The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 4

Wandering Through the Wash Along the Rockettes Trail…

Behind Squaw Hill there is a trail lined with rocks leading across Thousand Palms Canyon Road. One day in February I accompanied Ginny, our Preserve Manager, to post habitat signs to discourage visitors from wandering off trail. We then started lining one side of the trail with rocks, and with a broom we swept away any evidence of footprints off trail.

Since then, I continued the project of lining one side of the trail with rocks from the road to the intersection of Smoketree Trail. Mary, a docent volunteer, decided she would help me with lining the other half of the trail with rocks. Well, of course we had to christen this stretch of a desert path with a name. After brainstorming some ideas, Harlan (our local authority next to Ginny who leads hikes, repairs trails, and shares a wealth of information about the history, geology, flora, and fauna of the Preserve) came up with the name Rockettes and it stuck.

Parallel to the Rockettes Trail and further west is the off trail wash and stream.

As the San Andreas Fault system enters the Coachella Valley in Indio, it splits into 2 sections: The Banning Strand and the Mission Creek Strand. The hills that tower over the wash and stream are being pushed up as a result of being wedged between these 2 strands which eventually meet up again as they travel northwest. (Harlan)

The stream is run-off from fault water propelled by gravity. The boardwalk oasis and pond result from the underlying aquafir water hitting the Mission Creek fault strand. The water cannot pass through so it has to go up, the path of least resistance. (Harlan)

As usual these days, I am mining for invasive Sahara mustard.

And of course I am enjoying the scenery and flowers I find along the way.

A splash of Arizona Lupine

What tickles me about lupine are its unusual leaves that look like flowers themselves.

Checker Fiddleneck

The yellow flowers are arranged in spikes that resemble scorpion tails, unfolding as new flowers open. But don’t be fooled. The long white hairs give the plant its fuzzy-wuzzy appearance, but can be quite irritating to the touch. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Heart-Leafed Primrose

Similar  to yellow cups, the leaves are shaped like hearts, hence the name, instead of lobes.

Desert Trumpet

I love this unusual desert treasure because it has 3 distinctive segments to enjoy.

The inflated stems grow 1 to 3 feet tall. In contrast, the tiny ethereal yellow flowers are only 1/16 inch long.

The hairy rosette of leaves at the base of the plant have slightly lobed edges with long stalks and measure about 2 inches across. The swellings on the leafless stems were thought to be due to wasp larvae living inside. More recent findings, however, have put that explanation to rest. These inflated pods are the result of a buildup of carbon dioxide in the stem. (


Bright yellow flowers hover over this pale green bush as they burst open on long wooden stems. A member of the Sunflower Family, a brittlebush will shed its leaves in drought conditions to conserve water. Additionally, insulating white hairs cover the light blue-green leaves to help reduce water loss. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Indigo Bush

This purple flowered shrub is a member of the Pea Family and attracts butterflies. In the spring, it’s not uncommon to see pieces of purple petals scattered around anthills as busy ants carry them home.


A member of the Sunflower Family, bebbia juncea, is a scraggly looking aromatic desert shrub easily ignored by casual observers until the tiny yellow-orange florets pop up. The plant is a haven for butterflies and moths and an important host plant for bees. Chuckwallas are known to relish sweetbush so it’s no surprise that this shrub is also known as Chuckwalla’s Delight. (

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a chuckwalla lizard here… yet.

London Rocket

Introduced from Europe, this aggressive weed is a member of the Mustard Family, but unlike the Sahara mustard, we don’t actively pull it on the Preserve since it is not nearly as abundant or invasive.

Also called “tumble mustard”, the scientific name for this tall, slender-stemmed annual with yellow flowers is sisymbrium irio. Following the Great Fire of London in the 1600s, this plant made a comeback in such rapid abundance earning its most common name, London Rocket. (

According to the database, Native American Ethnobotany from the University of Michigan, Dearborn, several uses for this herb have been identified: (

The Cahuilla who lived on this Preserve boiled or fried the leaves and served them in salads. (Bean, Lowell John and Katherine Siva Saubel,  1972,  Temalpakh (From the Earth);  Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants,  Banning, CA.  Malki Museum Press, page 140)

The Mohave roasted the young shoots and ate them as famine food. (Castetter, Edward F. and Willis H. Bell,  1951,  Yuman Indian Culture,  Albuquerque:  University of New Mexico Press,  page 201)

The Pima stored the seeds for winter to prepare a gruel by grinding the seeds and adding water. As a medicine, dried seeds were placed under sore eyes to induce tears. (Curtin, L.  S.  M.,  1949,   By the Prophet of the Earth, Santa Fe.  San Vicente Foundation,  page 84)

Check out this article by John Slattery, “Urban Foraging for London Rocket” posted February 29, 2016 on for modern day kitchen and medicinal recipes.

Broad-Leafed Gilia

A member of the Phlox Family, this desert annual stands out with its dark green leaves and pink flowers.

A bouquet of purple Notched-Leafed Phacelia and Desert Poppy…

A vibrant patch of Desert Poppy…

And my favorite cottonwood tree leading back to the boardwalk, a favorite hang out for our feathered friends.

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