The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 5

Beyond Indian Palms

On our official trail map, the Indian Palms Trail is an almost 2 mile out-and-back hike to 2 small palm groves.

But there is an old Indian trail leading out of the wash of the second grove, the southern one, that takes you into the wash leading to the Pushawalla loop or beyond to Willis Palms along the trail beside Bee Mesa OR  to the stone-lined trail leading back to the Indian Palms Trailhead and across Thousand Palms Canyon Road to our parking lot.

My point is, this off trail path eventually leads to several marked trails and our Preserve Manager, Ginny,  would like to incorporate this old Indian Trail into a connecting loop.

I am excited to discover this loop and, as I hike it, I combine work with pleasure by pulling and bagging Sahara Mustard along the way.

I think I went out 3 or 4 times myself before enlisting Jeff’s help. We hike the loop several times filling and carrying out 1 bag apiece and then 2 bags each.

I hope you enjoy these hidden splendors I encounter as I snap pictures while I work alone and with Jeff.


There is no actual trail leading out of the south grove of Indian Palms to the old Indian Trail which ascends beyond the wash. So, you can either backtrack to the wash and cut over, or backtrack and find a path of least resistance across the wash. Jeff and I do both as we pull and bag Sahara Mustard.

So, I’m hot, tired, and discouraged by the amount of mustard that still needs pulling… (Honestly, if a dumpster could somehow be dropped down here and somehow follow us along that would be so wonderful. And, if with a twitch of the nose or a sophisticated app, it could be magically picked up and sent to the Big Dump in the Sky, that would be even better.) We can’t get too tired or thirsty or hot because we still have to carry bags of mustard weeds out with us for another 1.5 miles! But I am not complaining. It’s actually a rewarding chore as I discover…

Mammillaria dioica, Nipple Cactus

I don’t even begin to understand the nuances of descriptions of the various cacti that sparsely grow in the Coachella Valley, but this is the consensus of my authoritative sources, namely Ginny, Harlan, and Jon Mark Stewartfrom his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers.

This red pepper protrusion is something I have never seen before. (Duh, like I’m an expert!)


My bag/our bags full, we ascend out of the wash. Luscious wildflowers line the old Indian trail leading out of the south grove.

Hidden hills smile over the rocks.

A secret canyon folds into the hills.

A Barrel Cactus hangs out among the rocks, perfectly posed beside Creosote Bush.

A Desert Dandelion and Chicory share this selfie among the thorns.

The only White Rhatany I’ve seen this season is along this trail.

Krameria bicolor, also known as Krameria grayi, is a member of the Krameriaceae Family, named in honor of the father and son Austrian botanists Johann Georg Heinrich Kramer and Henry Kramer.

Native to the arid regions of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Utah, Baja California, and Mexico, White Rhatany are root parasites that depend upon nearby plants such as Creosote Bushes for part of its nutrition. (southwestdesertflora.com)

(According to britannica.com, “A parasitic plant is a plant that obtains all or part of its nutrition from a host plant without contributing to the benefit of the host and, in some cases, causing extreme damage to the host. The defining structural feature of a parasitic plant is the haustorium, a specialized organ that penetrates the tissues of a host and absorbs nutrients and water.“)

Instead of nectar, White Rhatany produces oil that attracts bees of the genus Centris which have specialized hind legs that enable the bee to scrape up the oil. Black-tailed jack rabbits rely on White Rhatany during the winter. As a browse plant, White Rhatany provides fodder for livestock, Mule Deer, and Desert Bighorn Sheep. (southwestdesertflora.com)

A sky full of pelicans erupts over the hills.

A group of pelicans has many collective nouns, including: brief, pod, pouch, scoop, and squadron. (identify.whatbird.com)

And when they swoop and turn, the sun catches their white wings causing bright flashes…

On the ground, a robust Woody Bottle-Washer Primrose starts to bloom, the only one I have seen this season!


The old Indian Trail ends. I can see the trail leading up to the top of Pushawalla Ridge and the electric poles extending across Thousand Palms Canyon Road to the parking lot trail.

There is no established path here so we head toward one of several washes and eventually “mark” a trail with memorable landmarks, such as this healthy patch of Chia.

A member of the Mint Family, Salvia columbariae has tiny lavender to blue flowers clustered in several balls along the stems. The velvety leaves lie along the base of the flower stalks and apparently smell a bit skunk. (Hmmm… Next time I will be sure to get down and nosy…)

Dried seeds were harvested by Native Americans and ground into a flour called pinole. A type of porridge or gruel was made by adding water to this powder. Steeping the dried seeds in water produced a thick gelatin-like liquid.

