Mojave, Mohave, Mohavea

Do you know the web comic xkcd? I was reminded of it the other night. While getting ready for bed I glanced over Steve’s shoulder at his iPad. “Hey, you’re reading my blog!” I beamed. “Yep,” says he. “I think you made a mistake.”

So I immediately went back to the computer and corrected every instance where I’d typed “Mohave” instead of “Mojave”. I hate making mistakes like that. I work hard not to make mistakes like that. Why did I make a mistake like that?

I blame this flower: Mohavea confertiflora. Ever since identifying it and adding it to my spreadsheet, I’ve been mixing up the words and typing them wrong.

Ghost flower is an annual that grows to about ten inches tall, bearing single flowers in the leaf axils, and is easily identified by the red spots inside the petals. It can be found on washes and gravelly slopes in both the Sonoran and Mojave desserts. Its cousin Mohavea breviflora is found in the Mojave and Great Basin deserts.

In other news of genera starting with M, I found several species of Mentzelia. More on them next time.

In case you’re wondering, the lead photo shows ghost flower, rock daisy, gold poppy, and two different species of phacelia.

above, xkcd “Duty Calls”

[I proofread this post a coupla dozen times.]

What Makes it a Desert?


sunrise, March 15, near Palm Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park



Defining the word “desert” is not as straightforward as it may seem. Colloquially, desert usually means a hot, dry area, or sometimes a cold, dry area, without much vegetation or animal life. Technically, experts don’t agree. According to the US Geological Survey, “There are almost as many definitions of deserts and classification systems as there are deserts in the world.”

A useful definition of desert is: an area that receives 25 cm or less of precipitation annually.


chuparosa, phacelia, desert dandelion, brown-eyed evening primrose, and pincushion near the Anza-Borrego Visitors Center



Experts don’t agree on the boundaries and names of the North American deserts, either, but various sources state that there are many minor deserts and four major ones: the Great Basin, Chihuahuan, Mojave, and Sonoran. The Great Basin is the most northerly of these, bounded by the Columbia Plateau, Sierra Nevada Mountains, and Rocky Mountains; geopolitically, this means southeastern Idaho, most of Nevada, western Utah, and east-central California. The Chihuahuan is the most southerly, ranging from southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and west Texas south into Mexico.

The Mojave is a transition from the Great Basin to the Sonoran, and comprises the greater Death Valley area, extreme southern Nevada, a bit of northwestern Arizona, and a tiny smidgen of southwestern Utah. One of the defining features of the Mojave is the flora, as it contains about 200 endemic species. (Look in the March and April 2016 archives for lots of posts about Mojave Desert wildflowers.)

The Sonoran is where Anza-Borrego is. Actually, Anza-Borrego forms the western boundary; from there it spreads east into Arizona and south into Mexico. Although Death Valley in the Mojave boasts the highest air temperature ever recorded (134ºF, in 1913), the Sonoran is on average hotter. And wetter.


desert sand verbena, brown-eyed evening primrose, desert dandelion, Arizona lupine, and a few desert chicory on Coyote Canyon Road



The Mojave and Sonoran deserts share a few wildflower species, or more often a few genera, which made identifying the plants a bit easier. I found about 75 different species in 23 families (with half a dozen still unidentified). The Asteraceae and Boraginaceae were well represented. And this time I saw some cacti blooming, too.