I am happy to report that we made an important botany discovery in the park yesterday. This was a co-discovery between myself, Charlie, and Tobin, as we were all hiking together to explore the major canyon south of Nova Canyon. This is the canyon that has an early split in the canyon just above the mouth, with the right fork ultimately leading to some red-colored areas as noted on satellite imagery. Just before we entered the canyon, we were startled to discover an isolated population of Teddy Bear Cholla cactus growing. The Teddy Bear Chollas were spread out everywhere — on hillsides, in washes, and on banks above the washes. They were also incredibly tall, with many being 6 to 7 feet tall. The tallest Teddy Bear Cholla that we found measured a stunning 9 feet tall (see picture below). This was a significant discovery because these Teddy Bear Chollas (Cylindropuntia bigelovi) are actually growing about 100 miles north of their usual range. The park botanist has confirmed that this is the first recorded find of Teddy Bear Cholla in Inyo County so officially it is the furthest north garden of Teddy Bear Cholla. In view of this discovery, as co-discoverers we have assigned the informal name Teddy Bear Canyon to the canyon which contains the Teddy Bear Cholla garden at the mouth. So that means the major canyon south of Nova Canyon now has a designated name. (Previously listed as Nova Slots 5 & 6 in my Blog report on our hike.)
The big question now is how did an isolated population of Teddy Bear Chollas end up getting established and growing so vibrantly in Death Valley National Park? An educated guess might be that this cactus was transported to its remote location by a bird. This cactus doesn’t propagate well by seed as it is usually spread by one of its “joints” being broken off and taking root so we might guess that a joint somehow became attached to a bird and was dropped where the cactus are currently growing (just a guess as we are not sure how they got there). Park botanists will be visiting the location soon to take a survey and maybe at that time they can provide some more insight into how else this could be possible.