There is a remarkable plant in the Sonoran desert (its northernmost range is just a few miles north of Tucson) that looks barren most of the year and if it did not have these beautiful mahogany colored branches you would think it was dead. The branches flex like a rope but spring back into their graceful splay form. There is natural latex in them and they were used by the natives to make baskets, so the common name is Limber Bush (Jatropha cardiophylla). If you crack them they exude a sap that stains a blood red when it dries, therefore another name for them, Sangre de Cristo. It is very abundant around here, but actually is not very common.
In early June in a deep corner of a wash I noticed teeny buds all over a clump of these Limber Bushes. Strange…that usually does not happen until the monsoon hits and it is nowhere in sight. I wondered how this was happening. We had not had a rain in over 6 months and everything else out here was CRISPY. The next time I saw them, a week later, there was a surprisingly large fruit/seed pod hanging there. I had never seen one before and now felt I ‘knew’ this plant better, having seen how it secures the continuing existence of its species.
This year’s Sahuaro fruit harvest has been the best in memory and the Sahuaro started the process and flowered way back in May…what did they know/sense? I can’t imagine that a plant that typically lives for over a hundred years would deplete itself of the moisture from the top third to half of itself and produce all that juicy, juicy fruit…especially when we are in a decade + drought. I read an article in the paper last week where a scientist, having noticed a similar abundance in Sahuaro National Park East, said that since they had not fruited much in the last three years, they were catching up this year…come on…why this year…how could they know? Well… I am proposing something even further out on the limb: ‘They’ sense we will have and abundant monsoon this year. Animals go to high ground when a tsunami is coming, why not plants severely depleting a precious resource and fruiting big time when a wet summer is in store?
So far I’d say They know…we don’t, they do. We had a quarter inch of rain in the very first cloud build up the other day (also unusual, since we normally get teased for weeks before it actually rains) and have had a second rain already…time will tell, but my money is on the wise old desert plants. Haha… we humans think we know so much with our satellites and data stores and algorithms…