Bursage (Ambrosia deltoidea)
This is a pretty boring little bush isn’t it? Nothing special. Less than that it looks puny and unimportant. To add to the wonder, this plant is actually filled with flowers! Can’t you see them? Well they are tiny. Tiny and green. Little green jobs is what we call them. They are very difficult to see and hardly look like flowers at all. After all who has green flowers?
According to my hero Ranger B, this is both the most the most common and most important plant in the Sonoran Desert. But it gets no respect. How can a commoner be so important?
To begin with, Bursage holds the desert soil together. If it were not for Bursage there would be a lot more sand and dust in the air in Arizona. So Bursage keeps the air clean. That is very important. It would be very difficult to live here were it not for my old friend Bursage. Because of Bursage sand storms in the Sonoran desert are very rare, unlike other deserts such as the Sahara. The problem is, of course, that Bursage is disappearing. The reason of course is obvious. Life is disappearing on the desert, as it is everywhere, that humans touch. All life that is except Homo sapiens and those organisms and creatures that can stand living with us. Things like quack grass, rats and cockroaches are doing fine. Humans make life difficult for many plants and animals. That is a pity. The Sahara desert does not have Bursage, hence it has more sand storms. I am exaggerating a bit of course. The Sonoran desert has more plants than most deserts because it has more moisture. More rain means more plants. Plants hold soil together. So it is only natural that there are less sand storms here. But of all the plants the lowly inconspicuous Bursage may be the most important of all desert plants as Ranger B claims.
Too often people have insufficient respect for Bursage. They build new residential subdivisions everywhere and kill the Bursage. That is why there are now more dust storms in Arizona now than ever before.
I must admit that as a wild flower guy I would tend to pass over such a lowly plant but that would be a big mistake. No one wants Bursage on front lawns. Too boring. Saguaros everyone accepts. No one cares about Bursage. Everyone gets rid of it. It does not have pretty flowers because it relies on wind pollination, not insects. Insects don’t come for tiny little green flowers. After all they have standards. Insects, like wild flower guys, want the big flashy flowers with bright colors or scintillating scent, or better yet, both. The flowers of Bursage are extremely small.
Bursage is also important as a nurse plant. This happens often in the Sonoran Desert. Conditions are so harsh that young plants seek the protection of old plants to give them shade from the harsh sun. For example, many Saguaro cacti start out this way. But other plants use the same survival technique. According to Ranger B, Bursage is also the best shade plant in the desert. It supports more young plants than any other plant. According to Ranger B it is not uncommon for ground temperatures in the desert to hit 160°F in the open sun. Remember temperatures are measured in the shade. Plants like humans find that tough. That can kill plants like young saguaros. Most plants in the desert need shade to get a good start. Without bursar there would be a lot less plants in the desert, including the massive Saguaro that starts out as a tiny little plant that needs a nurse–like Bursage.
Like human children, showing a startling lack of gratitude, the young plant eventually outgrows the nurse and overshadows it, stealing nutrients that the nurse could use.Often the nurse dies. Life in the desert is harsh. Just like life in gated communities.