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Sun, Aug. 25

Native Plants of the Southwest (33) - Bear Wallow Wilderness

Four trails facilitate access to Bear Wallow Wilderness. Trail 63 runs the length of the Wilderness, following the headwaters of the Black River to the boundary with the Apache Reservation. The downside of this trail is that it begins at the edge of the Wallow Fire that began here in 2011. The fire moved quickly to the east, so it is not long until you clear the damage, less than a mile. The recovery is noteworthy. Aspen depend on fire for their very survival, and they are making the most of the opportunity with a strong comeback. If you'd like to pass, on hiking through the scarred landscape, take Trail 62 instead and you will not hike through the 2011 burn. Trail 62 begins just a little further west on Forest Road 25, which is suitable for passenger cars going to either trailhead. I can't speak to the conditions of the other two trails, as I did not hike on either one.

I hiked two trails, Trail 62 as a day hike one afternoon and Trail 63 to the Reservation boundary the next day. Trail 62 is a better trail because it is clearer to follow. Trail 63 was impacted more by the Wallow Fire near the trailhead, so the undergrowth obscures the trail more. Trail 63 also follows along the bottom of the canyon where vegetation continues to obscure the trail. There's not much evidence of the Wallow Fire once you get to the bottom of the canyon but there's also little use of the trail so it is slow going, which is fine as there is plenty to look at and enjoy along the way.

After about one-half mile from either trailhead, you'll hear running streams, an unusual and welcome sound in Arizona Wilderness areas. The trails gradually descend along the creeks, sometimes above them. Once you get to the bottom of the canyon where the two trails join, and continue west on Trail 63, expect to cross the stream several times. Keep your eyes open for cairns and trail signs at junctions. I missed the junction with Trail 59 inbound but saw it outbound. I didn't see Trail 316 going in or out.

In addition to the abundant flowers, I saw turkeys and bear tracks. Downstream from the trail junction of 62 and 63, the canyon exhibits high cliffs, log jams, and evidence of recent flooding. It's an incredible place, offering much in such a small space.

To get here, take US 191 south of Alpine (Jct. 191 and 180) some 27.7 miles. At MPM 226.5 turn west on Forest Rd. 25. Go west 3.2 miles to the trailhead for Trail 63 and/or 5.9 miles to the trailhead for Trail 62. There's no parking and no information at Trail 62. There's limited parking and a sign with general information at Trail 63.

No permits are needed. Be alert as to the dangers of dead trees. Things do go bump in the night. Be bear-wise too. Take the normal precautions about food around camp if you backpack in. High water is another very real possibility, at least toward the end of summer. Finally, don't let the bugs spoil your enjoyment of this floral paradise. I tied a bandana around my face and ears after I got tired of continually waving my hat in front of my face as I walked. Use chemicals if you need to. Of course, you could choose another season, but the flowers won't be there for you. Crews were working along FR 25 to clear dead trees. There was plenty of heavy equipment in operation. Go slow but not too slow. You wouldn't want that tree trunk grabber to mistake you for a tree.

Topo Map: Baldy Bill Point quad 7.5' Administration: Apache Sitgreaves National Forest

Every color, every growth form, and a wide spectrum of plant diversity await you when hiking here toward the end of summer. The elevation is relatively high, ranging from 8,600' at the start to 6,600 feet at the Reservation just past the junction with Trail 59. It needs to be high as it is a challenge to find cool territory in the Southwest during the "dog days of summer." I begin with a fern, growing in soggy soil, followed by a vine from the Hemp Family. It is the only member of this genus in Arizona. There were many more vines from the Pea Family, but this representative of the Hemp Family is somewhat of a loner. Next is a delicate ground cover associated with the legendary Shamrock and lucky four-leaf clover. Finally, a member of the Parsley Family concludes the plants presented here as the not-to-be-missed representatives of the Plant Kingdom in Bear Wallow Wilderness in Arizona's White Mountains. Happy hiking, plant lovers.

Lady Fern, Athyrium felix-femina (Fern Family)

The terminology used to describe ferns is specialized and likely to be unfamiliar to most plant enthusiasts, yet ferns are fascinating. They grow in the coolest places, like seeps along Trail 63 in the Bear Wallow Wilderness. The section of the trail where this Lady Fern was growing was a saturated mess. All kinds of water-loving plants were present, like sedges, rushes, monkey flower, and of course ferns. Lady Fern stands a little more lady-like than the common Bracken Fern, slim, trim, intriguing. As with any other plant, the reproductive parts are crucial for proper identification, so the spores are the first thing to look for, since ferns have no flowers or fruits. The spores are often on the underside of the fronds. In this case, they were prominent, dark brown and in two rows. They are minute, though, so it is not easy to see the individual groups well without a hand lens. I have not spent as much time with ferns to know them well, but every now and then you find one that prompts further inquiry. According to the Southwest Environmental Information Network (SEINET): The delimitation and infraspecific classification of A . filix-femina need detailed study. Translation, these plants need more scientific investigation. They are a mystery to botanists too. There is also a Male Fern in the same Family: Dryopteris filix-mas. SEINET tells a similar tale: The taxonomy of Dryopteris filix-mas is not well understood. In North America, this fern has been considered both an auto- and an allopolyploid and may be composed of at least two closely related taxa. Perhaps a study of Female and Male Ferns will open a whole new can of worms in the scientific community? So much to learn! Amazing what a little hike in the woods can lead to.

