of large spiny dead sticks, although closer examination reveals that the stems are partly green. With rainfall, the plant quickly becomes lush with small (2–4 cm), ovate leaves, which may remain for weeks or even months. Dense clusters of red tubular flowers grow from the end of the stems from March through June. There is much discussion on exactly how old an ocotillo can live. The bright crimson flowers appear especially after rainfall in spring, summer, and occasionally fall. Flowers are clustered indeterminately at the tips of each mature stem. Individual flowers are mildly zygomorphic (having only one plane of symmetry, as in a pea or snapdragon; bilaterally symmetrical) and are pollinated by hummingbirds and native carpenter bees.

Although some studies indicate the ocotillo can live well over 100 years, a good estimate is 60 years.

Cholla cactus represent more than 20 species of the Opuntia genus. Cholla is a term applied to various shrubby cacti with cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. These stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions: water storage, photosynthesis and flower production.

Like most cactus, chollas have tubercles - small, wart-like projections on the stems from which sharp spines, actually modified leaves grow. But chollas are the only cactus with papery sheaths covering their spines. These sheaths are often bright and colorful, providing the cactus with its distinctive appearance.

Most cholla cactus have orange or greenish-yellow flowers with a variety of colors, even among the same species. Most species bloom April through June, depending on local conditions. Stems and joints vary in width, length, shape, and color, as well as in the profusion of spines and glochids. Chollas may appear as ground creepers, shrubs or trees, varying in height from less than a foot (Club or Devil Cholla) to as much as 15 feet (Chain-Fruit Cholla).

Prickly pears are also members of the Opuntia genus, but their branches are manifested as pads rather than cylindrical joints. Opuntia are unique because of their clusters of fine, tiny, barbed spines called glochids. Found just above the cluster of regular spines, glochids are yellow or red in color and detach easily from the pads or stems. Glochids are often difficult to see and more difficult to remove, once lodged in the skin.

There were a few poppies along the road to the lake. It was quite windy and it was the wrong time of day to photograph yellow/orange flowers but I had to at least try.

Surprised and happy to see a bee!


Gilia and lupine



Loved the light reflecting off the pods.

This cactus is blossoming near the entrance to our development.

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