This is one of the few species of Salvia used as an energy enhancing nutrient. The most popular health food chia is the Mexican Salvia hispanica. (wildflower.org)

This mummified Cat’s Claw is another desert marker we use to navigate through the various washes off the old Indian Trail.


As I wonder and wander through the wash, I see bright orange patches ahead, lighting up the way contrasting with the blue sky, green shrubs, and light beige desert sand.

Desert Dodder is a slender-stemmed pale yellow to orange parasitic annual twining around and through shrubs, bushes, and herbs in the Colorado and Mojave’s Deserts. And yes, even some of the Sahara Mustard I pull is all tied up in strands of Dodder.

It starts from a seed. As it sprouts it weaves itself counter-clockwise around a plant’s stem or branch, tightening its grip on the host and pushing little wartlike bumps, called “haustoria”, into the stem. Now, the Dodder’s connection to the earth has been broken, and since it cannot make food on its own, it depends on the host to draw its nourishment through the haustorium. Dodder does not usually kill its host plant, but a heavy infestation in times of drought may cause significant damage. (calflora.net)


And then a perfect pop of pink! Desert Five Spot, a precious gem of the desert…

Eremalche rotunddifolia is a member of the Mallow Family and is native to the Colorado and Mojave Deserts. When open, each of the 5 pink petals has a large dark red blotch at its base. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Last year, during the superbloom, we barely caught a glimpse of opened Five Spots!


Checker Fiddleneck, with its curled tails, loves hanging out in the washes.


Bladder Pod greets us along the trail back across the street to our parking lot.

A member of the Caper Family, the yellow flowers give way to an inflated pod that contains several seeds. Yep, this plant is related to the commercial capers you buy in a jar in the grocery store. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Another Bladder Pod lies along the base of Bee Mesa.


As I continue through the wash along the base of Bee Mesa I notice a white canister hanging out of the side of the hill. At first I think it’s a water bottle and wonder who would leave one here. Upon closer examination, I realize this has something to do with a science activity. A few weeks later I notice more of these devices half buried, scattered throughout the washes, and marked with a pink flag near the Pushawalla Loop. Placed by geologists, they measure earthquake activity.


Further on, a young Cat’s Claw bush  starts blooming.

A member of the Pea Family, Cat’s Claw Acacia, or Acacia greggii, has sharp curved hooked thorns resembling the claws of a cat. (southwestdesertflora.com)

Also known as “wait-a-minute” bush, this common shrub abundant in the washes of the Colorado Desert is nearly impossible to navigate through as the claw-like thorns catch, hold, and tear clothing as well as lacerating the skin. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers AND southwestdesertflora.com)

More mature Cat’s Claw bloom in fragrant bundles of sweet smelling deliciousness…

Later, the fuzzies turn into curly pods…


Just beyond, a “field” of wildflowers on the slope of Bee Mesa catches my attention.

This is amazing! I mean, this is the mini desert superbloom of 2020!

Among the Little Gold Poppies, Lupine, Notched-Leaf Phacelia and Chicory, I notice a flower unfamiliar to me with leaves that remind me of parsley.

I share this pic with our Preserve Manager, Ginny. She suggests this is Earth Smoke, a non-native desert wildflower.


Walking further south along the base of Bee Mesa, an “Avenue” of Smoketree lines a  wash meandering to the west. In the background you can see the Indio Hills that are being squeezed up by the 2 strands of the San Andreas Fault: Mission Creek in front and Banning behind.

Patches of Pignut pop up.

Hoffmannseggia glauca, also known as Indian Rushpea, Hog Potato, and “Camote de Ratón” or mouse yam, this plant is a member of the Legume Family. (southwestdesertflora.com)


As Jeff and I continue pulling Sahara Mustard along the trail beside Bee Mesa, I discover desert dandelions towering over Frost-Mat. (Well, I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I sent these pics to our Preserve Manager, Ginny, and she identified them for us.

Thick greenish leaves and tiny white flowers, Achyronychia cooperi is a member of the Carnation Family.


Finally, Jeff and I head back home with 2 trash bags apiece filled with Sahara mustard. We look up and I immediately put my trash bags down and grab my phone from my pocket to take this pic of this Smoketree and  Sweetbush. It’s only later after reviewing my photos that I realize that I captured Squaw Hill and the palm groves around Thousand Palms Oasis in the background.


