Showing posts with label wildflowers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wildflowers. Show all posts

June 06, 2019

Wildflowers in a Scrambled Spring

Penstemon virens, low penstemon — I think.
This spring has been unusually cool and wet. The "wet" means that all of Colorado is now officially out of drought. I kept thinking locally that the soil moisture was still not what it could be—I was not seeing the spring melt trickles in the little draws—but the last May snowstorm produced some, so hurray for that.

The early wildflowers (spring beauties, pasqueflower) were nothing much, but these penstemons came on strong. M. and I were in south central Texas in April when the bluebonnets (which are lupines) were blossoming—the slope behind the house is almost like that.
Clematis hirsutissima, hairy clematis or sugarbowl.

These hairy clematis (I say Clem-atis, you say Cle-mat-is) usually bloom by late May; this year there are just getting going now. Ditto the wallflowers, not pictured.
Rocky Mountain locoweed, Oxytropis sericea. They are blooming in full force too. On the other hand, the apple trees in the neighborhood had a very few blossoms. It was chilly for so long.

Four-nerved daisy or "Perky Sue"


Perky Sue? Isn't that an old rock 'n' roll song? No, that was "Peggy Sue," as first performed by Buddy Holly — video here. (Supposedly its name commemorates this  Texas lady.)
 
Its botanical name is Tetraneuris Ivesiana.  Photographed at Trinidad Lake State Park on the first of June.

May 13, 2019

'False Spring' Pasta


We are used to "false spring" along the Eastern Slope of the Rockies.

Maybe now, with the last snow melted, this is the real spring, but I am still calling this dish pasta falsa primavera — with fillaree, lamb's quarters (quelite cenizo), clover, and dandelion, all picked within yards of the house.

April 21, 2019

Spring Flowers &c. Seen While Walking the Dog

Sand lilies, Leucocrinum montanum.

Spring beauty  Claytonis rosea (says the guidebook).

Dropped feather from a Eurasian collared dove, busy breeding already.
Pasque flower, Pulsatilla patens
Three good websites: Wildflowers of Colorado, Eastern Colorado Wildflowers, Southwest Colorado Wildflowers

July 08, 2018

Not-Gardening in a Time of Drought

Lamb's quarter, self-seeded in a big tub.
It rained three nights ago, boosting our total for the past four weeks to a magnificent 0.2 inches, or about 5 mm. Coming after a dry spring, it's serious drought time.

The creek had already gone dry, although the sandy bottom was moist. Since our well is in the creek aquifer—somewhere—the state of the creek is always a concern.

Some areas upstream got more rain than here, and a trickle of flowing water has returned, muddy water that must be coming off an upstream burn scar.

Knowing these conditions were coming, thanks to the shamanic prophecies of the National Weather Service, we did not even try to garden like normal. Almost everything we planted is in containers—some tomatoes, some herbs.

And there there is the Zen of not-gardening.  Instead, we took what showed up on its own.

One is lamb's quarter a/k/a goosefoot, a Chenopodium, which means "goose foot" in Latin. How lambs get into the story, I do not know. I assume that sheep would eat it. When it's too dry even for Swiss chard, these are our greens.

Another edible volunteer is wild amaranth, when it's young. Call them both quelites, if you prefer.

A third is nettles, which M. planted several years ago and which have firmly established themselves, putting them in the class of feral greens. Lots of hippie/Greek nettle pie is eaten in this house, "hippie" because she insists on making a whole-wheat sort of-phyllo dough.

We were going to try growing a similar plant to lamb's quarter, "Good King Henry," Blitum bonus-henricus, this year, but put it off. (In case you were wondering, it was apparently named after Henri IV of France, which just goes to show that you can preside over decades of religious wars and still have a tasty pot herb named for you. He did apparently encourage tree-planting.)

