As you read in an earlier post, our desert trip was aborted by unanticipated health problems. We harvested two long days of driving, and three exploring the Colorado Desert in Anza-Borrego State Park. One of those days brought numbing cold and rain; the other two were boisterous and sunny — perfect desert springtime. These pictures are a glimpse of our glimpse, no more, of a rich, exotic environment that is often more Baja Californian than Californian.
We rockhopped our way up two palm canyons in the San Ysidro Mountains, explored another under rainy Ghost Mountain, and camped (besides indulging in the main park campground, steamy showers, and a restaurant in Borrego Springs) in two quite different places: the broad wash and rocky cactus hills around Yaqui Wells, and the chaotic Santa Rosa Badlands.
It had been a winter of early and heavy rains in Anza-Borrego, so we anticipated a spectacular flower show. We were, alas, early for the main flowering, but that’s not the primary reason we aren’t posting pictures of flower-painted plains: the desert has been invaded.
Everywhere, the exotic weed Saharan Mustard has seized the land. On the bajadas, all possibility of mass displays of native flowers has been lost; the valley bottoms are a thatch of mustard, smothering everything. On the alluvial fans, the mountain slopes and the canyons, mustard sprouts under every bush, claiming space from natives. Our pictures show what’s left. This desert is still magnificent, but gravely imperiled.
My bad. My friend, naturalist Michael Ellis (noted for his terse emails) sent me a note just now, saying, “That looked like african fountain grass a nasty pest!!”
It didn’t just look like it. After a little googling, I realize it is. And this in a pretty remote canyon, far from any direct exposure. Sigh.
Here’s what the Center for Invasive Species Research (CISR) has to say (condensed): African fountain grass, Pennisetum setaceum is invasive outside its native range in Northern Africa and has been damaging native ecosystems in Hawaii. It is now an increasingly problematic weed in California. As a common landscape ornamental, it is widely planted in southwestern states. Fountain grass seeds may disperse readily from existing populations via wind, animals, and automobiles. It is a state-listed noxious weed in Hawaii, and has been listed as a Moderate threat by the California Invasive Plant Council.
In Hawaii it has been shown that fountain grass alters fire cycles and microhabitats. After invasion, due to increased fire and other effects, fountain grass may cause a forest community to be converted into grassland. After fire, it has shown the ability to rapidly colonize burned areas and prevent other plants from establishing. Native communities like coastal sage scrub in southern California have already been impacted extensively by the combined effects of changes in fire cycle as well as invasion by exotic grasses.
Many shrubs were in full bloom, too, often wrapped in particolored skirts of annual flowers growing in the sheltered, enriched soil where rodents have burrowed and fertilized and organic debris has been able to accumulate.
And finally, here are a few pictures that need no rationale or categorization. They’re just intriguing . . . or beautiful.