"And so yucca appears evenly spaced across the land. They stand as sentinels with their flowering stalks rising from vegetative swords. They are shields for creatures who live near. Sundown strikes yucca. Desert candles flame."
Williams, Terry Tempest, Pieces of White Shell. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1983. p. 50
Several different vegetation types occur in the Grand Gulch Plateau area. The most abundant are the pinon-juniper woodland type and the desert shrub type. The desert shrub type is probably one of the few vegetation types in potential natural community (PNC) ecological status. This means that those plant species which are thought to make up the climax plant community (i.e. blackbrush) are present. Areas of riparian vegetation including cottonwoods, willows, sedges, and rushes are found in many of the canyon bottoms.
The Anasazi in Grand Gulch used a number of the native plants for food, medicine, clothing, housing, and ornamentation.
Indian ricegrass was probably the most important of the native grasses because of its large seeds, which could be harvested in early summer and ground into meal for bread. Fruits of the prickly pear cactus were peeled and eaten, and the peeled and roasted leaves were an important food source in times of hardship. The Anasazi also used fourwing saltbush, blackbrush, Mormon tea, wild turnips and potatoes, rose hips, and sunflower seeds.
The narrowleaf yucca's sword-like leaves were woven into baskets and sandals, and leaf fibers were spun into cords for fine-quality sandals and bags. Yucca roots were used for soap, and the base of the plant was roasted and eaten, as were the fruits of a related plant, the broadleaf yucca.
Pinon pine was a valuable source of housing material, fuel, and food; in the past as in the present, a good crop of protein-rich pinon nuts could be harvested every few years. Wood from juniper trees provided the high temperatures needed for firing pottery, and juniper bark was used for several purposes such as roofing shelters and padding cradleboards.
As their main source of food, the Anasazi cultivated crops of corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins. Corn, the major year-round staple, was stored in granaries and used in a variety of ways. Anasazi beans, which resembled modern-day pinto beans were the second most important crop. Squash not only provided important vitamins and nutrition, but were hollowed out and used for vessels.
No threatened and endangered plant species are known to occur in the area, however, two Category 2 candidate species, Erigeron kachinensis (Kachina daisy) and Astragalus cronquistii (Cronquist milkvetch) are found. Cymopterus beckii (Pinnate Spring-parsley), a Category 2 species, has not been found in recent inventories but some plants may exist in damp cool areas. One sensitive species, Astragalus monumentalis (Monument milkvetch), is known to occur in the area, and Asclepias Cutleri (Cutler Milkweed), a sensitive species, may occur in the area.
Watch your step!
Protect the dark, lumpy, crusty, knobby, castle-looking soil that may be underfoot when you are hiking in the high desert country.
Cryptobiotic soil represents a partnership of sand, clay particles, fungi, moss, and cryptobacteria; it is one of the oldest life forms on earth. These fragile organisms deserve respect because they dramatically limit erosion and they provide nutrients for other plants in arid environments. It forms a hard, resistant covering that prevents sand and clay particles from washing away when the infrequent desert thunderstorms pound the dry ground.
The organic material in the crust also soaks up water that would otherwise wash over the surface and be lost. A trail left by several people walking across this soil can begin the erosion process that can eventually cut deep arroyos into mesa tops.
The kachina daisy is a rare perennial composite restricted to southeastern Utah and adjacent Colorado, presently on the list of plants for federal protection. The species grows in small, isolated populations at seeps and alcoves in canyons on the Colorado Plateau. Because it grows along seeplines and in alcoves in the canyons, droughts that cause the seeps to dry can also eliminate many plant populations. Further, as more humans visit the canyons and are attracted to the cool shady alcoves, the threat to the rare species growing there is compounded.
1995 Allphin, Loreen, Micheal D. Windham, and Kimball T. Harper, "A Genetic Evaluation of Three Potential Races of the Rare Kachina Daisy" in Southwestern Rare and Endangered Plants, Proceedings of the Second Conference, P 68 - 76.
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