Celebrate Invasive Species Awareness Every Week!

This year, National Invasive Species Awareness Week was from February 28th through March 3rd. It always begins on the last Monday of February. If you’re reading this outside of that particular week, it’s okay. The knowledge and prevention of invasive species are important enough to consider every week. Read on to learn more about why you should care about invasive species despite the day, week, month, or year. 

What Is An Invasive Species? 

An invasive species is any non-native plant, animal, or microorganism that proliferates in areas outside of its native ecosystem. It can be either on land or in the water. Also known as invasives, these organisms can harm the environment, human health, and the economy.

Get to Know Some Invasives

I’ve talked about animals, such as the green iguanas and spiny-tail iguanas as invasive species, but there are soooo many more. In the US, there are more than 6,500 non-native plants and animals. Some are so common that you might think they are native because they seem to always be around. For this blog, I want to talk about a few particular invasive plants. These plants were introduced to non-native environments for a variety of reasons. Sometimes intentionally, and sometimes they are accidentally released.  

The Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolia) were both introduced because they’re attractive. I admit, I enjoyed the purple flowers of the loosestrife as I kayaked the rivers of Michigan and New Jersey. However, it did strike me as odd that it was spread out so extensively. That’s what invasives do, they out-compete the native plants.

A field full of beautiful, but invasive Purple Loosestrife.

I spend a great deal of time in Florida. Many Floridians would tell me about the gorgeous bushy tree they had in their yards, the Brazilian pepper or Florida holly as it’s called locally. The leaves and red berries are often used in holiday decorations. However, this non-native plant very successfully forced native plants out of the area. I spent two summers working to remove them from the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The roots had to be destroyed because the plant would regrow if any were left alive. In addition, when the berries ripened and fermented, birds would eat them and become drunk. No matter how humorous the birds look hanging upside down and singing, this is very dangerous for them.

Round, red berries growing in a bunch surrounded by green leaves.

(Photo courtesy of Forest & Kim Starr)

The Dangers of Invasive Species

Even though invasive animal species get the most attention, plants can be dangerous, too. Just how dangerous? If you’ve ever seen kudzu, (Pueraria lobata) grow, you know how destructive plants can be. Kudzu is known as the “plant that ate the South.” Originally planted to help with ground erosion control, it spread over trees, vehicles, and even buildings. Kudzu can grow up to a foot a day. Yes, you can really watch this plant grow.

Kudzu vines covering the ground and trees.

Then there’s the symbol of the desert West, the humble tumbleweed (Kali tragus). Nothing says desolation in a show than a tumbleweed blowing across the dusty ground. But tumbleweed seeds came from Russia. The portion of the plant that is seen rolling along the ground is the seed dispersal unit. Unfortunately, the seemingly harmless balls of rolling branches actually cause significant losses through traffic accidents, invasion of agricultural operations, and property damage!

I was surprised to learn that the multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is invasive. My neighbors in New Jersey had a glorious hedge of multiflora rose on top of their backyard fence. I enjoyed the aroma and multitude of flowers. Little did I know how well the rose out-competed the native understory plants.

Delicate white flowers of the multiflora rose.

Invasive species and conservation of native plants and animals is a worldwide issue. Learn some ways locals are protecting wildlife in the Cayman Islands or some of the native species found in North America with my fun and interactive workbooks! You can find them all here.

A Spectacular ‘Bloom Night’ 2021 at Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens

The Night-blooming Cereus had to bloom all alone in the summer of 2020, but this year, they opened in all their glory for the visitors at the Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens on June 30, 2021.

Just prior to the 2019 blooming, I published my book, Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus. I wrote this book when the folks at Tohono Chul mentioned there were no books specifically for the native Cereus, Peniocereus greggii. After consulting with their expert botanist, I published this rhyming picture book. I was delighted by the public’s reception of the book on Bloom Night 2019.

Shortly after the 2019 blooming, photographer Karen Wright published a book about the Cereus featuring her phenomenal photographs, Queen of the Night: A Rare Beauty. So, with the park being open to members for the 2021 Bloom Night, I suggested that Karen and I do a book signing together.

