August 8, 2011

Staring at the ground
Can reveal minute details
Often unnoticed

Greetings from Las Cruces, NM! It is still dry as ever down here, which means we only have two seed collections so far. These conditions have allowed us to switch gears and focus on rare plant surveying instead. We have spent a few days out in the boot-heel region searching for Peniocereus greggi, or Night-blooming Cereus. These cacti have very short lived flowers which are moth pollinated. We have been mapping the population in an area where the range department will be spraying herbicide to kill the creosote that dominates the landscape. Unfortunately, these plants are restricted to living in the small hummocks that creosote creates. By eliminating the habitat the population will be threatened, not to mention the direct threat of the herbicide itself. It raises the question of whether the benefits of killing the creosote, a widespread and dominant species here, will make much difference in the large scheme of things and if this benefit outweighs the negative effects on such a rare and beautiful cactus.
A more recent project we have been focusing on is mapping the population of another cactus, Escobaria duncanii, or Duncan’s pincushion, which is listed as state endangered and BLM sensitive. This population is found in the Mud Spring Mountains outside of Truth or Consequences, and is geographically isolated from its southern counterparts. It is a tiny cactus which can be very difficult to notice, as it blends easily into the gray rocks where it lives. However, we have been successful in finding the plants, along with other illusive cactus that grow with it such as Epithelantha micromeris or button cactus and various Escobaria species. We have been getting a lot of GPS experience with this project, and once the mapping is complete we will be writing a full report on our findings.