Native Plants of the Southwest (37) - AZ Trail: Blue Ridge Segment
Hiking in Arizona for the past 45 years, I have hiked many routes that have involved very rugged, sunny, dry terrain. By contrast, this section of the Arizona Trail is relatively "civilized," it is not very rugged. Lots of it is level. Here, you'll find lots of shade and great views. Therefore, though I have not hiked very much of the Arizona Trail, I too would rank this trail segment very highly, as offering a high quality hiking experience compared to anywhere in the Southwest.
Starting at the Mogollon Rim, the views south are incredible. From the edge of the Blue Ridge, views to the north are vast and green. Rim to Ridge, takes you from one viewpoint to the next with wet canyons, shady forests, and quite a few scenic wonders in between like turkeys, wildflowers, and fungi, depending on the season of your hike. Additionally, I have never heard so many night sounds as I did camping near the south trailhead. It reminded me of Rich Mullins' song, With the Wonder, where he describes everything from chirping crickets to crackling fires.
There are no access restrictions or permits needed to hike this trail, unless the fire danger becomes extreme. There are quite a few camping options on the Rim too. Hiking close to power lines and roads are not to my liking, but you should not have too many encounters with motorized users, especially if you hike midweek. There are also a number of other hiking options in the vicinity, such as the Cabin Loop Trail off Rim Road 300. I'd recommend late summer to get the most out of the hike, when wildflowers, fungi, and towering thunderheads are at their peak.
Access is relatively straight forward. Take the Rim Road (Forest Road 300) 12.2. miles east of Hwy. 87 (north of Payson). There is a marker for the Arizona Trail there as well as a historical marker for a battle that took place near the trailhead at the end of the 19th century. You could also take Forest Road 151 east of Hwy. 87 some 3 miles to where the Arizona Trail crosses the road, near Blue Ridge Reservoir and Rock Crossing Campground.
Hiking from the Mogollon Rim, head north to the edge of Blue Ridge, some 12 miles in all. Begin on a dirt road to General Springs Cabin. From the Cabin continue north down General Springs Canyon, named for General George Crook. After three miles, take a left and head up the side of the canyon to relatively flat ground, paralleling dirt roads and power lines. Cross East Clear Creek, which is a significant dip on this hike's profile. Pass Rock Crossing Campground and the road to Blue Ridge Reservoir to the northern edge of Blue Ridge. You could hike this trail in either direction. I camped at Rock Crossing Campground and hiked south, then made another trip to the Mogollon Rim and hiked north, connecting each piece to form a linear whole.
The four plants I discuss below all have white flowers. They include: a semi-aquatic herb found in a reliable stock pond near East Clear Creek, another water loving plant found in the canyon bottoms throughout the Southwest, a sub-shrub found in the drier part of the pine understory, and an herbaceous ground cover. Though there are many more plants on this trail, these are the plants you won't want to pass by without recognizing them. By focusing on white flowers, you'll know what to expect and be more likely to hit the mark. Searching for other colors will be satisfied by the many-colored fungi, which cover the visible spectrum here, at least at the end of summer and in early fall. No matter your preference for colorful trail-side sights, Blue Ridge will not disappoint.
Topo Maps: Kehl Ridge, Dane Canyon, and Blue Ridge Reservoir quads 7.5'
Water Plantain, Alisma trivial (Water Plantain Family)
I love aquatic plants, not so much because of the plants themselves, especially since many are not particularly attractive or showy. It's probably because of where they grow. As a native of Arizona, I marvel at any place where there is permanent water. Whenever we would vacation as kids in places like Oregon, where water was flowing everywhere, we would stare in amazement as we would drive past a creek or lake. Similar places in Arizona were invariably dry. So, when we saw water, we found it quite peculiar. The stock pond where Water Plantain is growing, is small. The quality is poor for human consumption. But plants like Water Plantain, pond weed, duck weed, etc. grow like it is an oasis. Pine trees tower all around to lend shade, and as we passed a light rain was falling, so that the raindrops danced like magic across the surface of the pond. It was nothing short of a delightful diversion while walking through the woods. Water Plantain grows around the margin of the pond. It is about 30 cm tall, with large, basal leaves and small white flowers. The leaves vary in length from 3-12 cm and have a smooth margin. The flowers have three white petals and three green sepals. Overall, the flower is about 5 cm across. Most of the plant consists of its inflorescence or open cluster of flowers. The tiny stems supporting the flowers branch in whorls up the stem and may reach a height of 1 meter. It is easily the biggest, hence most notable plant in this little pond. You can't miss it.