As we head back along the trail that leads across Thousand Palms Canyon Road, I smell a subtle and familiar fragrance and barely notice the flowering bush of pastel purple flowers.

Desert Lavender


Finally…

I wish you could see the amazing blazing yellow color of these Desert Dandelions!

And the yellow-orange glow of these Little Gold Poppies  mingling with the bright white Chicory

And this, my favorite pic of all… the “token” white among the yellow.

I have entitled it, ACCEPTANCE.

I invite you to read Tana French’s novel, The Secret Place, to discover why.

The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 3

Pushing Through the Pushawalla Washes to Pull and Pause…

On a Sahara mustard mission, the bag lady strikes again! And once again I am not disappointed with the treasures I find…


Cholla…

Silver or golden cholla is a highly variable member of the Cactus Family. The spines on the stems can be silver or golden. Flowers are usually greenish-yellow but can age to dark red. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

These shrubby cacti have cylindrical stems composed of segmented joints. The stems are actually modified branches that serve several functions including water storage, photosynthesis, and flower production. (desertusa.com)

Later I spy more cholla… an open blossom this time…


Desert Tobacco

A member of the Nightshade Family (nicotiana trigonophylla), desert tobacco is related to domestic tobacco (nicotiana tabacum). The leaves are dark green, very sticky, and ill-smelling. Although extremely toxic, Native Americans often smoked this plant during religious ceremonies. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)


Jimson Weed

Another member of the Nightshade Family, datura meteloides is also called moonflower, a reference to the fact that the flowers usually open later in the day. (Not here in the desert, though.) Georgia O’Keeffe enjoyed painting its huge blossoms. She said, “When I think of the delicate fragrance of the flowers, I almost feel the coolness and sweetness of the evening.”

Jimson weed is also known as “sacred datura” and has been revered as one of the sacred visionary plants among almost all cultures around the world that have encountered it. Daturas have been used as poisons, medicines, and ritual intoxicants since the beginning of time. Some scholars believe Delphic oracles in Ancient Greece used datura to induce their legendary visions. The Aztecs used datura as a painkiller in initiation rituals and as a narcotic for ritual sacrifices. (fs.fed.us)

The plants produce large white trumpet flowers tinged with purple.

There are 9 to 12 known species of datura, each with its own characteristic narcotic tropane alkaloid, making datura one of the most dangerous and poisonous plants known. Jimson weed is a major cause of accidental poisonings and death by those looking to get a cheap high. (fs.fed.us)


I come across a new wildflower that resembles desert milkweed and I send pics to Ginny, the Preserve Manager, to identify it for me.

Pignut…

Hoffmannseggia glauca, also known as Indian Rushpea, Hog Potato, and “Camote de Ratón” or mouse yam, this plant is a member of the Legume Family. (southwestdesertflora.com)

[I just found out how to add an accent mark over a letter on my iPad, DUH 🙄 and I am so excited 😆!]

But the more research I do, I discover that the leaves of the hoffmanseggia glauca…

southwestdesertflora.com

and the leaves on the plant below are different… 🤔

So, maybe this is Desert Rock-Pea, a common perennial shrub found in washes and on rocky hillsides. (Yep, that’s where I found them: along the side of Bee Mesa and the wash.) A member of the Pea Family, the flowers are yellow and turn red with age. The plant is somewhat woody (not sure about that), multi-stemmed, and less than 3 feet tall. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Perfectionist as I am, I am just not sure…


Then I get even more confused. I spy another plant with similar yellow and orange flowers, but the stems and leaves look different. As always, I lean on Ginny, the Preserve Manager, and Harlan, the desert professor, for answers.

Heart-Leaved Primrose

Camissonia cardiophylla is a member of the Evening Primrose Family.

Most of the leaves are found at the base of the plant with the flower stalks rising leafless and growing to about 16 inches. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

The younger flowers are yellow, but as the blossoms age, they turn red and give us a plant with 2 beautiful colors. (Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, abdnha.org)

The seed pods remind me of mustard but are thicker.


