Collaborator Rose Ramirez and I went to Anza Borrego on Friday to catch the light as the sun was going down. We drove out to Henderson Canyon Road near Borrego Springs to photograph the perennial desert lilies, Hesperocallis undulata. The light was stunning. Sahara mustard, Brassica tournefortii, a highly invasive species, was everywhere, but in the photo above, shot with a very shallow depth of field, you can’t see them. We drove my a demonstration plot where Anza Borrego Desert State Park personnel and volunteers have hand-weeded to eliminate the mustard. The task is daunting. There is so much mustard, and it’s now considered a serious threat not only to Anza-Borrego wildflowers and wildlife, but the entire Southwest.

The plant is a tyrant and a nuisance,—the terror of the farmer. It takes riotous possession of a whole field in a season; once in, never out; for one plant this year, a million the next . . . —Helen Hunt Jackson, Ramona, 1884

In Helen Hunt Jackson’s novel, Ramona, written almost 130 years ago, she’s not referring to the Sahara mustard, but another invasive mustard that grows everywhere in southern California, including my yard.

What began as Jackson’s intention to write a devastating critique of 19th century U.S. Indian policies ultimately shape-shifted into a tourist-pleasing melodrama called the Ramona Outdoor Pageant, an annual southern California reenactment of her novel. More about this in another post . . .

Desert dandelion above, Garaea canescens.

The next morning, we went out again to photograph wildflowers, and I concentrated on sand verbena, Abronia villosa, on Henderson road. Rose and I then gave our ethnobotany multimedia presentation, Edible, Medicinal, Material, Ceremonial: Ethnobotany of Southern California Indians, at the Anza Borrego Natural History Association’s day-long California native plant event.

Rose and I went to Anza Borrego last week as well. At dawn, we drove down the Palo Verde wash out to Vista del Malpais, or the Borrego Badlands. Desert lilies were blooming there as well, as was the ocotillo. Haven’t had time to post from that trip but will later this week.

CSUSM students are coming over today for a cooking and photo shoot extravaganza, with Abe Sanchez, master basketweaver and native foods aficionado, directing the cooking part. The menu: nopales salad, prickly pear juice frozen earlier this year, tepary beans we purchased last spring on the Tohono O’odham reservation, green salad with Indian lettuce, chia limeade.

We’re also going to make chia cornbread, and we’ll top it with prickly pear jelly, which we canned a few weeks ago at a workshop with Barbara Drake and Lori Sisquoc at the Sherman Indian High School where Lori is a teacher and curator of the Sherman Indian Museum. At the workshop, we also hulled native California walnuts, Juglans californica, in the photo above.

Posted by deborah small


  1. This is very important and timely work that you are doing with this blog. Thank you for that and thank you for the exquisite photographs!



    1. deborah small March 9, 2010 at 7:37 am

      Hi Monica, You’re very welcome. I appreciate your comments. Deborah



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