Nature Delivers Such Brilliant Colors, They Almost Hurt Your Eyes
By Mark S. McDonald
Beauty, they say, is in the eyes of the beholder, never more true than in a horse race or with desert plants.
The orange cactus flower is just that. This bloom was found in a semi-barren pasture on my deer lease in West Texas. Who’s to say the hunting wasn’t too good?
During all-too-frequent droughts, the American Southwest is a harsh stickerstack of a lunarscape that can kill you if you don’t respect her.
When the clouds open and heaven spills blessed rain, even in summer, the desert blooms in all its glory. Suddenly, the air and your senses are filled with such beauty and pungent fragrance,if you look too closely, it will hurt your eyes. And make you sneeze.
Here are a few of the leaders in my personal clubhouse: the cholla cactus, the purple sage, esperanza, red Mexican bird of paradise and the oft-overlooked Mexican petunia.
Cholla cactus is an opportunistic species said to spring up in the arid West where wildfires have been suppressed and livestock has overgrazed the range. In northern Arizona where these blooms were found, the plants stood nearly six feet tall.
Somebody is confused here. Southwest lore has it the purple sage foretells the coming of rain by blooming before its arrival. The sage I’ve seen seems to bloom on in its own sweet time, usually AFTER a rain.
Esperanza means “hope” in Spanish. Certainly this hardy plant is nothing if not optimistic. Here in this Midland landscape, it stands nearly 7 feet. In South Texas, mid-winter trimming stimulates growth to heights of 12-15 feet. Hope, indeed.
A magnet for summer hummers, the red Mexican bird of paradise can withstand dry summers and chilly winters. In Midland, Texas, where the average annual rainfall is +/- 15 inches, this plant grows with minimal care outside the Sibley Nature Center.
The Mexican petunia just needs a few drops of water and sandy soil. She will do the rest, sending forth a purple blossom that brings butterflies and beas. This one tops my list for underrated desert color.
Just wait’ll you see the native color we found in Arches National Park in Utah. Soon we’ll show you those natural marvels.
In your hunting and fishing, be alert for your own favorites native color.
Mark McDonald, past president of the Texas Outdoor Writers, escaped starvation while variously covering hunting, fishing and conservation for five major dailies in Texas. His next book, “They Gave Us Baseball: Now Look What We’ve Done” will be released in early 2015.