In my wanderings around arid hillsides near Cottonwood and Sedona I have visited with many relatively short trees, adorned with many spiky branches. They most closely resemble bottle brushes. At first glance these yellow palo verde seem to me to be humble, quietly blending into the arid hillsides where they squat. Only as I have become more familiar with them have I begun to appreciate their many adaptations and assets.
From my first encounter, I fell in love with their droppings. At first I thought these to be branches. After I first pulled one of the intricately grained and curled sticks out of the ground I realized these were roots. Sometimes they take the shape of creatures like a snail or a dinosaur. Many times, bird’s wings and deer heads emerge from their tangle. These roots can be six to eight feet long.
I began to look more closely at these dry-desert residents. They grow in clumps of trees to heights of about 30 feet, with trunks up to two feet thick. Truly adapted to their barren habitat, they have thin, needle-like leaves that drop at times of drought. These leaves are most apparent in November and December. Photosynthesis for them occurs through their trunks, hence the yellow tinge to many of their sticks.
In April and May they throw on their dresses of bright yellow flowers. These flowers mature into beans, a staple food of the Natives here. Local wildlife value palo verde trees for their edible seeds, their shade and their protection.
The more I visit these groups of trees, the more I am struck by the lessons they hold in their stumpy, long-rooted bodies. Think of the hardships their environs pose! Most of the time they have to grow roots far and deep to find the water they need to survive. Subject to flash floods, these roots, which generally must burrow through dry rocky soil for water, rip into that same soil to stand upright, maintain their hard-fought-for ground in the desert. And their no-frills existence! Leaves, an extravagance? Don’t need them. They go right to their trunk for their sustenance.
The cousin of the yellow palo verdes, the blue palo verde line the streets of Tucson and Phoenix with their distinctly bright green bark. These somewhat taller trees also produce most of their food through the bark. Palo verde trees are the state tree of Arizona.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"