Big Bend N.P. in Bloom

It was a very quick trip to Big Bend National Park, and my least active by far. I was in the park for a wedding and was fortunate enough to stay in the lodge where I had 4 walls, electricity, and hot water. I almost felt like I was cheating the system by not camping. I didn't make it down the usual trails so many of my observations were from the roadside.

By the looks of it, I missed peak bloom in the park by a few weeks. The desert had already experienced some pretty hot days and had been drier than average, so the bloom cycle was accelerated somewhat. Even with all of my constraints, I was still able to catch some nice specimens sporting color.

 Chilopsis linearis

Chilopsis linearis

Desert Willow is a staple among low-water, native Texas landscapes and is widely propagated. This ornamental tree has signature trumpet-shaped flowers that occur in shades of purple. There are some strains available with white and burgundy blooms in the nursery industry.

 Tecoma stans

Tecoma stans

Esperanza is another widely-distributed landscape plant in warm climates across the globe. This native occurs with smaller, more-narrow leaves than the nursery hybrids you will come across commercially.

 Penstemon havardii

Penstemon havardii

 Penstemon havardii

Penstemon havardii

I found this Penstemon along the bar ditch where moist soil was a little more readily available. The red torches rising 2'-3' were hard to miss while driving past. This species is restricted to a few counties in the Big Bend region of Texas.

 Leucaena retusa

Leucaena retusa

 Leucaena retusa

Leucaena retusa

 Leucaena retusa

Leucaena retusa

These Golden Ball Lead Trees stopped me in my tracks, There are a few communities found in protected pockets throughout the park, and they were in full bloom the last week of April. The puff-ball blooms are slightly sweet smelling. When this land was foraged by cattle and mismanaged by ranchers in the first part of the 20th century, many of these remote populations were pushed back or lost. Since the establishment of the park, the species have seen a resurgence, along with many other plants.

 Aesclepias asperula

Aesclepias asperula

Another roadside find were these Antelope Horns Milkweeds. They are growing with a slightly narrower leaf than the species in the eastern part of the state, a growth habit that allows them to conserve moisture in the desert.

 Opuntia sp.

Opuntia sp.

There were many species and varieties of Prickly Pear blooming in the park. I have stated before that I do not attempt to identify most Opuntia species because of their ability to cross-breed so easily. Nearly every cactus flower had an accompanying pollinator.

 Grusonia aggeria

Grusonia aggeria

 Grusonia aggeria

Grusonia aggeria

 Grusonia aggeria

Grusonia aggeria

On the very western boundary of the national park is an area of petroglyphs carved by early Native Americans up to 10,000 years ago. There is not much vegetation in this area; so little, in fact, NASA once sent astronauts to train here using the Moon Rover before the Apollo missions. This species is also only found in a few counties of west Texas. The small community was distinguished by the few yellow blooms.

 Echinocereus enneacanthus var. enneacanthus

Echinocereus enneacanthus var. enneacanthus

Again, nearly all of the Echinocereus blooms had already blown, but there were a few stragglers that still showed up. The fuchsia color of this cactus is especially eye-catching. You can see the harsh conditions of this desolate valley show their face in the skin of the cacti.

 Ferocactus hamatacanthus var. hamatacanthus

Ferocactus hamatacanthus var. hamatacanthus

With the Chisos Mountains and Casa Grande (the center peak) in the background, this Ferocactus has found a home in a depression of this large rock.

 Yucca elata

Yucca elata

Because of the lack of winter and early spring rains, many large yuccas were not sending up bloom spikes. There were a few exceptions, however. This large Yucca elata reached as high as 15', including blooms. Mesa de Anguila (Mexico) provided a nice backdrop.

 Baileya multiradiata

Baileya multiradiata

 Baileya multiradiata

Baileya multiradiata

While not the most impressive specimens, these Desert Marigolds gave a splash of color to the sandy banks of the Rio Grande.

 Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens

Opuntia imbricata var. arborescens

The bees were all over this Cholla stand. If you look closely, you can see one out of focus to the left.

 Agave havardiana

Agave havardiana

Along the drive up the Chisos Mountains into the Basin was this large, mature specimen Agave. You can never predict when one will bloom, but I believe it will be in the near future for this guy.

 Krameria erecta

Krameria erecta

 Krameria erecta

Krameria erecta

This species of Krameria is the second of its genus I have knowingly encountered in the park. This species is very low growing; seldom over 12" in height. The blooms are very orchid-like and attractive.

 Echinocereus coccineus

Echinocereus coccineus

 Echinocereus coccineus

Echinocereus coccineus

This Strawberry Cactus was living up to its name while blooming in the high desert. My friend in the car spotted this one from the car, about a 30' scramble up a chert slope. I think the reward was worth the struggle.

 Echinocereus viridiflorus var. russanthus

Echinocereus viridiflorus var. russanthus

This cactus is defined by its rust-colored flowers. I came across a lot of these along the Window View trail and surrounding slopes in the Basin, but only managed to find this one bloom still open.

 (L) Echinocereus viridiflorus var. russanthus, (R) Mammillaria meiacantha 

(L) Echinocereus viridiflorus var. russanthus, (R) Mammillaria meiacantha 

That moment you are photographing one species and realize another is next to your foot. At least it wasn't a snake.

 Mammillaria meiacantha

Mammillaria meiacantha

I have previously photographed this community in November, but had to go back to check out the blooms. Looks like I was in luck.

 Sphaeralcea angustifolia

Sphaeralcea angustifolia

Globemallow blooms in many shades; even within the same species. This was a particularly petite specimen at no taller than 2', and the shades of violet blooms were attractive.

 Fouquieria splendens

Fouquieria splendens

The Ocotillo had finished their bloom cycle on the desert floor, but higher in the mountains it had been delayed a bit. Pictured here is the blooming portion of a large specimen in front of the Chisos Mountains Lodge. It almost appears to be on fire.

 Heterotheca canascens

Heterotheca canascens

I am an equal-opportunity photographer of blooms, as you can see from this rather sad looking Aster. Golden Gray Aster does make an attractive landscape plant if you can find it at a nursery.

 Yucca seedling

Yucca seedling

These were very young Yucca shoots, so I'm unsure exactly of the species. It is likely to be Yucca torreyi or faxoniana.

 Dagger Flat, Yucca faxoniana

Dagger Flat, Yucca faxoniana

As we exited the park to return to Dallas, we took a 14-mile round trip down to Dagger Flat, which contains a forest of Giant Dagger Yuccas to the west of the Dead Horse Mountains. Under a normal year of rainfall, you would be seeing spikes of white blooms along this horizon. Unfortunately, that was not this year. The stand of Yuccas are impressive regardless.

Until next time, Big Bend.