For the next three installments of Desert Studies, I'll be focusing on desert natural history: Flora (plants), fauna (animals), and insects. First up is flora.


Get used to this Hesperians. Are you aware that most of the streets in Hesperia are named after botanical varieties? That is Hesperia's "theme." It's also why there are streets named Lime, Lemon, Peach, Yucca, Olive, Walnut and Juniper, among others. We also, of course, have some numbered and lettered streets, and a Main Street. But most are plant names, though not necessarily desert plants.


There are many plants indigenous to the Mojave Desert. Some others have been "introduced" by mankind, some from neighboring desert areas, and most have more or less adapted to the desert environment. To cope with the various conditions imposed on them, plants must: (1) adapt to the cold, (2) the heat, including the brutal, almost unrelenting sunlight and low humidity, and (3) the lack of rainfall. If they are in the wild and cannot adapt, it is likely that they will ultimately not survive.


To date, I've explored the Joshua tree and some yuccas, the California juniper, and greasewood (creosote), among others. Now we'll tackle the rest. Forgive me if I miss some.


A true "xerophyte," that is, a desert plant, is well represented by the various cacti varieties. The most widespread seems to be the cholla. The cholla (a Spanish word) is a particularly "nasty" cactus. It's long-limbed with spines that detach easily. In addition to seeds, chollas reproduce this way: A piece is carried away by the wind, birds, in the fur of animals, and on your shoe or pant leg. That piece sometimes lands in a good location and sprouts a whole new plant. There are a number of varieties of chollas. Other common cacti are the "pears." They are flat-shaped, sometimes with thorns and sometimes not. The prickly pear is a good example and the fruits are edible.


There are also relatives of the barrel cactus, including the "hedgehog" cactus. These have the "knack" of storing moisture in the pulpy center of the plant. Also the common yuccas, like the desert candle and the Mojave or "great" yucca, close relatives of the Joshua tree. And finally, the ocotillo, which is another "nasty" cactus. It seems to sense rain coming, for that's when they flower.


Common perennial shrubs include the rabbit bush, whose yellow flowers smell like cat pee. And the mesquite, with its small flat leaves and seed pods. Most mesquites are only small shrubs, but under the right conditions, they can become large trees. Another is the palo verde and the desert willow. Both are related to the mesquite. Still another common local shrub is the tamarisk. It's mostly a "pest" tree because it spreads easily, native to the low desert. Planted along I-15 are many aethels, also know as the salt tamarisk. And the rare smoke tree. Another common desert plant I cannot identify is, I believe, a type of aster. It has small leaves and orange flowers. And yet another plant is what I call a "paper mache" plant." Its flowers are white and round, and float away in the wind.


Others include the increasingly rare cottonwood, most along the banks of the Mojave River. A majority of these trees have been so infested with mistletoe that they are mostly dead. Also, the locust, hawthorne and Arizona cypress and various spruce and pine.


Finally we have the various grasses and sagebrush, which are essentially annuals. These would include the desert wildflowers, which I've covered in past columns. A favorite of mine is the vine-like datura. This has grey-green leaves and trumpet-like white or purple flowers. They close in the sunlight and open at dusk. It's also known as a Jimson weed.


Next up: Insects.