In the woods, brush, and pastures, not much is happening. A few tiny acorns. A scant handful of wildflowers—and what does bloom seems to come early and is stunted, as though the plants are trying to get through an abbreviated life cycle. Even my bomb-proof penstemon is just hanging on, barely existing.

A couple of days ago I thought I saw some Liatris about to bloom, which rocked me back, because its normally a flower that marks the end of summer. I need to go back and double-check. Maybe the plants just want this summer to be over.

June 20, 2017

Blossom from a Rock

I see this every so often, but it still impresses me: a little Opuntia-genus cactus growing out of a crack in a big sandstone boulder. For "planting mix," decomposing pine needles.

June 14, 2014

Primroses, Wild Mustard, and Homiletics

Having a sort-of average spring after several dry years means seeing old friends, plus some plants we regard with suspicion.

Cutleaf primose scattered in pasture.
I mentioned the purple/blue mustard. They were succeeded in May by cutleaf (or prairie) primroses—not the huge banks of them sometimes seen on the remaining High Plains grasslands, like Pawnee National Grasslands, but a lot for us.
Cutleaf evening primose, Oenothera coronopifolia
Here is a close-up —these were a little shredded by hail on the previous day.

They have been followed by a yellow-flowered wild mustard that has a sort of rotting-soap smell (or "stale dishrag") when stepped or driven upon. It looks like this one: Sinapis arvensis, but the distribution map does not show it in Colorado. Maybe a relative? Can't mow it all to stop the seeding, so it will be back when conditions are right.

Or as the gospel says, "But when it is grown, it is greater than the herbs, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in its branches."

If preachers ever interacted with the natural world, they might dust off their sermons on the parable of the mustard seed this year. People could visualize it.

May 02, 2014

Purple Mustard Explained

Image from Southwest Colorado Wildflowers.
Apparently the combination of several dry years, followed by a pretty good late-summer monsoon in 2013 and decent winter snow has produced so much purple mustard (Chorispora tenella) that people in southern Colorado are asking, "What are the purple flowers?"

Westcliffe botanist Christine MacLeod explains all here.

"During the drier years, seeds from many of our high prairie plants, including purple mustard, chose to remain dormant in the soil, contributing to a rich seed bank for years to come. Seeds can stay in dormancy for many years until the conditions are optimal for sprouting. And that is just what they all have done these past few weeks."

It's another invasive Asian species.

March 28, 2014

First Pasque Flower of Spring

I saw these Pasque flowers blooming on the 26th when I went to check a nearby scout camera.

The amazing part is that they are growing in a finger-deep (or less) layer of leaves and pine needles on top of a huge boulder.

July 16, 2013

A Truce with Summer

The higher you go, the wetter it looks.
It has rained more than three inches at the house  this month, which is great, but we are still in "extreme drought," say the meteorologists.

But the dampness, temporary as it may be, eased my mind. For the first time, it felt as though summer was not the enemy.

M. and I wondered if any mushrooms were coming up at higher elevations. So we went into the misty mountains.

We tried "The Mushroom Mine," and saw only one or two inedible varieties. As I drove up the Forest Service road, I spotted an excellent bolete nearby. Oh no, said the cook, it's too close to the road! Mushrooms soak up pollution!

And that would be the only one we saw, even up at the area we call The Mushroom Store. But there were flowers.
Yellow: some kind of Potentilla, I think. White: yarrow.
This flower I am not sure of. Anyone?

Columbines are the state flower, and you are required by law to photograph them.
And we shall return — even if the foothills dry out again.

UPDATE: Al Schneider at Southwest Colorado Wildflowers suggests that the mystery yellow flower above is a species of Corydalis and that the Potentilla is specifically Potentilla gracilis variety pulcherrima. Thanks!

July 04, 2013

What's not Rocks is Cactus, and What's not Cactus is Barbed Wire

That is how I used to describe the area south of Cañon City when I lived there.

At least in this drought year the cholla cactus is blooming profusely, everywhere. They look like rose bushes. Very unfriendly rose bushes.

