November 25, 2015

Merriam's kangaroo rat (dipodomys merriami)

My first order of business when I get up in the morning is to feed birds and horses. Right now it is still dark at 5:30 so I have borrowed Dan's head lamp to help me see what I am doing. So fun to see what all you miss in the dark!

One of the animals profiting from me putting out birdseed, other than the birds, is the resident wood rat who lives in the nearby agave, but as soon as I lift the lid off the metal garbage can that holds the seed a small army of kangaroo rats scurries around my feet.

Ours look super healthy, which is not surprising as they are getting a small amount of sunflower seeds and chicken scratch along with the birds. They are so tame I have to be careful to not step on any of those beautiful long tails. They remind me of little windup toys and seeing them leap to stay out of each other's, and my, way is amazing.

Kangaroo rats are true desert dwellers who almost exclusively eat seeds which they first hide in fur-lined cheek pouches and then in underground granaries. They seal off the granaries from the outside to preserve them and keep them from drying out. They rarely drink and extract all the moisture they need from the seeds.

Right now there are about a dozen of them, and they are no doubt reproducing at a good clip but they are also on the menu of a variety of other animals that hang around our place: great horned owls, coyotes, bobcats, badgers so I have confidence I will not find one in my sock drawer anytime soon.

November 24, 2015

Fall in the Stronghold

Our friend Mary suggested a hike for six, three humans plus Emma and her sisters, in the Cochise Stronghold this morning. It was a gorgeous fall day with temperatures in the 70's. Dan and I had not been there since Spring and it was great to see the effects of a good rainy season. It is such a beautiful place, and right next door too.

We walked the two miles up to Half Moon tank where there was still quite a bit of water; the dogs did not hesitate to take the plunge and have a good mud roll afterwards. Wonderful morning.

November 4, 2015

Octopus agave (Agave vilmoriniana)

What an amazing plant! All agaves are amazing, but I think the way this plant reproduces is special. Agaves are sometimes called "century plants" because they seem to go on living for years and years. They don't live for a century though, it is more like ten years. The plant then sends up a flowering stalk, spending all its energy in doing so, and then it dies. Before dying the plant usually sends up new plants (pups) from the roots and so life goes on.

My friend Mary showed up the other day carrying an egg carton with six little agave sprouts that she had collected and started when an octopus agave had bloomed. Only the agave did not send up little plants from the roots, but formed on the stalk. In Mexico, where this plant grows in the wild, she said, the plant's leaves are cut, dried, and the fibers beaten into a brush with built-in soap thanks to a high concentration of sapogenin in the leaves.

I have potted up the little plants and will keep them inside until Spring because I think they will die with a frost, the roots being so small. I will find a spot in the yard for them when the weather warms up. We live in the same environment where this agave grows naturally so I have hopes it will do well in our yard. I wonder if its soap carrying qualities will discourage animals from eating the leaves?

Yesterday we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and there was an octopus agave that had recently bloomed and its stalk was with loaded with little sprouts! What an amazing sight. Mom does have her ways.