Rock Daisy

A common wildflower on rocky slopes and in sandy washes, peristyle emoryi is a member of the Sunflower Family. The flower heads are the size of dimes with white fringed rays and a yellow center. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

These tiny daisies pop up in low growing clumps of dark green, crisp white, and brilliant yellow-orange:



Desert Poppy

This common little poppy resembles the California poppy but has yellow flowers instead of orange. The flower stems grow to 1 foot and can either be leafy or naked, like the one below. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)


The displays of wildflowers I encounter today are pretty spectacular for this season’s scarce rainfall. And now I know why; I have reached the stream that flows under Thousand Palms Canyon Road, the literal dip in the road…

In the picture below, the palm trees in the distance surround the boardwalk and Visitor Center along the San Andreas Fault separating the Pacific tectonic plate from the North American. The hill you see is part of the Indio Hills separating the 2 strands of the San Andreas Fault: the Banning strand and the Mission Creek strand. The line of palm trees, parallel to the Indio Hills in the foreground, grow along the stream seeping up from the fault strands.

I’ve never been here before but I have driven past more times than I can count.

You can hear the water trickling as it ripples along.

The stream snakes it’s way south to Washington Street.

My trash bag is almost full of mustard weeds so I head back to the Pushawalla parking area via the road, pulling more mustard along the way.


I am hot and getting tired, until I look down at this perky patch of purple.

Notch-Leafed Phacelia

Phacelia crentulata is a member of the Waterleaf Family. The violet flowers are arranged into a tightly coiled scorpion-tail. The plant is ill-scented and the foliage is known to cause a rash similar to poison oak on some people. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

I find this picture of purple poison quite pleasing to partake…


Arriving at the Pushawalla parking area, I set my bag down and decide to double check if the trail to Indian Palms is clearly marked from here. (Since the 880 acres of the Coachella Valley Preserve we live on is privately owned by the Center for Natural Land Management, CNLM, I often direct disappointed visitors to park at Pushawalla on Mondays and Tuesdays when we are closed and suggest they hike to Indian Palms.)

So I pretend I have parked here and want to hike to Indian Palms to make sure there is an appropriate trail marker. As I leave the parking area and take the rock-lined trail, I discover a pale pink flower growing on a slender green stem.

Annual Mitra

A member of the Sunflower Family, stephanomeria exigua is a common late season wildflower. Because the plant is light green and it’s branches are spread about, it’s easy to walk by without noticing it. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

Indeed, during last year’s superbloom, I never noticed this delicate pink flower.


After taking pics of annual mitra, I look up and see more mustard weeds. I can always cram a few more in my garbage bag and, as I proceed to pull, I come face to face with red spiny thorns and yellow blooms.

Barrel Cactus

Bisnaga, ferocactus acanthodians, is California’s second largest cactus, (the largest is the saguaro). The stems can grow up to 9 feet and are usually solitary, but it’s not uncommon to see plants branched at the base. The flowers are produced in a ring at the top of the trunk.

A popular myth suggests that lopping off the tops of these cacti will produce life-sustaining water. This is not true, however, as lopping off the top ruins the plant for life.  Due to increased poaching, barrel cactus is now fully protected in California and Arizona and cannot be removed legally from the wild. (Jon Mark Stewart from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)


Have I convinced you that the perks of pulling outweigh the mission yet?

The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 2

Hidden Treasures Among the Weeds

Today I head out on my own, close to home, to pull Sahara mustard along the wash by Squaw Hill. I really look forward to this time alone. Yes, the staggering amount of weeds frustrates me but with every garbage bag I fill I feel fulfilled because I can see my progress and I know I am doing something good for the desert environment.

And the native plants and flowers thank me in their own way as I stumble across some showy blooms…

Beavertail Cactus…

Desert Sunflowers and Sand Verbena hanging out together

Desert Dandelions and Pincushions…

More Beavertail getting ready to burst

A patch of purple Phacelia…

Groundcherry…

Five Spot…

Rock Daisies growing on the side of Squaw Hill


Sahara mustard grows abundantly beneath creosote and other prickly shrubs and bushes resulting in bloody scratches on my arms and legs. Just when I think I’ve pulled all the weeds, I look back and find several more hiding in the center requiring  me to kneel down and just about stick my face into the thorns as I reach and pull.

But today I discover a  desert iguana watching me as if to say thank you for all my hard work. His visit makes my battles with thorny branches worthwhile!

The Perks of Pulling Mustard Part 1

The Sahara mustard is an invasive plant native to the Middle East. It was introduced to Southern California sometime in the late 1920s, inadvertently hitching a ride with the palm trees imported from northern Africa when the Coachella Valley’s now thriving date industry was just beginning.