Hop, Humulus lupulus var. lupuloides (Hemp Family)

The flowers of this plant are unremarkable. I didn't see them, having arrived when the fruits were present, which are also unremarkable in appearance. At least, their color is the same as the vegetation, a little lighter green. It is their form that is noticeable. They consist of several overlapping bracts. They are just a little odd looking, which is probably enough to get your attention. Many of the vines I saw here were small, ground covers with colorful flowers such as SlimJim (Phaseolus spp.). There were also quite a number of fruits on the Hop vine, so the abundance of all those odd looking structures was noteworthy. This vine too was overtaking an old stump as if to raise its mighty head trying to get noticed. It worked. You don't see many vines like that in Arizona, apart from Arizona Grape (Vitis arizonica) or Gila Manroot (Marah gilensis) at lower elevations in riparian corridors. Virgin Bower (Clematis spp.) is another high elevation vine but it is easily distinguished from Hop by its more delicate leaves and showy white flowers. The fruits too of Clematis are fuzzy not having overlapping bracts. The leaves of Hop are large and rough with coarse teeth. By large, they measure 15 cm across. They have 3-7 lobes. The veins on the underside of the leaves are lined with prickly hairs. These hairs may help the vine to grip the structure upon which they climb as no tendrils are present. Hop is worth looking for as it is an uncommon find on Arizona's trails.

Tenleaf Woodsorrel, Oxalis decaphylla (Oxalis Family)

Oxalis is a pleasant surprise. I noticed it first on Trail 62, looking like a fluffy, shag carpet in a small open spot. There were no flowers, just lots of lush leaves. The leaves are divided into clover-like leaflets, ranging in number from 3-11, hence the common name. Due to its resemblance with clover, it is sometimes confused with the legendary, lucky, four-leaf clover. According to Wikipedia, the four-leaf clover is an uncommon variation of the common, three-leaved clover. Tradition has it that such leaves bring good luck to their finders, especially if found accidentally. According to legend, each leaf represents something: the first is for faith, the second is for hope, the third is for love, and the fourth is for luck (the three-leaf shamrock had been used by St. Patrick as a metaphor for the Christian Trinity). Clovers can have more than four leaves: the most ever recorded is 56, discovered by Shigeo Obara of Hanamaki, Iwate, Japan on 10 May 2009. The flowers of Oxalis are quite different than those on clover. They are somewhat open, and bell-shaped. The petals are united at the base and the symmetry is star-like (actinomorphic). They are only about 1-2 cm long and display a delicate pinkish purple color. Each flower is at the end of a thin stalk, poking its lovely head slightly above the cluster of leaves at the plant base. The fruits are explosive, fleshy capsules. Isn't that exciting? May the luck of the Irish be with you in finding some.

Mountain Parsley, Pseudocymopterus montanus (Parsley Family)

I see Mountain Parsley all the time, a little plant here and another over there. But in Bear Wallow Wilderness there are thousands everywhere. I felt like I was wading through them, mile after mile. Their yellow flowering clusters stand tall, about knee high. The arrangement of the flowers is quite characteristic, in umbels. You may be familiar with Queen Anne's Lace, which is a typical example of the grand floral display members of this Family are known for. Members of this Family were used by the Ancient Chinese, Mayans, Greeks, and Romans. In Greek art, for example, Dionysus is often shown bearing a ferule (Ferula spp.) in his hand. Today, the economic uses of Umbels continue, including: carrots, parsley, celery, fennel, dill, coriander, caraway, anise, and cumin. Medicinal uses and the infamous poison hemlock is also represented. Each flower is minute, but when you gather them together in these compound clusters of umbels, the appearance is outstanding. The leaves are dark green and dissected. The fruits are minute like the flowers and dry. They are important for valid identification, which is quite challenging. Once you learn to recognize the family, based on the inflorescence, you'll be well on your way to an accurate identification. However, not all plants with flowers in umbels are in the Umbel Family, but that's the best place to begin. Good luck. You'll need it if you use a technical key to sort them out, plus a good dose of patience.

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