I am pleased to report that we both had good sales and we made a good team, encouraging people to learn more about and fully embrace this unusual cactus species native to the Sonoran Desert. Most of the year, it looks like a stick, which extends from a large tuber buried in the desert soil.  Once a year, at the beginning of the summer monsoon, the cereus plants develop flowers. When all the conditions are just right, all the flowers across the area, bloom on the same night – for only one night! Their fragrance summons the pollinating moths and bats before the flowers all die with the morning sun.

These sticks produce spectacular blossoms one night per summer
Pots of Cereus Plant at Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens

A very brief but spectacular shared life!

 

 

 

 

 

book cover Queen of the Night

REVIEW ARIZONA DAILY STAR

Queen of the Night:
The Night-Blooming Cereus

$14.95
by Elaine A. Powers

Illustrated by Nicholas Thorpe 

A perk of Sonoran-desert living is the one-night-only appearance of the Night-Blooming Cereus, a much-anticipated summer event for Tucsonans who rely on predictions from experts to know precisely when the tiny window of opportunity will open on the floral extravaganza. How in the world do the experts know? And what causes a cactus to behave this way?

With this picture book, Elaine Powers demystifies the mysterious bloom, explaining – in rhyming couplets no less – the life cycle of the plant, how to predict its flowering (when the buds reach 170-230 millimeters, stand back!), why they all flower simultaneously, and other bits of botanical lore about this intriguing plant, which spends most of the year looking like an undistinguished stick. Written for children, Powers’ book will charm and edify cactus lovers of any age. Lush illustrations by Nicholas Thorpe are a splendid accompaniment: Look for his very stern javelina on page 12 – he’s delightful.

A former laboratory biologist, Powers, who makes her home in Tucson, now writes science-based children’s books.

– Helene Woodhams is retired from Pima County Public Library, where she was literary arts

 

 

 

Come Out and See Me at a Book-Signing on Cereus Bloom Night

On a recent walk in a Sonoran Desert wash, I came across the plant pictured above. I think it may be a night-blooming cereus, Peniocereus greggii, the first one I’ve seen in the wild. I don’t believe it’s dead—these plants look like sticks in the Sonoran Desert.

I have seen many night-blooming cereus plants and their magnificent flowers at Tohono Chul Botanical Gardens. Each year, they predict when “Bloom Night” will occur–when the night-blooming cereus plants will all bloom–open and close together in one night. It’s incredible! Even the plants in pots in the greenhouses bloom right along with those in the ground.

I was asked to write a book about these remarkable flowers and my illustrated and rhyming book was created. It went on to become an Amazon No. 1 book.

photo of Night-blooming Cereus plant

Look for me at a table with my book, Queen of the Night. I’d love to autograph your copy!

Now that the monsoons are approaching, it’s almost time for another Bloom Night at Tohono Chul. Check their website link above for the date of Bloom Night and, if you’re a member, stop by and get your personalized, autographed copy of my book, Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus.

It has all the scientific information you’ll need before the cereus plants bloom, and it features the captivating illustrations of Nicholas Thorpe. If you’re not a member of the gardens, you can still get the book at their gift shop. It’s also available on Amazon.com

infographic about Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus

#elaineapowers   #lyricpower  #nightbloomingcereus  #queen of the night
#Amazon No. 1 Book

Brittlebush Can Take the Heat!

One plant that has always amazed me in the Sonoran Desert is the Brittlebush. No matter how little rain falls nor how hot it is, this bush produces a lush crop of flowers.

Brittlebush, Encelia farinose, is a bush native to the Sonoran Desert and is a member of the sunflower family.  The leaves are long, oval and silver-gray with a fuzzy surface (trichomes). The fuzziness provides protection from excessive heat and cold.  The grayish white color reflects sunlight, helping to keep the plant cool. In addition, the fuzziness helps collect any moisture and reduce water loss, which is very important in the desert.

photo of brittlebush plant
Brittlebush, Encelia farinose

In late winter and early spring, yellow flowers form on long stalks on the outside of bush.  Notice their sunflower-like appearance. Their bright color contrasts with the dull tan-gray of the ground.

