Journal archives for September 2021

September 01, 2021

September 2021 EcoQuest: What's That Weed?

Join the September EcoQuest: What’s That Weed?
Find and map these common “weeds” and the caterpillars, moths and butterflies that interact with them.

Join the EcoQuest
See the guide on iNaturalist

For this EcoQuest we’re looking at common weeds you may be seeing more of lately, thanks to the abundance of rain we’ve had this monsoon season! What we consider weeds can actually be native plants we can learn more about. Observations from this month’s EcoQuest can help us learn more about these common plants and how they can be more than a weedy nuisance.

What is a weed? The most common definition is “a plant in the wrong place.” A weed is a plant that exists where they aren’t wanted. Sometimes these plants are looked at with disdain, and are the target of intense removal efforts. When you take a closer look and time to understand a weed, it can change your perspective. Many of these plants have a wide range of edible and medicinal uses which we know of from traditional indigenous knowledge. This highlights the importance of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) and how Western science can better collaborate with indigenous peoples to learn more about the natural world.

You may have also noticed an abundance of caterpillars, moths and butterflies lately, feeding on some of these weeds. See if you can observe these too! White-lined sphinx moths are one of our most noticeable moths, and their caterpillars move across the desert in large groups, looking for more hostplants. They look like little armies of yellow and green caterpillars the size of a pinkie finger and have a prominent horn on the back. The caterpillars eat spiderling plants (Boerhavia spp.), a common sight along roadsides and yards after rain. The moths that these caterpillars become are important desert pollinators. While observing these plants, see if you can spot these insect visitors and take notes about where the plants are growing and what might be helping them grow, like an area that collects water.

Common Name: Spiderling
Spanish Name: Mochis, hierba del cancer, hierba de la hormiga, juaninipili
Scientific Name: Boerhavia spp.
Family: Nyctaginaceae (Four O’Clocks)
Nativity/Origin: Native, Southwestern United States and parts of Mexico

Description: Spiderlings (Boerhavia spp.) are tenacious broadleaf forbs that are low growing and spread quickly. The common name comes from the long, slender stems that overlap and intertwine, giving the appearance of a spider’s web. On the ends of those long stems are many clusters of tiny pinkish white or red flowers. These plants can be found growing in natural and urban areas alike. You’ve likely passed them by on your daily commute or even right where you live! Most common species in metro Phoenix are B. coccinea, B. erecta, and B. intermedia.

Palemr’s amaranth on left, fringed amaranth on right.

Common Name: Amaranth, pigweed
Spanish Name: Bledo, quelite
Scientific Name: Amaranthus spp.
Family: Amaranthaceae (Amaranths)
Nativity/Origin: Native, southern part of US, Baja California and northwest Mexico.

Description: The most common species in metro Phoenix are Palmer’s amaranth (A. palmeri) and fringed amaranth (A. fimbriatus). Both are annual forbs with alternate leaves. Fringed amaranth has very narrow and linear leaves compared to Palmer’s. Palmer’s amaranth can grow up to 6 feet or more, while fringed amaranth grows to about 2 feet tall. Amaranthus spp. all have similar medicinal qualities, the seeds can be ground into flour or meal and the leaves can be eaten as greens or potherbs and are high in vitamins and minerals.

Common Name: Woolly tidestroemia
Spanish Name: Hierba lanuda, hierba ceniza, espanta vaqueras
Scientific Name: Tidestromia lanuginosa
Family: Amaranthaceae (Amaranths)
Nativity/Origin: Native, southwestern US, northern and central Mexico

Description: Prostrate, low-growing annual forb. Very noticeable thanks to its leaves and stems that covered in white woolly hairs. Stems are reddish to pinkish and flowers are small and yellow to yellowish-green. Medicinal uses include insect bite relief.

Caltrop photo on left by Marianne Skov Jensen.
Puncturevine on the right.

Common Name: Warty caltrop
Scientific Name: Kallstroemia parviflora
Family: Zygophyllaceae (Caltrops)
Nativity/Origin: Native

Description: A small, annual, low growing forb with opposite and pinnate leaves. Flowers are small and orangey-yellow. A common non-native look-alike is puncture vine (Tribulus terrestris). You may be familiar with this plant for getting stuck in your foot or popping bike tires! Also known as goathead, the fruits of this plant have very sharp points. This is a feature that distinguishes them from the native warty caltrop, which has non-spiny fruits with one beak. Warty caltrop’s leaflets are also wider than puncturevine. Both plants are reported to have medicinal properties including treating kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems, and skin disorders.

Photo of desert horse purslane on left by @juliestromberg
Common purslane on right.

Common Name: Desert horse purslane and common purslane
Spanish Name: Verdolagas, verdolaga de cochi, verdolago de cochi, verdolaga blanca
Scientific Name: Trianthema portulacastrum, Portulaca oleracea
Family: Aizoaceae (Ice plants) and Portulacaceae (Purslanes)
Nativity/Origin: Native, southern US and Mexico

Description: Prostrate, semi-succulent annual herbs. Desert horse purslane has opposite egg-shaped leaves on reddish stems with pinkish purple flowers that are tucked in to where the leaf meets the stem. This plant is reported to have many medicinal uses including the treatment of fever, jaundice, and liver and kidney diseases. It is also reported to be anticarcinogenic, diuretic and antimicrobial. It is said to be edible, with some reported toxicity and throat irritation. There is debate about common purslane’s nativity, as it may have been present in the US before colonization. This species has more spoon-shaped leaves and yellow flowers. Common purslane is much more palatable with a sour or salty taste and can be eaten as a raw green, stir fried, or pickled! It is very high in omega-3 fatty acids, has a high nutrition content, is antioxidant and has medicinal uses. This species is also considered beneficial to other plants by breaking up hard soils and providing ground cover, making it easier for other plants to grow.

