Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Desert Fern

During my investigation into our fern garden, I discovered this native plant to the Sonoran desert.  I do say it often but this is another favorite shrub/tree of mine.  The leaves on this plant are similiar to those of the Jacaranda or Mesquite trees.  Being native to our area, the care instructions for this tree are quite simple.  Plant it and it will grow.  Water once a week during the hot summer months for quicker growth, but also be careful not to overwater.  The ferny look of this plant is what sold me, but you may also be fascinated to find out that it produces little fuzzy yellowish white balls in spring.  During our winter freeze, the tree lost a lot of its' leaves, but it has since rebounded back in spring when temps warmed up.  For an additional punch to a part of the garden, I put the Mexican Bird of Paradise and the Desert Fern together and it makes an incredible statement.  You can see a part of this plant in the headlining pic of this blog.  Where is it?
Where is it?  I'll give you a the left side.

At first this tree, may grow slowly, but as it gets older it will gain height faster.  Therefore I am going to say that the Desert Fern grows moderately for me.  This is a definite must for your landscape. Low maintenance and native!  Some people will sometimes mistake it for a Mesquite because of the ferny foliage.  I think it looks rather different, but everyone has their own thoughts. In my opinion, there are two stunning trees for the Tucson area....the Texas Ebony and this Lysiloma.  Many people like to put this tree in a corner near a wall.  It has grown for me 8 feet but it will certainly get taller and wider over the years.  It likes sun with some regular water.  During a good monsoon, you won't have to water this tree, but in June it should get a weekly water. The following information below will tell us why the Mesquite and Lysiloma are similiar in appearance as well as many other plants in our Sonoran landscape.  Here's a little background......
Picture taken by Mark A. Dimmitt
The following information is from one of my favorite places to visit....the Arizona Desert Museum. Here is some information from their website about the wide varieties of plants that succeed in our desert....known as the Legume Family or Fabaceae.

The Legume Family
"Legumes are a very large family of 16,000 species in nearly all of the world's habitats. Champion drought tolerators, they are most abundant in the arid tropics. Their prevalence in the Sonoran Desert flora (for example, there are 53 legume species in the Tucson Mountains, 8% of its plants) reflects this desert's tropical origin. North of the Mexican border most of the common Sonoran Desert trees are legumes.


The family was named Leguminosae for its fruit, which in most species is a legume (the technical term for bean pod, a single-chambered capsule enclosing what appears to be a single row of seeds that is actually two rows — alternate seeds are attached to opposite halves of the pod). There are three subfamilies with flowers that look very different from one another at first glance, but arose from a common pattern: Caesalpinioideae, Faboideae, and Mimosoideae

Mimosoideae subfamily

The petals are fused in this group, but they're so tiny that they are not noticeable. What one sees is a powder puff of stamens. It's easy to visualize the derivation of flowers of this group from the above subfamily. Start with a caesalpinoid flower such as a Palo Verde blossom. Reduce the petals until they nearly disappear, greatly elongate the filaments of the stamens, and combine several to many flowers into a tight cluster. The visual result is a ball or cylinder of stamens (powder-puffs or catkins, respectively). All species are woody. Examples include acacias (Acacia), mesquite (Prosopis), fairy duster (Calliandra), and mimosa (Albizia).


Plants require large quantities of three minerals: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. The latter two elements are present in soil, but nitrogen is an atmospheric gas that plants cannot use directly. Some soil bacteria and cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) can fix nitrogen (convert it into nitrate or other compound) into a form which plants can use. Another major source of nitrogen is the decomposition of dead plants and animals. In arid soils especially, where decomposition of organic material is slow, plant growth is often limited by the available amount of soil nitrogen. Many legumes harbor colonies of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots. The plant provides favorable habitat and carbon for the bacteria, and the bacteria in turn provide surplus nitrate to the plants. Nitrogen-fixing legumes have higher concentrations of nitrogen compounds in their tissues than non-fixing plants. When legume leaves decompose they release the nitrogen and enrich the soil. Nitrogen is an essential element in proteins, so nitrogen-fixing plants can make large crops of seeds with high protein contents (more than 50 percent in some species).
The typically large, nutritious, and abundant seeds of legumes are an important food source for many wildlife species, including insects such as bruchid beetles. Adult bruchids are flower beetles, while the larvae of most species are seed predators. Bruchids are not restricted to legumes, but there is a myriad of species that specialize on legume seeds. Some species are very host-specific, while others feed on a wide range of seeds. Decades of intensive study of the bruchid-seed relationship would likely not reveal all aspects of this tiny part of the ecological web." End of article. Written by Mark Dimmit. Mark A. Dimmitt,
A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert (ASDM Press, 2000)
Source: watsonii

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