What season is it

A certain groundhog is fond of predicting the end of the east coast’s winter – but it is unclear if these augurings have any bearing on the Sonoran desert, thousands of miles away. Perhaps the generalities of large-scale climate oscillations (El Niño, for example) couple these two parts of the world. This year the groundhog was right – more winter for the desert.

A heavy snow fell this weekend, blanketing cactus and jojoba alike. The day before this storm I was hiking in 85°F sunny weather!

Snows like this can mean death for many plants if they freeze. This year, I think not much damage occurred. Many annual plants had already flowered and set seed, ensuring their fitness for the next year. And many larger perennial plants have enough thermal inertia that a short day-long storm is insufficient to freeze-kill their meristems. There are many ways to adapt to the freak winter storms that characterize the desert!

Above are two examples of species shown in the melting snow – the flower is Dichelostemma capitatum (Asparagaceae) and the larger plant is an Echinocereus (Cactaceae). Their common names are bluedicks and hedgehog cactus, respectively. A rare view of the desert in winter.

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