May 19, 2013

Spring Comes to the Burn

On May 16, M. and I re-visited the burned ridge behind our house for the first time since November. It burned last October 23, part of an extremely fast-moving fire that destroyed 15 homes and various outbuildings in the space of about thirty minutes, reaching a total extent of 2,500 acres
.
Here is the area that we re-visited as it looked at 6:40 p.m., October 23, 2013.
Fisher, our Chesapeake Bay retriever, came too. On the ground behind him you can see scattered clumps of shredded bark, mixed with grass seed and dropped from a helicopter on April 13-14, 2013.

Fisher, not bothered by dirt and ash.
This particular area is public land (Bureau of Land Management), although most of what burned was private.
Attaching a sling-load of mulch and grass seed to a helicopter—April 2013 (Pueblo Chieftain).
Concerned about the possibility of ash and dirt washing down into streams, the BLM paid for re-seeding of its portion, which is mostly along a higher ridge.

Mulch had fallen into the little spring. Fisher decided to clear it out.
The first thing that we always do is visit a little seasonal spring that we call Camera Trap Spring. It is the place where a sow black bear attacked a camera, where Fisher narrowly avoided a rattlesnake last year, and where I have gotten pictures of a variety of wildlife.

Then we went to see if the seeding had had good results.
Grass coming up through the mulch.
This was one of the better-looking patches. And I should add that mulch was used only on the steeper slopes. Other areas received a grass-seed mix with no mulch. Since the seeding a month ago, snow and rain equivalent to 2–3 inches of precipitation has fallen, luckily without serious erosion.Whether this counts as acceptable results in re-seeding, I do not know, although I am attempting to check on that. Some other areas do not look as good.
Dandelion and deer droppings (to left of central rock, top of clear spot).
Here, for instance, is a dandelion and some other plants growing, plus evidence of deer passing through the burn. Some of the new grass had been nibbled too. There were no tracks at the spring, however—if there had been, Fisher probably obliterated them!
Golden banner with 500 ml bottle.
This looks like golden banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa), a member of the pea family. Self-seeded, I assume.

And of course the burnt Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii), which could probably survive atom bombs, is sprouting from its roots. As the CSU Extension office says, "Fire readily kills the above-ground portions of oak brush. However, intense sprouting follows almost immediately and usually causes the stands to become even denser."

Birds seen: some crows, two woodpeckers (probably hairies—did not have a good look), and to our surprise, two Western tanagers (migrants).

May 13, 2013

What Is This Thing You Call Spring?

I was almost seventeen before I encountered "spring."

This year, it snowed eight inches on the 1st of May, and the subsequent week was cool, cloudy, and rainy. The sun came out again on the 12th, and today, hauling brush and branches, I am sweating as the temperature hits 80° F (27º C).

Sugarbowl clematis is blossoming and some trees are leafing. (Gambel oak, a native, always waits until late May.) Hummingbirds orbit the sugar-water feeder.

Evidently, our spring is over — or almost over.

But just before my seventeenth birthday, I was living for a time in suburban St. Louis with my older sister's family, and something odd happened.

There was a period of some weeks when it was not too warm, flowers blossomed everywhere, and the notorious St. Louis humidity was not yet oppressive. People seemed to revel in it.

Evidently that is the "spring" of which the poets speak. We never have it.

Ancestral wisdom is encoded in a little verse, however, which tells how Colorado has
Winter in the spring,
Summer in the fall,
Fall in the winter,
And no spring at all.

April 29, 2013

Signs of Spring (4)

Pasque flower (Wikipedia).
Pasque flowers and spring beauty (Claytonia) finally in bloom.

• Flocks of high country-bound motorcyclists on the state highway over the last weekend.

• Mourning doves are back, while the huge flock of pine siskins at the bird feeders has dispersed.

• The weather forecast alternates "high fire danger" and "rain turning to snow."

