Ghost Flowers in the Sonoran Desert - Observation of the Week, 3/8/2019

Our Observation of the Week is this Ghost Flower seen in Mexico by @micrathene!

“My parents met taking an adult birding class and they encouraged me to be interested in the natural world,” says Arizona ornithologist David Vander Pluym. “Some of my earliest memories are of new birds (and being a grumpy 3 year old about missing a life bird).” While birds remain his primary focus, David’s grown more interested in other taxa and will even branch out into collecting spider specimens this spring. And plants? “I've only been interested in flowers for a few years (after my wife got me interested in actually looking at plants) and still know next to nothing about them.”

However, ghost flowers (Mohavea confertiflora) have quickly become one of David’s favorites and he’s even found them in the parking lot of a bar! The plant photographed above (and below), however, was seen while on a trip to Reserva de la Biosfera El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar, on the way back from a trip to Puerto Penasco, Sonora “celebrating a couple of friends' birthdays as well as an excuse to look for birds, go tidepooling, and look for whatever else we might be able to iNat.”

The group, which included David’s wife Lauren and fellow iNatter Ryan O'Donnell (@tsirtalis), were hiking up Cono Mayo when Ryan pointed out the flowers to Lauren, “who identified them and called to me, who had walked right passed it! I looked back and noticed there was a small patch of them (I counted more than 50) near where they were looking and I quickly started photographing them. I think this one was one of the first I noticed and took a photo of.”

Native to the deserts of southwestern North America, ghost flowers do have a translucent  “ghostly” look to them, and David says “the number of plants out and the size and number of flowers on a single individual varies year to year too with local rainfall.” Interestingly, ghost flowers do not produce nectar but, according to the California Native Plant Society, are pollinated by Xeralictus bees, which also pollinate sand blazingstar flowers - a species that often grows in the same area. These bees are drawn to ghost flowers because the “flowers contain marks that resemble female Xeralictus; these marks operate as a sign stimulus to the male bee, which enters the flower and in doing so pollinates the Mohavea.”

David (above, in Álamos, Sonora with another non-bird organism) tells me that while he has used iNaturalist to quickly identify plants when he’s birding, he really iNats “as a way to learn more about other forms of life beyond my main focus. Being able to share sightings and have an identification made on some random organism I photographed has made me want to pay a lot more attention to other organisms I probably would have previously passed by. Being able to identify and put a name on something is a powerful thing.”

- by Tony Iwane

- Micrathene is a genus of owls which contains but one species, the elf owl, a bird that David has studied.

- It’s shaping up to be a good flower year in the deserts of southwestern North America. If you go, please tread lightly!

Publicado el 09 de marzo de 2019 por tiwane tiwane


Beautiful photos of the (not-nearly-as-spooky-as-arachnids!) ghost flowers! I also love learning about new organisms outside of my normal focus. I'm even marginally less terrified of that tarantula because of iNat! Thanks for sharing, David. I'm going to go research those bees now too. Enjoy migration!

Publicado por mira_l_b hace más de 5 años

Thank you for the pics and info on the ghost flowers. The spider...... good luck!

Publicado por sandykeller hace más de 5 años

Nice work David! Really great flower images.

Publicado por susanhewitt hace más de 5 años

I too prefer the pretty flower. (lol) Beautiful photo on the way you captured all the detail on the entire plant. Kudos!

Publicado por walkingstick2 hace más de 5 años

Love the pics :)

Publicado por ineffable hace más de 5 años

"W" of Wonderful. Congratulations !

Publicado por alessandradalia hace más de 5 años


Publicado por bluejay2007 hace más de 5 años

Thank you for sharing this hidden jewel of the earth.

Publicado por sunnetchan hace más de 5 años

Awesome flowers! Had never heard of these before!

Publicado por cesarcastillo hace más de 5 años

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