Arizona Wildflowers — Miniature Wooly Star
You may enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it. Click again for a full screen image.
The other day I was walking at Sabino Canyon and I noticed numerous small plants growing on a hillside. The hillside abutted one of the canyon’s paved roads and the terrain was definitely desert, but not quite as rocky as some adjacent areas. The ground at the site resembled compacted clay.
The plants faced east and were in an area that gets full sun about half of the day. The plants were low growing; each was only a few inches high, and each plant had multiple stems with from one to a few flowers. The flowers were tiny — barely a quarter inch across. But, they were beautiful. Each flower was a deep and intense blue and, when viewed up close they were as attractive as any blooms that I’ve photographed this spring.
The plant is Miniature Wooly Star, a member of the phlox family of plants. The plant gets its name both from its very small starlike flowers and from the wooly fibers that are visible at the point where the flowers join the plant’s stem. It is an annual, meaning that it dies at the end of each growing season but reseeds. It is a popular ground cover that is actually grown commercially for its seeds, which people plant around their homes.
The slope on which I found this plant had several dozen individuals living there. But, as I walked down the trail, just a few yards away, I found none. Evidently, the growing conditions had changed just enough to make it inhospitable for the Wooly Stars.
What I’m beginning to appreciate as I photograph and identify all of these flowering plants is just how varied the habitats are in our local desert. Viewed from a passing car or during a casual hike the desert can appear to be relatively unvaried. But, in fact, the desert is a mosaic of micro-habitats. In many places a particular habitat will cover only a few acres or even a few square yards. That habitat will house a variety of plants suited to the specific temperature variations, received sunlight, and available moisture. But, travel just a few yards away and everything may change. Just rounding a bend in the trail may change the amount of daylight the terrain receives and affect greatly what will live there. More and more the desert is appearing to me as a gigantic jigsaw puzzle with each piece having its unique characteristics.
Image made with a Canon 5DS-R, 180 mm f3.5 L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, stabilized by monopod, M setting, ISO 160, f20 @ 1/160.