A desert up north

As if we couldn’t get any hotter than what we’ve had lately, we took a little trip out to the desert this weekend. The Okanogan valley is a very interesting place, and not what most people think of when you talk about Washington. It is very dry, and really is a sandy desert.

I am really fond of sagebrush and the way it smells. The pungent smell of Artemisia tridentata, Great Basin Sagebrush, is enough to send memories of my childhood flooding through my brain.

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Gnarled and twisted trunks give these A. tridentata a look of advanced age. I’m sure they really are old, but the harsh conditions here would probably force most things to age quickly.

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Despite the heat, they are blooming profusely. The silvery spires are nice, but don’t add much. I think the real charm of this sagebrush is the overall structure and the contrasting colors of the dark gray and black bark with the silver mint of the leaves.

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There were three species of sagebrush in the area, and unfortunately I don’t know the names of the other two. They were neat though! This one was more delicate looking, and not nearly as big as A. tridentata or the third species.

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This one looks like it may be a subspecies or even a hybrid of a. tridentata. Tridentata is pretty variable, depending on where you are, and sometimes requires a blacklight to correctly identify the species.

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I really need to brush up on my native wildflowers. Alternatively, I could find my pocket guidebook. We’ll see which one happens first.

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This is the Okanogan subspecies of Opuntia fragilis. The pads are larger and flatter than some of the other populations of the species, and the spines have a nice orange and red coloration that is unique. It lives up to its name; fragilis. Each pad detaches easily from the main plant, and this is it’s primary means of propagation. The local variation in O. fragilis is proof that there is some seed production, but the pad detachment method is so quick and easy that it reigns supreme.

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It isn’t a desert unless you have snakes. I’m not completely sure, but the lack of a tail section on this snakeskin makes me think that it belongs to a rattlesnake. Unfortunately I wasn’t lucky enough to come across one.

Opuntia fragilis is actually not the only cactus that is native to Washington. There are four native cacti, and you can head over to Desert Northwest to learn more about them.

I love visiting the desert! Now that I’m on my way back to the cooler and wetter side of the state, I wonder what desert plants I can take back with me?

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