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Desert Blooming Days
"When with the skin you do acknowledge drought,
The dry in the voice, the lightness of feet, the fine
Flake of the heat at every level line;
When with the hand you learn to touch without
Surprise the spine for the leaf, the prickled petal,
The stone scorched in the shine, and the wood brittle;
Then where the pipe drips and the fronds sprout
And the foot-square forest of clover blooms in sand,
You will lean and watch, but never touch with your hand."
~ Desert, Josephine Miles, 1934
Deserts can be found in every continent, with the largest deserts located in Antarctica, the Arctic, Northern Africa, and the Middle East. North American Deserts include the Chihuhuan, Sonora, and Mohave Desert in the American Southwest, while Carcross Desert, located in Yukon, Canada, is often considered the smallest desert in the world of approximately one square mile! While the beautiful Spring blooming in some deserts provide a surprising burst of bright colour, the desert flowers, especially annuals, may germinate, bloom, set seed and die in just the course of a few weeks after rainfall. Other long-lived blooming plants of the Sonoran desert, such as the giant Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea, named for Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie), can form "forests", providing shade for other plants and nesting places for desert birds. When rain falls, the water is rapidly absorbed by its shallow roots and retained to allow it to survive until the next downpour, which may be months or even years away. The Saguaro grows slowly but may live for up to two hundred years. Its white, waxy flowers appear in April through June, opening well after sunset and closing in mid afternoon. And although the warm colors of yellow and orange appear most predominantly to an observer's eye in the landscape of desert blooms, other flower colours such as pink, blue, and red also appear, indicators of the affinities of diverse desert pollinators, including hummingbirds, bees, flies, beetles, butterflies, moths, bats, and birds. 🌵🏵️🐝
Photo: Janice Exton
Desert plants grow in one of the harshest environments on Earth, and have special adaptations that help them to survive.
Some plants avoid dry conditions by completing their life cycle before desert conditions intensify. These plants usually mature in a single season and then die, but produce seeds that later blossom into new plants.
In the Sonoran Desert of North America, 90% of plant species are annuals, and many germinate during the short fall season, when a small amount of rainfall is required for germination. In some cases, not all seeds germinate at the same time, but remain dormant and germinate the following year or even years later. Plants that germinate in the fall grow slowly through the winter and flower in the spring, after which they die before the summer heat begins.
The saguaro(Carnegiea gigantea) is a tree-like cactus species native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona, the Mexican state of Sonora, and the Whipple Mountains and Imperial County areas of California. The saguaro blossom is the state wildflower of Arizona. Its scientific name is given in honor of Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, whose Carnegie Institution established the Desert Botanical Laboratory in Tucson, Arizona, in 1903.
Many desert plants have spines and thorns to discourage predation by animals. Others camouflage such as the Arizona night-blooming cereus.
Desert plants have smaller leaves, seasonal leaves or no leaves at all. Species with small leaves, such as the little leaf palo verde tree or Parkinsonia microphylla, have less surface area on leaves and therefore lose less water through evapotranspiration.
Plants like acacia and ocotillo, which are summer deciduous, drop their leaves during the hot season.
Additionally, plants such as cacti have spines or thorns instead of leaves, and photosynthesis occurs in stems or bark.
And because dark colors absorb more heat, some plants have light-colored leaves to reflect light and therefore lose less water from transpiration as in the light dusty green of the sagebrusth (Artemisia tridentata) and in the group of plants colloquially known as "tumbleweeds" which when mature and dry, detach from its root or stem and rolls due to the force of the wind.
This 1972 fashion tartan, designed for Aljean of Canada, captures the explosion of color over the subdued greens of an arid landscape.
For a list of blooming times for deserts in the United States, click the cactus and desert blooms.