The common name, brittlebush, refers to the brittleness of its stems. It’s also called incienso because the fragrant resin was dried and burned by early Spanish missions as incense. Brittlebush was used by indigenous and pioneer people. The resin was also used as glue, sealant, varnish and chewing gum. Brittlebush was important in oral hygiene.  Cowboys used stems as toothbrushes, while Native Americans used it to treat toothaches.

Brittlebush thrives in dry gravelly to sandy habitats. A sunny site is required along with the well-drained soil. The plant has a shallow taproot and lateral roots to take advantage of any rainfall.  It is sensitive to frost, so my bush enjoys the protection of my backyard wall.

The profusion of blossoms is an important food source for a variety of animals.  Once they fade away, thousands of seeds will be produced, another food source.

I hope that some of my bush’s offspring will germinate in my yard, creating more magnificent bushes.

Thank you, Brittlebush, for providing a bit of vibrant color in my life.

BOOK NOTE: If you love plants as much as I do, I hope you’ll check out my fun science books on plants, especially Queen of the Night: The Night-blooming Cereus, which is all about the very unusual Sonoran Desert flowering plants that bloom all together on one night per year!

Photo of night-blooming cereus in Tucson AZ
Photo courtesy of This is Tucson

It happens in June or July every summer and people come out by the hundreds to see these magnificent beauties bloom together. More to follow about the 2021 expected bloom dates. Learn all about the Night-blooming Cereus before they bloom this year!

book cover for the Night-Blooming Cereus
All about the mysterious plant that blooms only one night per year–all at the same time!

Also, to enjoy a tale of friendship and learn more about the ecosystems necessary to Bahamian trees, and how seeds find their homes, check out my children’s adventure tale (ages 8+), Grow Home, Little Seeds.

book cover about seeds finding a place to sprout
The graduating bundle of mixed seeds of the Leon Levy Preserve vows to stay together and form their own forest. Will they be able to remain together, or will their natures lead them in different directions? Will they find what the need to survive, to germinate, and to put down roots? Join these Bahamian natives on their adventures to find their places to call home.

For a humorous take on the Sonoran Desert and its flora and fauna, see How NOT to Photograph a Hummingbird. After the fun, refer to the desert plant and wildlife glossary in the back of the book.

illustration of a hummingbird on a cactus
A Humorous Tale Introducing the Plants
and Animals of the Sonoran Desert
“I’ll have a long-term memory of this visit.
Maybe a permanent one.”
For All Ages
Reading Level Age 8+
26 pages
Glossary of Minerals, Flora and Fauna
Illustrated by Anderson Atlas
A bumbling visitor to Southern Arizona is repeatedly injured when trying to photograph a mischievous hummingbird, as the Sonoran Desert conspires against him.
Have a laugh while enjoying learning about the plants and animals of Southern Arizona.

All three books would be help with science or book reports. And for summer supplemental, educational, and fun activity sheets and workbooks, go to Lyric Power Publishing, LLC.

It’s my calling to help make science fun, and I’m sticking to it!

#elainapowers  #sonorandesert   #sonorandesertflowers

The Very Tall Octopus Agave Plant

I saw these magnificent agave’s in the neighborhood where my chorus practiced outside. I was astounded by the height of the flower stalks that passed the second floor’s windows. I had to know what plant they were! They are Octopus Agave, Agave vilmoriniana.

photo of octopus agaveThese plants are native to northwest Mexico, so it’s not surprising they would also grow well just over the international border.  They are rapid growers, but short-lived. They can grow to four to five feet in height, but live less than ten years. The presence of these stalks indicates these individuals’ lives are coming to an end.

It wasn’t obvious to me why the common name is Octopus Agave. However, it’s because the leaves are recurved, first sloping down and slightly twisting upward.

photo of the base plant

Of course, the flower spikes are what attracted my attention. The stalk grows to 10-20 feet tall. Over six to eight weeks the flowers will bloom and develop plantlets.

photo of flowers of octopus agave plant

 

 

 

 

 

 

An interesting fact is that this agave has a very high concentration of the sapogenin smilagenen. Sometimes, the leaves are cut, dried and fibers beaten to create a brush with its own soap.

