By Doug Moore
By the middle of May, returning seasonal heat reigns over southern Arizona. Although it is cooler up in Madera Canyon, the heat wave bakes the last of the spring wildflowers and grasses on exposed slopes to a crispy golden brown. The riparian corridor of Madera Creek provides welcome green relief, with cooling shade under towering trees, verdant banks, and a smattering of wildflowers to tide hardy nature lovers over until the monsoon rains.
At this time of year, canyon flowers seem rather few and far between. Higher up, elegant Golden Columbine shows brightly along drainages and the scattered little yellow daisies like New Mexico Butterweed and Pringles Hawkweed dot trail edges. Close observation along creek beds reveals another canyon treasure, Common Monkeyflower, Mimulus guttatus, common only in abundance and truly a real gem easily overlooked!
A member of the Snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae, Common Monkeyflower is usually perennial and grows from 500 to 9,500 feet elevation. It is an abundant riparian plant along flowing portions of the Santa Cruz River near Green Valley. In Madera Canyon, Common Monkeyflower grows in and along Madera Creek, creek tributaries, and wet places from well below Proctor high up into the mountains. Wherever there is a place to “keep its feet wet” in the canyon, there is a good chance you’ll find it!
Common Monkeyflower grows up to three feet tall, but is generally smaller. The dark green leaves are nearly succulent, up to four inches long and oval-shaped with toothed margins; they make tasty salad greens. The showy, tubular yellow flowers are true snapdragons in form, with a two-lobed upper lip pointing upwards and a three-lobed lower lip drooping downwards concealing a hairy throat in between. Blooms may be up to one and one-half long and one and one-quarter inches wide, although they are often smaller during drier times. The throat is freckled with conspicuous reddish-pink spots, nectar guides, that entice and direct pollinators to part the flexible lips and enter the flower tube for pollen and nectar. The primary pollinators appear to be bees and flies. Dusted with pollen as they squeeze into a flower, the flying insects then carry the pollen on to other blossoms.
Common Monkeyflower blooms primarily from March through September. Some of the best places to see the plant are to look up and down stream from the Madera Creek bridges between Proctor and White House where it grows in and along the streambed. Look for the bright yellow blooms scattered on deep green foliage. Although not as large as the conspicuous blossoms of Golden Columbine or Hooker’s Primrose, the exquisite flowers of Common Monkeyflower are well worth a closer look!
Photo by Doug Moore