The concept of the mountain ranges of the southwest as sky islands goes back to at least 1943 when Natt N. Dodge wrote that the Chiricahua Mountains were “a mountain island in a desert sea.” Many years later the naturalist Weldon Heald used the phrase “sky island” to describe the Chiricahuas and his book from 1967 is titled Sky Island. Now a days we sling the name sky islands around rather casually, but if you take a moment to think about it, all these mountain ranges that rise thousands of feet above the desert floor are isolated and truly islands in the sky with populations of plants and animals that sometimes are found nowhere else. To leave the scruffy Chihuahua desert grassland and go up high into the hills and see plants that can be found in Canada is mind boggling, not to mention a shorter journey.
Mountain lover or Oregon boxwood is Paxistima myrsinites and it is in the Bittersweet Family, Celastraceae. It’s a common evergreen ground cover up in the shady coniferous forest of the sky islands and oh, north to Canada. Oh yeah. And I bet I have said this before, but when you travel up into the mountains from the desert floor – an example would be from Tucson to the top of the Catalina Mountains – you will go through more life zones or ecosystems than if you were to travel from Kentucky to Maine. Goodness my friends, we live a very special place.
A couple notes: If the name Natt N. Dodge looks familiar, you may have one of his field guides lurking on your book shelf. The pictures of mountain lover are mine and as I looked through the other photos of plants from this particular hike I realized I need to get back up on that trail. Maybe I’ll see you there.