This is a striking, beautiful plant that lives fast and dies young, and can clean up, too!

#elainapowers  #lyricpower  #octopusagave

Book Note: I am fascinated by plants and truly enjoy having them all around me. I have written two books about plants, one for ages 8+, Grow Home, Little Seeds, an adventure tale starring seeds that are all looking for just the right place to germinate. It teaches the science about plants and how they grow in a fun way.  The second one, Queen of the Night: the Night-blooming Cereus, is about the magnificent desert plants that all bloom on one night, together. It is colorfully illustrated and written in rhyme, so learning the science is memorable and interesting.

image of the covers of two plant books by Elaine A. PowersI believe learning science in rhyme or a story makes the learning stick. Check my books out today. Someone you know might really enjoy a fun-science book. You can see all my fun-science children’s books on My Books page.

Tomorrow is Earth Day!

What are you doing tomorrow to celebrate Earth Day?

April 22, 2021 is National Earth Day, which, as you probably know, is an annual event to support environmental protection. The goals are to educate people about protecting the world and to learn more about local and global environments. It is a day to realize that we are all part of the earth’s ecosystem and that without maintaining this world, we won’t survive. Earth Day activities aren’t only for adults—children need to be involved, too, because it is their future at stake. Along with outdoor activities, I encourage adults and children to read science-based books together.

The pandemic and resulting shutdowns showed us a lot about the environment. We observed the air clear, and wild animals as they reacted to the release from the constant presence of people. People discovered the value of the ecosystems in their neighborhoods, whether urban, suburban or rural. The plants and animals of nature helped us survive the social isolation. If we couldn’t interact with other humans, we could interact with animals. We could watch plants germinate and grow and we had time to enjoy the wonder of life. I’ve published pictures here of plants in my yard that I enjoyed observing more closely this past year.

photo of barrel cactus
Barrel Cactus

If you must stay inside, I’d like to suggest my science-based, educational, and fun, books–and the books by all the authors found at Lyric Power Publishing.  I like to think my books about plants and animals are adding to the knowledge about the preciousness of the environments that support all living things. I have written three books about conservation and I also publish iguana conservation materials that help people protect iguana environments from not only human impact, but from invasive species, both animals and plants.

book covers conservation

My Conservation books and brochures.

photo of iguana conservation brochure

The Don’t Series

photo of Sonoran Desert Book Covers

My Sonoran Desert plant book.

It’s important to participate in Earth Day. We each need to do what we can to learn how to help protect our world tomorrow–and every day.

#elaineapowers   #lyricpowerpublishing  #earthday   #earthdayactivities

Little Cactus, Big Flowers

Usually, author Jo Busha writes the blog posts on plants, but one of my potted cacti inspired me to share this magnificent plant with you. Last year, a friend gave me this trio of the cactus, Mammilaria senilis.

This mammillaria is native to northern Mexico, growing on moss-covered boulders in high altitude pine forests. I am a bit surprised it is doing so well in my desert home. Its common name is Cabeza de Viejo, which translates to Old man’s Head. Not sure I see it . . .

photo of cactus Mammilaria senilis.
Fuzzy head of Mammilaria senilis

Although this cactus may look like it is covered with white tufts, they are hooked white spines. But the most spectacular feature is the enormous red flowers that contrast with the diminutive body.

This plant is considered difficult to grow since it needs a lot of light and ample airflow. Outside in the desert, mine is certainly getting plenty of sunlight and airflow. Letting the soil dry before watering is not an issue. However, as a mountain plant, it prefers cooler temps . . . oops. It can withstand full sun as long as it is morning sun, not the baking afternoon sunlight.

photo of Mammilaria senilis starting to blossom
Mammilaria senilis beginning to blossom

A cultivation guide says that if grown correctly, this cactus will reward the grower with generous displays of red flowers. I like my reward.

