A Summer Bloom?

Summer is not normally the time you'd expect to see flowers blooming in the desert.  But the snakeweed (Gutierrezia microcephala) can put on a brilliant yellow show from July until as late as November.  The snakeweed is a shrub that is native to the Mojave and many other parts of the US, and the aromatic plant was used medicinally to treat snake bites.

The abundance of snakeweed, however, can also be an indicator of overgrazing in some parts of the southwestern US.  Snakeweed is toxic to cattle, so they will eat all of the other grasses and forbs in an area, leaving the snakeweed to flourish.  Cattle grazing has a long history in what is now the Mojave National Preserve, although the National Park Service has worked with ranchers to retire some of the grazing activity.

Snakeweed blooming where the Hackberry Fire burned in 2005. Photo by Michael Gordon.

Snakeweed can be spotted in the Mid Hills area of the Mojave National Preserve.  The Hackberry Fire burned portions of the Mid Hills in 2005, and the plants are still recovering.  As you can see above, however, the snakeweed seems to be doing well.