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

July 10, 2022

Some Wednesday Wildflowers in the Wets

Spurred by Facebook reports of increasing mushroom finds, M. and I went for a walk last Wednesday. Although the higher Wet Mountains were not as dry as we feared, we found no fungi but saw lots of wildflowers.

News meadows created by the Adobe Peak Fire of 2018.

At the upper end of one of my favorite old meadows.

Fringed gentian was plentiful too.

May 04, 2020

Everything Picturesque about the Upland Southwest

Yellow-blossom cholla cactus, dead Gambel oak, one-seed juniper, barbed wire, old sun-baked tires, pile of rusty tin cans. If it can stab you, it will.

And in the air, the overpowering smell of musk mustard, only slightly sweeter than skunk spray. 

Back home, M. was out picking some wild greens to put in our supper. I suggested musk mustard — all the very best foraging blogs recommend it.

"I don't care what the foraging blogs say," she replied. "It makes me nauseous."

So we get lambsquarter instead. 

Musk mustard, Chorispora tenella, a/k/a purple mustard.
What do the foraging blogs say? Things like this:
There are very few greens tasty enough to make an entire salad out of; musk mustard is one of those greens. Lightly dressed with a drizzle of oil & vinegar and a few crumbles of goat cheese…it’s the perfect salad. If you listened to the National Park Service and cattle ranchers, you’d think musk mustard was a noxious weed. And you’d be missing out on an easy-to-identify, plentiful wild edible.
Or  this:
Among the plants I observed and collected on this trip, wild mustards made a strong showing. These are often overlooked or passed over for sexier wild fare, but wild mustards are plentiful and accessible throughout Denver area right now—making them a good choice for a late April, early May foray. 
No quelites wars at our house, though. I picked some prickly lettuce, which is a little bitter on the line of dandelions, but not more than some of the greens sold in stores.

April 02, 2020

Springtime, Vultures, and Snow

Spring is an iffy business on the Eastern Slope of the Rockies. Dad had one all-purpose adjective for it: "putrid."

There are areas of the Western Slope that have fiercer winters yet almost manage a proper spring. Like right now it is 59° F. in Durango while it is 40° F at my house, and both are at approximately the same elevation: 6500–6600 feet.

Turkey vulture
But there are signs. Driving toward Pueblo on Monday morning, March 30, I saw a turkey vulture eating a roadkill skunk by the highway, while M. spotted one overhead as she was out walking back at home.

Today a letter to the editor in the county weekly proclaimed "Vultures are back." (The message was to watch where you park your vehicle in town.) I like living where vultures are worth a headline.

Monday evening a little rain-and-graupel squall blew through, complete with thunder. The first thunder of the season. With thunder comes lightning — back in April 2011 we had to evacuate in front of a lively little (2500 acres) forest fire that was put out by  . . . a snowstorm.

Maybe Dad was right. Putrid.

So we look for wildflowers — only spring beauty (Claytonia) has shown up yet. M. picked a few early dandelion leaves and put them in a salad largely for what she admitted was symbolic value, but we have to obey the hunter-gather imperative.

I am expecting one or two more snows, in the natural order of things. And hummingbirds.

August 05, 2019

Brome Grass and Bear Shit — Thinking about this Summer

Liatris punctata

The Liatris are starting to bloom, which marks beginning of Late Summer here in the foothills. Funny thing, with last spring having been so wet, I expected a wildflower explosion. And the summer has been fairly rainy, although with a hot and dry period in July.

Nope. Where are the wild geraniums? Golden banner? Where are [fill in the blank]? Some asters, vetches, locoweed, yarrow . . .  they showed up.

At higher altitudes, there is much more profusion. We must have been in some kind of  meteorlogical "doughnut hole" again.

The Magyar Menace
Instead, early summer turned into March of the Brome Grass.  There have been patches of it here and there, but something — presumably the extra moisture — really threw its switch this year.

Fun fact: Smooth brome was imported from Hungary in 1884. Some consider it invasive, but the ranchers seem to like it. Not like cheatgrass, in other words, which is a brome too but which is evil.

What are some alternatives? The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources suggested these natives:
I tried my own line-up this year with plants bought from Hartungs' Desert Canyon Farm in Cañon City, one plant each of Indian ricegrass, Achnatherum hymenoides; big (giant) sacaton, Sporobolus wrightii; and silver spike grass, Achnatherum calamagrostis

These are my three test plants. They are hard to see, but all are doing well. Now it's a matter of harvesting seed.

And the bears!

A black bear left this little calling card near the house on July 24th. Fisher the dog had been on alert that night — rushing out onto the veranda barking, then into the back dog run barking — he knew Somebody was out there.

It looked like the bear had eaten some immature currants, but I don't know how much nutritional value it extracted. One bush not far from the site was pretty well stripped. I ate on currant for form's sake the next morning, out of a sense of brotherhood with the bears, who taught the peoples what to eat.

That was Early Summer. Now it is Late Summer, mushroom season. More to come about all that.

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?