If you or your children are interested in fun plant books, I’ve written two so far: Queen of the Night: the Night-blooming Cereus, shown below, 20 pages for all ages, written in rhyme, about the magnificent Sonoran Desert plant that all bloom together one night each summer, an Amazon #1 book in the Children’s Botany section, with colorful illustrations by Nicholas Thorpe;

book cover for the Night-Blooming Cereus
All about the mysterious plant that blooms only one night per year–all at the same time!
illustration page from Night-Blooming Cereus
An illustration from Queen of the Night: the Night-Blooming Cereus

illustration of book cover Grow Home Little Seeds

interior illustration from Grow Home Little Seeds
An illustration from Grow Home Little Seeds

and Grow Home, Little Seeds, a tale for ages 8+, 25 pages with a 10-page seed appendix, illustrated in pastel colors by Monique Carroll, in which a group of seeds leaves the Leon Levy Preserve to find their homes. Along the adventure, they learn they are different and that they each have their own needs to grow, but that they can grow up alongside each other and remain friends.

www.elaineapowers.com

#elaineapowers

#botanybooks

#queenofthenight:nightbloomingcereus

#growhomelittleseeds

The Lost Pomegranate Crop or Was It Really Lost?

I love pomegranates.  I have fond childhood memories of my family sitting around the table, each of us carefully peeling the tough husk off and eating the luscious seeds one at a time.  We were careful to wear clothing that could be stained with the permanently dyeing juice.

Brought to the Sonoran Desert by Spanish settlers, these trees do well in this dry climate. I have planted a few in my yard, so I can enjoy pomegranates throughout the winter.  I usually only consume half the fruit crop, leaving the rest for the birds and other pomegranate-eating animals.

This summer, the monsoons have failed to develop as usual and I’ve only had half an inch of rain fall in my yard, as opposed to the usual four inches by now. The pomegranate fruit stalled in their growth and have been bursting open before the seeds have ripened. They’re still sweet in flavor.

But don’t worry, the pomegranates are being consumed by the locals.

Here, you’ll see a bird hopping in and out of  the opening.

Pomegranate with bird      pomegranate and bird

Even though I’m disappointed that I won’t get many, if any, pomegranates this year, I am glad that the locals can enjoy them.

  Nothing goes to waste!

 

Pomegranate drawing by Nicky Girly on Pixabay.

The Marshmallow: Not Merely Fluffy Sugar

In a previous blog, I related a story how even in my early years, I was working to keep wild alligators away from people food with stale, very hard, marshmallows. This occurred on Sanibel Island, FL. 

Have you ever thought about where marshmallows come from? My marshmallow story took place on Sanibel Island, FL, where you can find the marsh mallow growing. Yes, the marsh mallow is a plant. I learned about it while I was working at the “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. On Sanibel the species is called Kosteletzkya virginica.

Did you think marshmallows were merely fluffy sugar? Well, they’re not. Marshmallows have been around since ancient Egypt. They used the mallow, Althaea officinalis, which grew in salty marshes. The sweet sap was made into a candy that was dedicated to their gods.

The ancient Greeks valued the medicinal properties of the mallow. Many cultures have used mallow to treat wounds, inflammation, toothaches and sore throats.

In the 1800s, the French created a candy for adult consumption, in addition to its previous medicinal uses. The mallow sap was whipped with egg whites and corn syrup into an easily moldable substance and the modern marshmallow was created. The next time you enjoy a marshmallow, think of the plant from which it came:  the mallow growing in salty marshes.

Botanical illustration of the Marsh Mallow Plant

A botanical drawing of the marshmallow plant, featuring the plant as well as close-ups of the flower and seed.

FRANZ EUGEN KOHLER, KOHLERS MEDIZINAL-PFLANZEN

NOTE: Every now and then, I divert from writing about animals to do a bit of plant investigation. To see some of my work on plants, check out The Queen of the Night about the fascinating Night-Blooming Cereus, plants that bloom magnificently only one night per year—and they wait for each other to bloom all at the same time. EAP

book cover for the Night-Blooming Cereus
All about the mysterious plant that blooms only one night per year–all at the same time!