Stalking the boojum in the Sonoran Desert

  • Sonoran Desert Plants

  From afar, the Sonoran Desert is a stonewashed, monochromatic expanse. Look closer, and you’ll swear that fantasy writer Lewis Carroll did the landscaping.

Two rainy seasons each year give the Sonoran Desert stunning biodiversity and some pretty quirky plant species — many so specialized to a particular place that budding naturalists are likely to need help finding them. That’s where Sonoran Desert Plants comes in.

This paperback edition is a revised and expanded update of the classic 1972 guide by Raymond Turner and the late Rod Hastings, which has stood the test of time. Little wonder: It was the product of a century of native plant research by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Carnegie Institution, and universities and plant museums the world over.

Sonoran Desert Plants covers 339 perennial species, mostly trees, shrubs and succulents. It’s friendly to nonspecialists: Each listing includes the plant’s scientific and common names, a distribution map, an elevation chart, and botanical details such as flowering season, plant structure, and associated pollinators. About one-quarter of the entries feature black-and-white photographs.

There’s plenty of useful scientific description, so desert rats can tell Ferocactus wislizeni from Ferocactus emoryi while sneaking up on Idria columnaris — otherwise known as boojum trees, bizarre columns of green that hold up the heavens. And there’s a bit of history tossed in, too, so you can settle a debate about which came first, the boojum tree or Carroll’s whimsical creature of the same name in "The Hunting of the Snark."

During an update of this text in 1995, the authors expressed a sense of urgency about field work — and about popularizing their results — because they saw that the fantastical, fragile plants they describe are in trouble.

"An unprecedented influx of people into the region has resulted in substantial changes in many biotic communities," they wrote. "Basic knowledge of native species will be an essential tool for creative, sustainable human habitation of the Sonoran Desert."

It’s a welcome whiff of mission in an otherwise technical manual — and the call-out to citizen scientists is more relevant now than ever.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...