Another common weed you might be seeing is sandmats, or spurges. We looked for these in a previous EcoQuest, and you can find more information about them here: Spot Spurge

Don't forget to observe any caterpillars, butterflies or moths you encounter near these weeds!

Observations from this EcoQuest can contribute population and occurrence data for these plants and increase our understanding of them. We can learn more about their ecological niches and the moths and butterflies that interact with them.

Southwest Desert Flora
Yavapai County Native and Naturalized Plants
Pure Applied Biology
US National Library of Medicine

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PLEASE observe COVID-19 guidelines/recommendations.
This a great opportunity to get outdoors close to home as we all navigate the complications of COVID-19. However, it is imperative that you follow the guidelines/recommendations of your local governments and institutions (wear a mask, practice physical distancing and wash your hands). Do what’s best for you and your community.

Arizona Office of Tourism: Responsible Recreation in AZ

Please do not observe indoor houseplants or pets.
For your own safety and the protection of plants and wildlife, do not trespass when making observations. Please follow all posted rules and guidelines in parks/preserves and do not enter private property.
Do not remove or move natural materials (plants, animals, rocks).
Respect wildlife (do not touch, feed, or disturb animals and keep a safe distance).

Posted on September 01, 2021 16:50 by jenydavis jenydavis | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 04, 2021

September 2021 Events

As always, events and classes are FREE to attend!

Monday, Sept. 13 | 6 p.m.
Metro Phoenix EcoFlora and artist Aimee Ollinger are exploring the microscopic world of plants! We will be discussing basic botany, plants in art, and using hand lenses and a microscope to view plant parts in an exciting way. Class materials will be provided, all you need to bring is yourself! You are welcome to bring your own plant pieces to examine. See Aimee's work and follow her on Instagram @ aimoart for more microscope magic. You can also see her work in person throughout the month of September at Modified Arts at 407 E Roosevelt St.

Wednesday, Sept. 15 | 7 p.m.
Join fellow Neighborhood Naturalists for an evening of getting up close and personal with nocturnal insects! Moth lighting is a great way to attract moths and other insects to observe and study them.

Wednesday, Sept. 22 | 6:30 p.m. MST
In this EcoQuestions session we hear from botanist and artist Lia Clark (@clarkstudioart on Instagram). Have you been wanting to learn more about botany, but aren't sure where to start? This session is for you. We will learn about field guides, plant anatomy and morphology, and identification. Join us and learn botany basics with Lia!

Saturday, Sept. 25 | 8 a.m.
Join Central Arizona Conservation Alliance and EcoFlora to learn more about the public lands and wilderness areas we have in Arizona while hiking a portion of the Box Canyon Loop Trail. We will also be exploring and learning how to use iNaturalist, a free mobile app to help identify plants and wildlife. Come and enjoy the wonderful desert with us and celebrate!

Posted on September 04, 2021 21:27 by jenydavis jenydavis | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 09, 2021

New Project Members

Hello all!

Quite a few new people have joined the project recently and I wanted to take the time to welcome you. Thank you for joining the project, being a community scientist and documenting urban biodiversity! We're a community science project focused on plants, and the wildlife and insects that interact with them. We host monthly EcoQuest challenges, events and trainings, and work to support local conservation efforts and understand biodiversity in metro Phoenix. You can visit our website here.

To stay up to date with EcoQuests, events, and more, we encourage you to sign up for our monthly newsletter and/or follow us on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter @ ecofloraphx.
Click here to see the September newsletter

Here's a helpful guide for making great observations in iNaturalist. Observations made following these guidelines are easier to identify and more likely to be promoted to research grade. The main things to remember are to take clear photos that are in focus and well lit. Take multiple photos if possible, especially for plants (leaves, flowers, stems, etc.). Also, remember to post multiple photos of the same organism to one observation.
Check it out! Click to see the guide in English or español.

You can also earn rewards for your observations through our merit system! Check it out here.

If you have any questions please don't hesitate to message me here on iNaturalist or email me at

Thanks again and welcome to EcoFlora!

Metro Phoenix EcoFlora Coordinator

Posted on September 09, 2021 21:58 by jenydavis jenydavis | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 23, 2021

Southwestern Butterfly Garden Guide

If you're interested in butterfly gardening or learning more about host and nectar plants, check out this guide by project member George Roark (@thegardenhound ). It also includes moths! You can also use this guide to learn more about the butterflies and moths we've been seeing in this month's EcoQuest: What's That Weed?

See it here: Southwestern Butterfly Garden Guide

Observation by @jaydensherwood.

Posted on September 23, 2021 19:03 by jenydavis jenydavis | 0 comments | Leave a comment