An abundance of life

The unique landforms of the Sonoran Desert contribute to the abundance of life found here. The alluvial plains, canyons, talus slopes, and mountains offer different sets of living conditions. For example, the bajada, the area between the valley floor and the foothills, is well drained, and, as such, provides an excellent habitat for cacti, a xerophytic species. The best-known xerophyte of the Sonoran Desert is the stately saguaro cacti, prominent along Ajo Way (SR 99) from Tucson to Kitt Peak.

Even though the soils are shallow on Kitt Peak, there is adequate anchorage for many spring-flowering cacti. Among them are the Prickly Pear, found in all American deserts and identified by their flat stems; the Flat Cream Pincushion, and the Arizona Fishhook (both of genus mammallaria which refers to the nipplelike projections on the stems); the Arizona Rainbow, a "hedgehog" cacti that sports bands of different colors; as well as Cholla, a type of branched cacti. Late summer also has a "bloomer" in the form of the Arizona Fishhook Barrel cacti with its beautiful orange flowers.

Blooming plants on Kitt Peak vary as widely as their names; from the fanciful "fairy duster" (Calliandra eriophylla, a little shrub that belongs to a group that includes acacias and mimosas) to the curious "bladderpod" (Lesquerella, an early-blooming wild-flower). More familiar-sounding plants including columbines, lupines, poppies, geraniums, marigolds, lilies, sage, and thistle, also grace the springtime landscape. Hummingbirds and orioles like the lavender-blossomed New Mexico locust, the yellow-flowering tree tobacco, and hummingbird bushes with orange flowers. And while it may seem unexpected, fungi, too, can be found in this dry climate, as summer monsoons bring ample rainfall to activate spore growth.

While some plants are identified by metal plaques in various places on Kitt Peak, a field guide for desert species is a must for the seriously curious.


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