Hundreds attended the 23rd-annual Ironwood Festival last Saturday at the Mason Audubon Center in Marana.

The event, which this year fell on Migratory Bird Day, began with early morning bird counts. Other activities included an education fair, which featured live appearances by raptors, amphibians, reptiles, arthropods and a bobcat, and an evening full of concerts.

Also at the festival, three 15-gallon ironwood trees were raffled off and local amateur photographers presented their work in an avian photography display.

Desert ironwoods fix nitrogen and, when their leaves drop to the ground, enrich the soil. They also provide life-giving shade for vulnerable seedlings from the punishing desert sun. Saguaros grow under them, using them as “nurse trees.”

Ironwoods live to be 800 to 1,000 years old and can stand tall about 800 years after they die. Their wood is so dense it sinks, and scientists believe that its toxicity makes it virtually immune to decay.

Despite their rugged appearance, however, ironwoods show a greater sensitivity to the perils of the modern-day desert. Because they grow so slowly, they undergo a huge setback when land is cleared for housing developments.

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