Bolson de Mapimi, Chihuahua Desert, Mexico.

Deserts - Part 2

The best place to look for wildlife in the desert is around trees and other large plants.

In this puia (middle picture), I found nests of 5 bird species, including a flicker's hole on top. Hummingbirds and doves nested between leaves, finches in another flicker's hole, and tinamus at the base of the trunk.
Nest of Le Conte's thrasher (Toxostoma lecontei, marked by an arrow) in cholla (Cylindropuntia) cactus, Devil's Punchbowl, California.
Giant Puia (Puia raimondii),
Huascaran, Peru
Giant Pillow (Pycnophillum),
Lagunas Coloradas, Bolivia
cactus cactus cactus
Barrel cacti (Ferocactus) are common in subtropical deserts of North America. This is fishhook cactus (F. wislizeni) from New Mexico.
Small cacti,
Sullistani, Peru
Megacereus chilensis,
Fray Jorje, Chile
Echinocereus subterraneus, Buenos Aires NWR, Arizona.

Every large cactus is a complicated ecosystem, with dozens of animal, plant and microbe species.

cactus cactus cactus
Barrel cacti of Northern Mexico, left to right: F. herreriae, F. gracilis,F. emoryi.
A cactus can help you a lot in finding wildlife, but first you have to find the cactus itself. This one (left) was growing so high in the mountains that it had to hide underground almost completely to escape from cold and wind. cactus
Altilobivia sp., Lagunas
Coloradas, Bolivia
Andocereus sp.,
Trelew, Argentina
cactus cactus cactus
Barrel cacti of Central Mexico, left to right: F. auratus, Astrophytum ornatum.
Borzicactus sp.,
Colca Canyon, Peru.
Jumping Cholla (C.
), Arizona, USA.
If you'll not find any animals around the cactus, don't be upset. These plants are interesting enough by themselves, like this furry creatures from High Andes (left) or the infamous, but beautiful, "jumping cholla" from Sonora Desert (right).
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Blooming of various cacti, Arizona.
False cream cactus (Mamillaria pseudoheydei)
Particularly weird small cacti often grow on limestone soils. These two are from Black Gap Wildlife Management Area in Big Bend area of Western Texas. cactus
Living rock cactus (Ariocarpus fissuratus).
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Opuntia cacti of New Mexico, left to right: O. basilaris, O. engelmanni.
Saguaro (Cereus giganteus),
Sonora Desert, Arizona.
In some deserts of Arizona, Mexico, Galapagos and Argentina, beautiful forests of giant cacti and other succulents still exist. The small patches of saguaro forest around Tucson, Arizona, are the ones most often visited and photographed. They get even better as you move south towards the Mexican border. Forests of Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) in Mojave Desert of Alta California, and of Boojum Tree (Fouquieria columnaris) in Baja California are also very spectacular. cactus
O. fulgida & Y. elata,
Sonora Desert, Arizona.
One of the most beautiful cacti of the world is rare and difficult-to-find "queen of night" (Peniocereus greggii) of Sonora Desert. Most of the year it looks like a dead twig, and blooms only for one night. cactus
Queen of night, Yaqui River, Sonora.
Saguaro forest in Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, Arizona.
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cactus cactus cactus
cactus Cacti of Chihuahua Desert: upper row - strawberry hedgehog (Echinocactus enneacanthus), second row - claret cup (E. triglochidiatus), third row - cream cactus (Mamillaria macdougalii), fourth row - Chihuahua pineapple cactus (Echinomastus intertextus) and cotton cactus (M. lenta) ; bottom row: ruby pincushion cactus (M. rubinus), southern beehive cactus (Coryphantha bumamma), and little beauty (C. macromeris). cactus
cactus cactus cactus cactus
cactus cactus cactus
Blooming ocotillo,
Ocotillo flower,
Ocotillo after rain,
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens) is the only member of a large Mexican genus in the United States. It usually looks like a bunch of dry sticks, but shortly after rains it becomes covered with red flowers (in spring), or tiny, bright-green leaves (in summer).
flowers flowers
Puna flowers, Los Cardones National Park, Argentina.
In South African deserts, cacti are replaced by bizzare-looking Euphorbiaceae and Aizoaceae, including "living stones" (Lithops) - indoor gardeners' favorites. plant
Lithops hookeri.
L. geyeri.
L. lesliae.
Assorted Lithops.
Spherocactus infernalis, Pan de Azucar, Chile