June 13, 2012

Small Flies, Small Fish, Red Columbines

South Fooses Creek — tangles and pocket water
When I think of South Fooses Creek, a small stream in western Chaffee County, I think of three things. Two of them are pleasant.

Red columbine
One is that in summer I always find red columbines growing in its canyon. I have the hardest time with these at home — granted, home is a little low in altitude, a little dry, and a little alkaline of soil for optimum columbine cultivation, so I have to baby columbines along.

For some reason, the yellow varieties that I have seem more robust than either red ones or the official-state-flower blue-and-whites.

There are other flowers too: I think this one (right) is bitter cress, Cardamine cordifolia, in the mustard family. At least it looks like the picture in the field guide, and the habitat is right: "Grows in wet areas, such as stream banks, meadows, and forest depressions."
Bitter cress

And there are fish, mostly little brook trout, the kind that are mature and reproducing when they are six inches long. Once you venture off the Colorado Trail, which has been cleared of winter's blowdowns, the forest is full of fallen logs, and about every third fishable pool has a dead tree lying across it ready to grab your line with a hundred gnarly hands.

The rest of the pools you sneak up to — "Indian up on them," as Dad used to say — and drop a dry fly in for a short float that might produce a strike from an undersize brookie.

I keep a couple of the "trophies," but I don't photograph them.

When I return to the Jeep, I am standing by where we pitched the tent on Dad's last camping trip.

I had come down the same trail with some fish in my pack, only to find a clothesline rigged above our campfire with some underwear and socks drying on it.

He told me that he had gone down to the creek to fill a water bucket, but even though he had a walking staff, the boggy ground had thrown him off balance, and he ended up sitting in the shallow water. Hence the change of clothes. He seemed a bit annoyed.

And when he dropped me off at home, he opened the tailgate and started unloading stuff — the tent, the Coleman lantern, and so on. "It's yours," he said, "I'm through with camping."

After all those years. But If he couldn't trust himself to walk down to the creek without a fall, it was time to quit.

Sometimes I stand in the basement looking at the shelves of camping gear and I wonder, what should I get rid of?

June 12, 2012

The Winners: Penstemon and Flax

Bed of penstemon and flax
Next to our driveway, behind a stone retaining wall, is a demanding place to grow flowers. The soil is thin, and the site, which faces WSW, bakes in the afternoon sun.

Various plants, even succulents, have failed on that site. Two survive, however.

One is a purplish-blue penstemon, I forget which variety, which has established itself and even survived last summer's drought, although it was happier this spring.

Gardening sites talk about stratifying the seeds, but I just let it seed itself in the fall, which seems to work best for wildflowers.

The other is a blue flax, and I forget where I got it. Plants of the Southwest?

Here is how it looks on a grand scale. We've encouraged it to spread by tossing seed around.

Yes, they still need watering, but their ability to take the heat, wind, and dryness is impressive.

If I had room for a big flower bed, I would just grow every variety of penstemon that I could lay my hands on.

August 23, 2011

Afternoon on the Upper Huerfano

Here endeth ye brooke.
It's a dry year. The upper Huerfano River, on the national forest, just ended at one point, right at my toes as I took this photo. The water trickled over this emplaced log, fell into a plunge pool, and was absorbed into the cobbles.

Fortunately, there is more water down lower from springs and tributaries, and I caught some trout. (Sorry, no fish photos. They were browns.)
Wildflowers placed in a desiccating medium.
Our first goal was to gather some wildflowers so that M. could make a dried-flower arrangement for her sister's housewarming. Here are gentians and larkspur in a shoebox.
An out-the-windshield shot of retreating bear cubs
Driving out, we spooked a black bear and her cubs out of the roadside currant bushes. Here go the cubs running to catch up with their mother.
Mule deer fawn with summer spots. Another grab shot through the dirty Jeep windshield.
Mule deer fawns were much in evidence too, in ones and twos.

