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

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.

August 23, 2009

Sunflowers Rule

Sunflowers in our garden, August 2009. Photo (c) Chas S. Clifton
Read this Popular Mechanics article and learn why

  • Sunflowers are hard to kill
  • Sunflowers are promiscuous and incestuous
  • Industrialized sunflowers war against other crops
  • Hitler wanted Stalin's sunflowers
As for me, I hope to see the "industrialized sunflowers" of eastern North Dakota in about three weeks, complete with doves.

August 10, 2009

Stumbling into Mushroom Season

It should be mushroom season. M. and went out on the 3rd but almost struck out at our old area. We were reduced to just walking down an old logging road/snowmobile trail in the sunshine, looking at wildflowers. It was hell.

Here is a picture of what I think is orange sneezeweed.

Finally, in the middle of a thick aspen/fir grove, I said, "No mushrooms here, too dry," looked down, and there was a medium-size bolete right at my toes. But that was it for the day.

We will try again for 'shrooms tomorrow. Or trout.

July 13, 2009

Another Walk in Mason Gulch

Four years after the Mason Gulch Fire, M. and I took our annual anniversary hike through the corner of the burn nearest our home.
Burned cottonwood in Mason Gulch. Photo (c) Chas S. Clifton
She calls this "the palomino tree." It was one of the cottonwoods burned along the gulch.

The wet early summer has been good for the grass, as both photos show. Some of this grass may have arrived under this contract. Unfortunately, cheatgrass is spreading too. There ought to be national honors awaiting the scientist(s) who can find the herbicide, insect, or fungus that works only on cheatgrass.

We did not have a great wildflower show this year--the rains came a bit late for that--but this Asclepius tuberosa (butterfly weed) looks happy. Lots of it around this year.

May 23, 2009

Columbines, Wild and Domestic

I ran across an interview with Bob Nold about growing and viewing columbines. He also garden-blogs from Lakewood, Colorado.

April 12, 2009

Blog Stew with the Usual Carrion

• A scout-camera trifecta: mountain lion, wolf, and coyote. (Via Wolf Watch.)

• Stray dogs in Moscow take the subway to the city center to beg and scrounge, or so claims English Russia.

Wildflowers are showing at the Pueblo Mountain Park, which is similar in habitat to my house. But you will not see them today, thanks to a nice soggy Easter snowstorm.

March 28, 2009

Blog Stew with Flowers

• How the properties of water limit tree growth.

• Carnivorous plants do not grow hereabouts but they still have their admirers.

• A Flickr-based wildflower field guide organized by color.

• Every man should carry one of these -- and, of course, women might as well stash one someone on their person as well.

January 10, 2009

Guerrilla Gardening

Watch a quick introduction to guerrilla gardening on some goofy British TV show (YouTube).

Enjoy the banter: "It's like the fairies have been there!"

"It's for those people who don't want to spend a lot of time out in those grotty places."

And visit the web site for more on "seed bombs," "seed guns," and bureaucratic snafus.

How often can you talk about illicit gardening without getting the sheriff's department involved?

June 07, 2008

Feral Iris

I love wild iris, but it's too dry here in the foothills for them to grow on their own. They do better in the higher, wetter mountains.

But some years ago a colleague gave me a gunny sack full of domestic iris rhizomes she had left over after re-digging her flower beds.

Our "landscaping" here consists mostly of holding the trees at bay ("defensible space") plus a vegetable garden, so I turned the iris loose in the woods. I planted them here and there in little gullies and other low spots that I thought might stay damp in a dry year.

And they have held on. In some bad years, they do not bloom at all. This year we are getting a moderate bloom. It's enough. And while sometimes I am a native-plants purist, I don't think these iris are going to colonize Colorado very fast.

And we all know that there are noxious weeds and "noxious weeds." Take bindweed, for instance. As a gardener, I hate it. But my rancher friend says that cattle will eat bindweed in a dry year, so it gets a tacit exemption from all the weed-control programs--around here, at least.

April 07, 2008

Signs of Spring in Southern Colorado

Signs of spring here in the Wet Mountains:

Spring beauty blooming along the county road.

Red-winged blackbirds starting to sing.

• A single-engine air tanker overhead, which as soon as I saw it, started my heart to beating a little more rapidly. But there was no column of smoke on the horizon, and after a couple of elliptical flights over the Wets, the pilot headed (apparently) for the Fremont County airport. Just a training flight, I guess.

The snow melts, and it's wildfire season. Yippee. :-(

August 03, 2007

Liatris and Melancholy

Liatris or blazing star
Liatris is one wildflower that I started calling by its genus name before I knew any common names. (The common name is blazing star.)

For that I blame my old grad school friend Hank Fabian, second-generation flower grower and now head of the biology department at Merritt College in Oakland.

Before he started teaching, he went back to the family business and started growing flowers wholesale for southern Colorado florists. During a period of my own under-employment, I occasionally worked for him doing grunt work like stripping and bundling flowers. Yep, just like Maria Full of Grace but without the cocaine.

Hank grew a variety of Liatris, which florists like as a cut flower because it holds its bloom for a number of days, slowly opening from the bottom up, and it's easy to process and handle.