Nuttall's Linanthus, Linanthus nuttallii (Phlox Family)
Not a large family of plants, never the less, the Phlox Family is worldwide in distribution, with its greatest species diversity occurring in western North America. Of particular interest is its wide range of pollinators, including bats, butterflies, bees, birds, beetles, moths, and flies. Attracting this variety of pollinators with a relatively "normal" flower is unexpected. Phlox Family members have flowers with five showy petals that are usually united to form a short tube. Nuttall's Linanthus fits this pattern perfectly. Phlox Family members are usually herbaceous, that is, not woody. But, woody members are present, in the form of woody vines, shrubs, and small trees. Nuttall's Linanthus is considered a suffrutescent perennial, that is, an herb with a woody base. It may get 30 cm tall. Its leaves are very narrow, needle-like in fact. The flowers are crowded at the end of its stems, white with a little yellow at the base or throat of the short tube. The five stamens are inserted, or attached to the corolla in the notches between each petal and poke their anthers slightly beyond the end of the floral tube. Over all, the small semi shrubby plants are quite attractive with their showy white flowers, bright and glorious beyond the many, thread-like leaves. You'll find Nuttall's Linanthus conspicuously growing in the barren spots below the canopy of pines overhead. There's not much under all those pines, as the duff formed by the accumulation of needles makes it tough for plants to get established. Therefore, the clusters of white flowers will be easy to see. Keep your eyes peeled.
White Clover, Trifolium repens (Pea Family)
White Clover is, like many residents of Arizona, from somewhere else, but finding a suitable home, is willing and able to put down some roots. White Clover is from Europe, originally. I am not sure how it first got here, but it has spread like wildfire all over North America. It is easier to talk about the inflorescence than the individual flowers, since the pea-like flowers are rather small. Collectively, they appear like a compact head or umbel at the end of a short stalk above the clover-like leaves. These leaves grow close to the ground for the most part, making a nice ground cover. Another thing that is nice about White Clover, as a member of the Pea Family, is its practice of nitrifying the soil where it grows. Legumes, like White Clover, leave the soil richer in Nitrogen than when they arrived on the scene. This is especially important in acidic soils like those found in pine forests, where nutrients are easily leached from the relatively coarse soils. Nitrogen can be in especially short supply on the Mogollon Rim. Plants like White Clover, work with bacteria to convert the abundant Nitrogen in the atmosphere to something plants can use and need for growth, Nitrates and Ammonia are examples. I often hear people complain about Arizona, culturally, politically, economically, environmentally, you name it. But, like White Clover, they have voted with their feet and must like it better here than where they compare it to, since this is where they live. If White Clover doesn't like a place when it arrives, it makes it better, not just for itself, but for the community at large. This might be a good lesson for the whiners in Arizona to learn. Don't whine, make the world better and more beautiful. Learn from the legumes. If they can do it, so can we.
Corn-lily, Veratrum californicum (Lily Family)
Corn-lily has a variety of other names, such as Skunk Cabbage, California Corn-lily, Cornhusk, and False Hellebore. It grows in moist soils, though it is not considered an aquatic or semi-aquatic plant, like Alisma above. It is a poisonous plant. According to Epple in A Field Guide to the Plants of Arizona, it is not only poisonous to animals that might eat it, it is also poisonous to insects like bees that might pollinate it. The leaves are husky, or husk-like with prominent parallel veins like the husk on a tamale. They may be 30 cm long. Above the large, stout leaves is a flowering stalk with greenish flowers, lily-like with six parts, all very much alike. Over all, the plant may be two meters in height. The flowers are quite crowded all along the stalks above the leaves. There are few plants you might confuse with Corn-lily. That may be another reason I like it, it is easy to identify. I like where it grows, wet spots in the mountains and it is easily recognizable, like an old friend. Shady, cool, refreshing, that's where Corn-lily grows. As you hike the Blue Ridge portion of the Arizona Trail and are captured by the beauty and freshness of the land, look around and our friend Corn-lily, will not be far off.