In some areas, cacti are the only plants. In this part of Coastal Desert in Chile, for example, rains fall only in years of strong El Ninyo or after major earthquakes, which mix up layers of warm and cold water in the ocean. Cacti get water from great depth, where it is flowing slowly from Andes to the ocean many miles away. Certain parts of South American deserts are the driest places on Earth. On Nazca Plateau, rains fall once in few centuries, and the air is so dry that human bodies left in the open never disintegrate. In other places, there probably have never been raining since the last Ice Age.
But even in these deserts there is life. Night mists from nearby ocean bring moisture to western slopes of coastal hills. In late winter, strange vegetation appears on bare sand - lomas meadows. Plants of lomas have no roots or use them only to avoid being blown away. They get all water they need from mists, and all fertilizing from dust. Some of them roll into tiny balls every morning to avoid water loss, but spread hairy leaves at night to catch as much dew as possible. Fog deserts of South America and South Africa, particularly Namib, are not only the most bizarre, but also, according to some theories, the most ancient deserts in the World - no wonder local plants and animals have so many interesting adaptations to their unusual climate. lomas
Loma de Lachay, coast of Peru
Pancratium maritimum,
Gaza, Israel.
Much less known are fog deserts of other continents. They exist in Western Australia, Baja California, Northwestern Africa, Cabo Verde Islands and along the southeastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The latter is the smallest of all fog deserts, only 200 miles (320 km) long and 1-10 miles (1,6-16 km) wide, but it also has some endemic plants and animals. tortoise
Testudo kleinmanni,
Alexandria, Egypt.
view view
Spring blooming of Chihuahua Desert, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.
Blooming desert,
Anza Borrego, California.
Deserts of North America normally have rains every year, still real flower displays are rare and usually happen in El Ninyo years. The blooming of 1998 was really outstanding - what a good luck it was for me to immigrate to California just few months before! From April to July, I traveled across the continent, following the blooming. It started in Death Valley in late February, spread to sandy washes in March, covered all plains in April, climbed to the foothills in April and to the mountains in May, and was still beautiful on mountain tops in July.view
Blooming desert,
El Pinacate, Sonora.
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Blooming California poppy (Eschholtzia californica) and other flowers, Mojave Desert, California.
Sand lily (Leucocrinum montanum), New Mexico.
In Sonora and Chihuahua deserts, rains often fall twice a year: first in early spring, then in late summer. So there are two desert blooms, with different species composition. flower
Western thorn apple (Datura wrightii), New Mexico.
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Spring flowers, Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico.
Repetek Reserve,
World's most beautiful flower displays can be seen in early May in Turkmenistan. Here, rains fall mostly in March-April, just in time for spring vegetation. Kopetdag Mountains and black saxaul (Haloxylon ammodendron) forests of Repetek Nature Reserve are the best places. The blooming starts with tulips in late March, reaches its peak in early May, when poppy species are at their best, and ends in early June. In the mountains the flowering belt keeps climbing to higher elevations until August. flowers
Repetek Reserve,
flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers
Onions of Central Asia, left to right: Alium aflatunense, Tien Shan, A. oreophilum, Pamir, A. azureum, Jungar, A. moly, introduced, A. sphaerocephalon, Kashgaria, A. christophii, Turkmenistan.
Giant foxtail lilies (Eremurus
), Gissar Range,Tajikistan.
Iris bucharica,
Termez, Uzbekistan.
Flora of Central Asia is extremely diverse, with thousands of endemics. Some of the most beautiful flowers can only be seen in remote locations, such as tzar bells (Ostrovskia), foxtail lilies, rare orchids, giant onions with football-size flowers, and dozens of tulip species.
flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers flowers
