The Wildlife Of Mt. Lemmon — Columbine
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Before launching into today’s post a correction: Yesterday I described the ancestors of Abert’s Squirrels on Mt. Lemmon as likely having migrated up the mountain a few thousand years ago as the climate warmed on the lower slopes. That is certainly true for these squirrels on other mountain ranges in Arizona, but not on Mt. Lemmon. A couple of readers pointed out to me last night that these squirrels actually were introduced onto the mountain some time in the 1940s by officials who wanted to give hunters something to shoot at. The habitat turned out to be ideal and they’ve prospered ever since. I don’t know whether they’re still hunted. Now, it is unclear whether these squirrels may have lived on Mt. Lemmon at some point in the past prior to being introduced. Other species native to the Santa Catalina Mountains, including Desert Bighorn Sheep, went extinct due to human activity but have been re-introduced recently.
Now, for today’s post. This time of year one often sees Columbine growing on Mt. Lemmon’s upper slopes. These attractive plants, with their brilliant yellow flowers, favor open patches of ground and areas between the conifers where the sunlight filters through.
Columbine is a species of non-native plant — non-native in the sense that it first arrived in North America sometime between about 10,000 and about 40,000 years ago. These plants originated in Asia but apparently spread to North America back when a land bridge connected the two continents. From that point of origin it spread. Along the way, it evolved dozens of varieties in a startling array of shapes and colors. Varieties of Columbine not only grow wild in western North America, but many varieties have been domesticated and/or bred by commercial growers.
Columbine is a plant that favors higher elevations and cool climates. There was almost certainly a time when it grew at lower elevations in Arizona, but those days ended with the desertification of the lowlands.
Interestingly, the flowers of Columbine are considered by some to be edible, but the roots aren’t. In fact, the roots of this plant are toxic.
Image made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 f4-5.6 ISII Zoom Lens, M setting, ISO 100, f7.1 @ 1/500.