- Photo(s): Brian Gersten
There are at least 15 different species of Brassicaceae in Sabino Canyon.
Taxonomically, plants in a family all have shared characteristics that relate them to each other. They are further distinguished into smaller groups by genus (sharing specific characteristics, usually reproductively) and then into individual species. Each species is unique and has characteristics that separate it from other species.
One important family represented in Sabino Canyon are the Mustards (Brassicaceae). They were formerly known as ‘Cruciferae.’ We’ve all heard about the cruciferous vegetables that we should eat for the health benefits they provide. These plants get their name from the New Latin word “Cruciferae,” which means cross-bearing, due to the cross-like shape of their flowers.
While all species of Mustards are edible, you should never eat any in the wild unless you know what you are picking. Mustards are an important economic crop: think of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, arugula. Speaking of edible, plants in the mustard family are nectar plants for many butterflies as well as host plants for the Checkered White Butterfly, Sara Orangetip and the Desert Orangetip. These three can all be seen at Sabino Canyon.
There are at least 15 different species of Brassicaceae in Sabino Canyon. You can easily identify most of these, and probably already know many of them. The flowers, although some can be quite tiny, are in the shape of an ‘X’ or sometimes more like an ‘H’. Four petals are the key here. Also, they all have 4 sepals, which are usually green and are the structures that envelop the flower before it opens. There are 6 stamens, 4 tall and 2 short, and at the very center is the female part known as the pistil. You might need magnification to see this with some of the tiny flowers, but sometimes not.
Also, be sure to look closely at the seedpod, which in mustards is called a silicle or silique. They come in many shapes and sizes; Included are photos for three of our most common species. Although the flowers may be tiny, you can recognize mustards by the configuration of flowers and seeds in a ‘spiral staircase’ formation. So, slow down, stop and observe. You’ll be surprised how many of these plants you’ll see and be able to recognize with a little practice.
Look at the photos and notice the difference in the siliques (seedpods). They’re all quite beautiful and interesting. The photo at the top of the page is a lace pod (Thysanocarpus curvipes)
The others are: Virginia Peppergrass(Lepidium virginicum). , and Tansey Mustard (Descurainia pinnata)
These are just 3 of the mustards that are found in Lower Sabino Canyon. I’m always amazed at the diversity of plants in such a small area.