When they start blooming here, it signals the final arc of summer. Purple Liatris and purple asters joing all the yellow-gold asters. Purple and gold, the colors of Fort Collins High School. I attended four high schools but graduated from FCHS. Its school teams are the Lambkins. Evidently, back in the 1890s, someone must have reasoned that the sports teams would play harder if they were named for a plush toy. (Sort of like "A Boy Named Sue," I suppose.)

(And the school song was to the tune of "Deutschland Uber Alles". How did that escape the anti-German hysteria of World War One? Someone must have pleaded Papa Haydn's case.)

Those memories: Childhood's end. The summer of poverty in Cañon City. The falling arc of every year.

August 01, 2007

Our Forgotten Holiday

Wet Mountains columbine.I almost forgot that today is Colorado Day. I bet that you forgot too. No one makes a big deal out of it, although the state parks division cut the admission fee at Cherry Creek State Park outside of Denver. Woo hoo!

If Colorado Day fell during the normal school year, there might be more of an observance.

The photo is of the state flower, Aquilegia caerulea, the Colorado blue columbine, growing at a relatively low elevation in the Wet Mountains, but on a damp, north-facing slope.

UPDATE: In its weekly "Peaks of the Past" retrospective, the Wet Mountain Tribune has this:

100 Years Ago -- 1907

Colorado Day witnessed no great demonstration here. Some bunting was in evidence but business was conducted about the same as on any other day.


July 17, 2007

High Summer

Coneflower (Ratibida)
Prairie coneflowers, not realizing that they are in the foothills, are blooming all up and down the driveway.

Rufous hummingbirds have arrived and are exhibiting antisocial behavior at the sugar-water feeder.

It is too hot.

Occasional monsoon thunderstorms pop up.

The flycatcher's eggs have hatched. But there is a new plot twist to All My Flycatchers: our remodeling contractor plans to start installing the energy-efficient casement windows that M. has been wanting for years. And he will be working not ten feet from her nest. Will she tolerate the disruption?

June 18, 2007

Wildflowers and Bad News for Bears

Back from South Carolina, I walked down the driveway this morning to look at wildflowers. But part of what I saw is bad news for bears--and for me.

The wet spring has meant profuse waxy white yucca blossoms...

... and the American vetch is blooms along the driveway, together with ...

tall (a/k/a one-sided) penstemon.

M. loves to see abundant yellow sweetclover, which seems to move from place to place each year.

This cobweb is catching "cotton" from the cottonwood trees along Hardscrabble Creek.

But the bad news is that the wet spring seems to have produced an outbreak of "plum pockets," a fungus disease that destroys the fruit. I did not see a single good-looking plum developing. Normally the bears get most of these wild plums--I collect maybe one bowl full. But this year they won't. Maybe they can make up for them with feral apples.

(Flower identifications from Plants of Pueblo Mountain Park, the best flower guide for these foothills.)

May 30, 2007

A Perennial Cult

Tomorrow we travel to the cultic center. We had heard of it for a couple of years before we visited it.

Oh, we knew the more exoteric sites. For a time, we worshiped at Los Robles nursery, which had the reputation of being hippest nursery in Colorado Springs, even opening its own cafe. Then the owners declared bankruptcy.

We were drawn to the Hillside--that is Hillside Gardens & Nursery on the city's near east side. But our last visit (actually, the last several visits) were disappointing. The stock seemed skimpier than in past years, the employees less informed, and the cashier would have short-changed me if I had not paid attention. Maybe they are more about the "gardens" part these days--being a venue for weddings and such.

So we drove back to Good Earth Garden Center, on North Walnut Street where Los Robles had been located before the latter expanded and exploded. Lots of selection in short-growing-season tomatoes, employees zipping around with walkie-talkies, and plenty of our favorite clay-busting organic cotton-boll compost.

But tomorrow it's time for a trip to the secret shrine, the nursery mentioned only in whispers by the serious southern Colorado gardeners, open only at certain times. It is Perennial Favorites near Rye, located in an ecological zone more similar to our own, so that we can pretty well assume that anything that grows there will grow at our place--not always true even in Colorado Springs.

This wet spring is a cause for foolish optimism.

And if you thought that my headline referred to something or someone like this, give yourself 10 points.

May 20, 2007


Lithospermum incisumThis part of southern Colorado has enjoyed a wet spring--about seven inches of rain in a month--and all sorts of flora and fauna are popping up.

I saw a wildflower today that I did not recognize--and I thought I knew what grows on our place.

It is narrowleaf puccoon, Lithospermum incisum, with a trumpet-shaped flower whose large end is ornately frilled. Part of the borage family.

April 07, 2007

Project Budburst Tracks the Spring

American pasqueflower
Just as Project Feederwatch uses "citizen scientists" to produce lots of data on bird movements, so Project Budburst is doing the same thing for flowering plants.

It is in public beta testing this year, so you can log on and offer some observations.

So far, pasqueflower (pictured) is the only one of the listed Colorado species that I have seen blooming, but M. and I did see some sand lilies blooming on a south-facing slope in the freezing drizzle yesterday.

Hat tip: Mary Scriver.