flowers flowers Tulips of Turkmenistan, upper row, left to right: Tulipa fosteriana, T. chrysantha, T. pulchella, T. bakeri, T. sylvestris, T. palinifolia; lower row, left to right:T. tarda, T. batalinii (yellow and red varieties), T. clusiana. flowers flowers
Tulipa greigi is the world's largest and most beautiful tulip. It can be seen, together with many other tulips, in the dry foothills of Tian-Shan Mountains in late March. One of the best sites is Kurdai Pass on Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan border, near Bishkek.
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Ochris aksuensis, Tulipa wilsoniana and T. greigi, Kyrgyzstan.
T. greigi,
Kurdai Pass,
T. darwini,
Kurdai Pass,
T. rex,
T. pamirensis,
T. iris
T. kaufmanni,
T. praestans,
Spring flowers, Aidere, Turkmenistan
Unlike in the North American deserts, spring blooming occurs almost annually here. Many desert creatures, from mites to wild sheep, visit deserts at this time, and spend the rest of the year underground, in the high mountains, or further north. From July to March, deserts of Central Asia are much less interesting, except in Mongolia, where rains mostly fall in summer months. acrida
Acris locust,
Of all desert plants, parasites are the most bizarre. These foot-tall plants grow in spring on saxaul roots. They have no leaves, and their flowers are pollinated by hawk moths. They are rare, as are many species of rapidly disappearing saxaul forests. Repetek Nature Reserve is probably the last place where these beautiful forests are not threatened. plant
Cistanche flava,
Repetek, Turkmenistan.
Forget-me-nots (Myosotis tatarica) and adonis
(Adonis uralensis), Alan, Chechen Republic
Dry grasslands and sage deserts of Kazakhstan, Ciscaucasia and Southern Siberia also have spring displays, but, unfortunately, most areas with rich vegetation have been destroyed by agriculture. Temperate grasslands can now only be seen in small Nature reserves or in Mongolia.
Dry foothill steppes of Ciscaucasia were once covered by the World's largest and most beautiful poppy, Papaver bracteatum, with flowers up to 25 cm (10') in diameter. Now this species is practically extinct in the wild: its range had been converted into pastures and fields, and the last plants were collected for bouquets or for thebain, a narcotic drug they contained. The area where this photo had been taken in 1989 was later turned into army camp. poppy
Thebain poppy (P. bracteatum),
Kabardinsk, Russia.
Unknown species, Changtang, Tibet
In high deserts of Pamir and Tibet, there are lots of beautiful flowers, too, but there are no "displays" - plants just use every day of warm season. Only in Changtang, the highest and driest part of Tibet, there is so little moisture that flowers do not bloom every year. If monsoon clouds manage to break in this isolated basins, they let flowers appear in usually barren plains. But in narrow gorges of northern Karakoram there is not enough rain anyway, and plants grow only along rivers.
Endangered Georgian Iris (Iris
), Hosrov, Armenia
Large stemless irises are the most showy flowers of dry basins of Kurdistan and Transcaucasia. Some are endemic to vernal pools around Mt. Ararat. steppe
Vernal vegetation near
Mt.Ararat, Armenia
Deserts of Israel are also known for beautiful irises, but most of these flowers are very local, have short blooming period and can be difficult to find. iris
Iris hieruchamensis,
Negev Desert, Israel.
Iris lortelli,
Judean Desert, Israel.
Iris bismarkiana,
Jordan River, Israel.
Iris atropurpurea,
Hebron, Israel.
Poppy P. orientalis,
Petra, Jordan.
Poppy P. somniferum,
Hatussas, Turkey.
Anemone coronaria,
Khar Tavor, Israel.
Lilium candida,
Ashkelon, Israel.
Other famous flowers from the desert edges and dry grasslands of the Middle East include various poppies, anemones and lilies.
Deserts and foothills of Asia are the homeland of many beautiful flowers and tasty fruits. Peaches, apricots,melons, and pomegranates from bazaars of Turkmenia and Uzbekistan are still much better than anything available in the most expensive food stores in the West. lily
Khorasan lily
(Lilium parsiana),
Atrek, Iran.
Wild rose (Rosa
), Karakala,
Flowers of pomegranate
(Punica granatum),
Kyzyl-Arvat, Turkmenistan.
B. laciniata, Sonora.
Battarea phalloides, Baja California.
Geastrum striatum, New Mexico.
Surprisingly, deserts also have a lot of interesting mushrooms. Here are three unusually-looking North American species.

Yucca schidigera, California.

Part 3
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