The Cycle of Life

Brown-spine Prickly Pear with Fungus and Flower Buds

Until you have spent several years looking closely at the plant and animal life in a place, you don’t realize how much it can change over time.  The first thing we noticed is that when we started guiding, we saw lots of Horse Lubber Grasshoppers, but after about 2 years they totally disappeared.  We have seen none in the last three years.

This year (2018) we’ve seen that some of the Clematis vines have died.  Every so often we see where a shrub has died.  This year we’ve seen the beginnings of another major die-off.  There is a fungus that is attacking the larger Prickly Pears, eventually killing them.  There are photos in this album.

Then there is the sadness of seeing plants you are following being dug up by animals, for reasons unknown to us.  A small cactus that we wanted to see bloom and identify was one day just lying next to its former location.  Or there’s the Sand Prickly pear that we were introducing people to on the rare plant tour:

As you can see, it is now in multiple pieces, and would not make a good specimen to show the way it grows.  Hopefully the pieces will take root and become new, healthy plants.  This is the second cactus on the rare plant tour that has been dug up by animals.  Here’s another cactus we’ve sort of been following, that suddenly turned out dug up by some animal, probably one going after some underground prey, given that the cactus is completely intact.

After rains, one can often see things like small animal skulls or spinal segments.  Given that there are known predators in the park, this is to be expected.

The amount of rain and apparently, other factors, affect the production of fruit on plants.  Some, such as the Four-wing Saltbush seem to be very consistent in producing seed, except in times of extreme drought.  However, one of the relictual (relic of the ice age) species in the park, the Arizona White Oak, produces very few acorns most years.  We’ve seen only one year with heavy acorn production.

A final example of the cycle of life is the three Texas Spiny Crevice Lizards that lived in a huge crevice in a rock near Mescalero Canyon.  As long as we’ve been guiding, there has been at lest one of these lizards living there, and for the past couple of years there were three.  This year they are nowhere to be seen (they are territorial, so if they were still alive they would still be in the same area).

© Susan L. Stone 2015