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The Outdoors Digest | FIELD GUIDE

Sand verbena

March 30, 2004|David Lukas

Sand Verbena

[ ABRONIA VILLOSA ]

On location in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

I pull into the park barely an hour before sunset and dart around like a dazed bee. One particularly sweet smell is driving me crazy. Is it the sand verbena -- a deep-space-purple galaxy of blooms -- or the rare and exquisitely sculpted desert lily (Hesperocallis undulata) or any of the dozen other types of wildflowers carpeting these usually bleak sandy flats?

I have come to the desert to witness the best show in many years, not to crawl around dusting my nose yellow with pollen. But I forgot my camera. In the distance, a couple of photographers ecstatically zoom in and out on the flamboyant colors, bees and butterflies: the exuberance of life that erupts from here to Joshua Tree after a rare spring rain.

I nuzzle a dune evening primrose (Oenothera deltoides), tracing the odor molecules afloat on the still late-afternoon air. This one has an acrid smell, and the tiny, white Panamint's cat's eye (Cryptantha angustifolia) next to it yields nothing.

Now the faintly sweet sand verbenas beckon, and I thrust my face in a dense patch and inhale deeply as the sun slides behind the San Ysidro Mountains. A whirring sphinx moth taps my nose with its wings as it drinks from the flowers around my face. By dusk, the mystery flower still eludes me, and I accept defeat as an invitation to try again tomorrow.

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