In 2005 researchers from the University of California Riverside Campus (UCR) Center for Invasive Species Research Department (CISR) and volunteers from the US Bureau of Land Management set aside a series of 1/4 acre naturalized plots. On half the plots Sahara mustard was removed by hand-weeding; the other half of the plots were left alone to measure the effect of Sahara mustard.

Results were dramatic. On control plots containing the mustard, native wildflowers germinated in numbers similar to those in the weeded plots, HOWEVER underneath the dense canopy of Sahara mustard the native wildflower plants grew taller, putting energy into height growth, and produced very few flowers or seeds. There was a 90% reduction of numbers of flowers and seed pods… 90%!

Measurements on the plots continued to determine whether the effect of weeding Sahara mustard would last more than one season. Up to 2 growing seasons after hand-weeding, without any further treatments, there were still, albeit slightly, more native wildflowers and less mustard on the plots that were weeded in 2005.

In the Coachella Valley the Sahara mustard densities can reach proportions as high as 300 plants per 11 square feet. Yikes! There is no need to do any math here. If we do not hand-weed mustard the annual native plant seed bank will become increasingly depleted and native wildflowers will become increasingly scarce as Sahara mustard becomes more dominate and takes over the landscape. (cisr.ucr.edu)

Now, hand-weeding mustard is not in our job description on the Preserve, but somebody’s gotta do it! So I start going out with the Preserve Manager, Ginny, several mornings a week to Moon Country to pull mustard.

Just between you and me, I discover that I actually enjoy pulling mustard! It’s a quiet, meditative, repetitious experience. It’s addictive. Once you spot and pull your first Sahara mustard weed you can’t stop spotting and pulling more. And even if we only make a dent in the density, it’s a good feeling lugging a filled trash bag or 2 over my shoulders and looking back over the areas cleared, knowing I am helping to preserve the Preserve.

Besides, I get to visit places that are off the beaten path. Shhh! Please stay on the trails! (Unless you want to pull mustard WITH us…)


The Ride

Sometimes I ride with Ginny in the pickup truck out to Moon Country where the wash is wide enough to navigate through. But a real treat is riding in the newly purchased Kawasaki MULE (Multi-Use Light Equipment) UTV (Utility Task Vehicle).


Spectacle Pod

Today I literally run into one of my favorite flowers while bending over to pull a mustard weed.

Spectacle pod is one of the first wildflowers to bloom on the sand dunes. The white flowers consist of 4 petals and 6 stamens characteristic of the mustard (brassicaceae) family. So, yes, spectacle pod and Sahara mustard share a family tree, but let’s just say that’s all they have in common. (Jon Mark Stewart, from his book Colorado Desert Wildflowers)

What tickles me about this plant are the round, spectacle-shaped fruits.


The pond

Since May 2019 Simone Pond has been undergoing a restoration process towards the reintroduction of the desert pupfish, cyprinodon macularius.



biologicaldiversity.org

The desert pupfish was listed as federally endangered in 1986 due to habitat loss and modification, pollution, and predation from non-native species. Establishing refugia habitats, such as Simone Pond, is part of the Federal Recovery Plan to support and recover the population.

The introduction of several non-native species, such as red swamp crayfish (procambarus clarkii) and tilapia (oreochromis aureus), ultimately led to the demise of desert pupfish in Simone Pond.

usgs.gov, courtesy of Angelica Aguilar Duran

nas.er.usgs.gov, courtesy of Howard Jelks

Both crayfish and tilapia have rapid reproductive cycles and can produce numerous offspring, which makes them difficult to remove. Furthermore, crayfish can burrow, walk on land, and persist out of water. Consequently, previous removal projects have proven unsuccessful.

As of January 2019, the Center for Natural Land Management (CNLM) estimated there were over 23,000 crayfish and 4,000 tilapia in Simone Pond!  That same month a new restoration plan was launched. Through a grant, an aquatic biologist was hired to spearhead this effort which included unique and integrative approaches to remove the invasive species: trapping, draining the pond, electrofishing, and the application of naturally-derived pesticides. (coachellavalleypreserve.org)

Ginny takes me on a private tour of the fenced off Simone Pond…

Still a breathtaking sight, even cleared of reeds and with remnants of blue-green pesticide spray on its banks…

The forest of mighty Palms…

Secret passages…

Healthy algae…

A makeshift watering hole for the wildlife…

And finally the water reflected in the pond creates this dramatic illusion with the palm skirts.


The perks of pulling mustard outweigh the bending, sweat, and lugging of cumbersome garbage bags filled with weeds and seeds!