We stopped for bar burgers on the way home and tried to remember if we had ever heard of anyone with peanut allergies when we were kids. Like where did that come from?

August 18, 2011

A Couple of Poisonous Plants & One Useful One

Monkshood
M. and I went looking for mushrooms on Monday, which was a bust. Although there were puddles on the dirt road leading to it, our favorite area was mushroom-less. Both edible and inedible species were missing, so it's not that someone else came in and cleaned it out—evidently the modest rains of the last few days up in the high elevations (about 10,000 feet) were not enough.

False hellebore pods
So we did what we the last time that happened and went looking for wildflowers, of which there were a few: a small stand of monkshood (in the hellebore family) managing to keep its feet damp,and also also some false hellebore (locally called "skunk cabbage," but not the same as the Northeastern plant of that name).

Rather than photograph the showy striped leaves, which you can see at the link, I snapped one of the pods. Too bad I did not catch it in bloom—but you can see blooms here too.

Monkshood, also known as wolfbane, has poisonous roots and leaves. The man who taught me to identify it was surnamed Bane (which means slayer, poison, etc.), so he got a kick out of that.
Usnea 

False hellebore is poisonous to sheep in particular.
The whole plant is poisonous, containing highly toxic alkaloids that affect the heart and nervous system."

Sheep which eat false hellebore while during the first trimester of pregnancy have lambs with severe abnormalities of the brain and face (known as Cyclopia).
This area is elk range, but apparently they are not bothered. One article I found while browsing suggests that deer, if not elk, not only eat some plants poisonous to livestock but follow the approach of "a little bit won't kill you."

Continuing our walk, we came to stand of firs that were a real Usnea (old man's beard) plantation, both live trees and dead ones.

M. wanted some for an herbal wound powder that she is making, so we partly filled what was supposed to have been a mushroom sack with Usnea.

September 05, 2010

Liatris' Melancholy Blooms

Fisher in a patch of wild Liatris
Liatris punctata (gayfeather, blazing star) is the only wildflower I habitually call by its botanical name. But my associations with it are mostly melancholy, and I wish that I could change them.

The habit of calling it Liatris comes from the summer of 1987, when my magazine-editing job crashed, we felt stuck in Cañon City, and we had no idea what to do. A friend from grad school had started a wholesale-flower business in Pueblo (his parents had been retail florists), and M. and I both at times worked in his greenhouse as day labor for quick cash.

He grew a domesticated variety of Liatris—and called it that. It is a great cut flower for florists to sell because the blossoms open sequentially over several days. I would strip the lower leaves by hand, bundle the "stems" (florists count by stems), and off they would go to the shops in his van.

So that is association number one: poverty.

Then we moved to academia, and the Liatris blooming in mid-August signaled summer break's end—the time of lesson-planning, convocation, department meetings, and, the week before Labor Day, walking into the classroom to see new faces.

"This is your syllabus. Take one and pass the rest on."

Association number two: end of freedom, back to work. (I never taught in the summers except when I was a part-timer, preferring free time to extra money.)

Now we have left that world. I should be able to see it as just another wildflower. But it's hard to lose the past.

Fisher, lucky for him, has no such associations.

July 20, 2010

Asclepius Summer

Two members of the Asclepius (milkweed family) growing near the house: butterfly weed (Asclepius tuberosa spp. terminalis) and antelope horns (Asclepius asperula).

I had to look up the botanical names, being normally happy just to remember the genus.

Its name comes from Asklepios, son of Apollo and god of medicine.

Antelope horns is definitely an odd-looking wildflower, with its green-turning-white petals.

Butterfly weed is a mainstay of high-altitude xeriscape gardening, but this one is wild. Monarch butterfly caterpillars feed on antelope horns in some areas.

June 28, 2010

It's a Banner Year

Golden Banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa) in the Wet Mountains
For more on gardening with native plants, including golden banner, visit this site maintained by the Colorado State University herbarium.