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I think I have the right tamarisk here, Tamarix ramosissima (working back to Latin from Spanish, I can guess what that means: many, many branches!). Before leaving on vacation, I jotted down the next several trees by their common names, and noted next to tamarisk that it is deciduous. Another way it deviates from most of the trees I’ve drawn so far is that it is not a conifer. But the field guide categorizes them first by leaf type, and T. ramosissima has the scale-like leaves typical of cypresses and cedars (one of its common names is salt cedar, so called because it has a high tolerance of salty water, and also exudes quite a lot of salt).

It is also invasive, which is not all that unusual, but this tamarisk is particularly successful at it. That ability to thrive in water and soil too salt-laden for many trees, and a similar tolerance for poor soil, help it to crowd out many species that are native to the west’s riparian habitats, such as cottonwood and willow.

It was widely planted in the south and west because of its hardiness, and because it has long spires of beautiful pink flowers.

Photo by Jerzy Opioła. CC BY-SA 3.0

Pretty, no? But not only have we planted it, we keep stressing out the native trees with the ways we manipulate rivers and lower their flow. Tamarisk takes over, which leaves many of the fauna in the lurch, because they can’t eat it, the way they depend upon doing with the shrubs and trees along the rivers and oases.

So there is a huge push to eradicate tamarisk from our region. Does its unwanted status make it less of a pleasure to draw and discover? I can’t say it does. But I do hope the native species displaced by it can make a comeback.

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